When the subject is immigration, everyone has an opinion. Illegal immigration is, in most eyes, bad because it violates U.S. law, threatens sovereignty, and displaces American workers. Others think illegal immigration is good because they believe that the people coming are looking for a better life and willing to do jobs Americans won’t.
Shift the topic to legal immigration, and there’s near unanimity – legal is good. The United States, so the talking point goes, is a nation of immigrants. Keeping that tradition alive is important.
But what I’ve learned after writing about immigration for more than 30 years is that, regardless of how passionately immigration may be endorsed, little is understood about how it actually works. To that end, I offer a list of four fundamental immigration questions. When your summer barbecue banter turns to politics, and specifically to immigration, ask these, and you’ll quickly be able to measure your neighbor’s knowledge.
1) What, for the last three decades, is the average number of immigrants legally admitted annually?
2) What is the Diversity Visa, and name at least three countries whose nationals have received the DV?
3) Approximately how many refugees does the U.S. resettle annually? Name at least three countries they’ve come from.
4) Name the number of times Americans have voted on immigrant admissions, visa issuance, or refugee resettlement.
1) More than one million, all given life-time work authorization, a total that continues despite 9/11, the 2008 mortgage meltdown, a slowing economy, and advancing automation. That’s about 30 million work permits since I wrote my first immigration column.
2) The DV, also known as the green card lottery, randomly issues 50,000 work-authorized visas to foreign nationals. Last year’s winners included Yemeni, Iranian and Syrian nationals whose governments sponsor terrorism.
3) For eight years during the Obama administration, the U.S. resettled nearly 70,000 refugees, also work-authorized. They came from, among other nations, the same terrorist-sponsoring Yemen, Iran and Syria, as well as Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
4) Trick question. Despite its effect on important aspects of their lives like job displacement, school overcrowding and population growth, Americans never vote on immigration. Congress decides.
Full disclosure. I chose those specific questions because Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) have introduced the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act, a bill that would reduce legal immigration by about half, shift it from family reunification to merit-based, eliminate the DV, and reduce the refugee resettlement total. President Trump has enthusiastically endorsed the RAISE Act, and noted most immigrants come to the U.S. because of family ties, and not because they have skills that will enhance the American economy.
The establishment media excoriated RAISE, and quickly predicted that it had no chance to pass. But that initial reaction may be too hasty. Polling done in ten swing states won by President Donald Trump, and where Democratic incumbent senators are up for 2018 re-election, found that likely voters strongly support RAISE at about a 65 percent rate. Questions pollsters asked included whether it’s better to raise pay to attract jobless Americans even if prices might increase, or continue to import foreign labor. When asked what the optimum annual immigration total should be, and given choices that ranged from zero to two million, respondents favored 250,000. Only 22 percent endorsed family-based migration.
President Trump should force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call for a floor vote. Let’s find out which senator stands where and why any would oppose a sensible immigration overhaul.