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Immigration Advocates: RAISE Act ‘Inherently Racist’

Tina Vasquez

"This is absolutely about excluding Black and brown immigrants from the country."

The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) warned in March of a U.S. Senate bill that was “one of the most disgusting attacks on Black immigrants to date.” President Donald Trump on Wednesday endorsed that bill, calling it “the most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century.”

First introduced by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA), the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act cuts legal immigration by nearly 50 percent, reducing the annual distribution of green cards for permanent legal residence from more than 1 million to just over 500,000. 

The bill’s proposed “merit-based” system is drawing harsh criticism from advocates. The Republican bill seeks to replace the employment-based immigration system with an immigration points system. The point categories are based on what it calls “predictors of immigrant success and economic contribution,” including education level, English-language ability, high-paying job offers, record of “extraordinary achievement,” and entrepreneurial initiative. Applicants must reach a 30-point threshold to become eligible for one of the 140,000 annual employment-based green cards.

Carl Lipscombe, BAJI’s deputy director, told Rewire in a phone interview that the so-called merit-based system is a red flag. Because of the Trump administration’s proposals, Lipscombe said, the United States is quickly shifting from “a land of opportunity to a land of separation and seclusion.”

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“Because we’re not talking about merit; we’re talking about standards for admission that many U.S. citizens would not be unable to meet, especially as it relates to education levels and income requirements,” Lipscombe said.

Lipscombe said it’s hard not to see the bill, which prioritizes English speakers, as “inherently racist.” As Trump said during Wednesday’s press conference, the bill is intended to “ensure that newcomers to [the United States] will be assimilated.”

“There are very few primarily English speaking countries in the world, so who will benefit from this bill? Immigrants from the UK, from Canada, from Australia, from predominantly white countries,” Lipscombe said. “What Trump is saying is that the U.S. only wants white immigrants. By definition, a merit-based system gives the immigration system the right to dictate who is deserving of being in this country. Historically, people of color have been considered unworthy of being in this country, despite making it what it is today.”

White supremacists are cheering Trump’s endorsement of the RAISE Act and applauding Trump’s senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, for his contentious exchange with reporters during a White House briefing to promote the anti-immigrant bill.

Miller, who reportedly worked with white nationalist Richard Spencer while they attended Duke University, defended the RAISE Act by citing the work of George Borjas and Steven Camarota—authors associated with the radical white nationalist, anti-immigrant hate group known as the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). Camarota, director of research at CIS, presented anti-immigrant propaganda at an April congressional hearing on the border wall, as Rewire reported. This is in keeping with the organization’s history of manipulating numbers and using questionable sources to advance its anti-immigrant agenda. They regularly circulate work written by white nationalists, anti-Semites, and prominent racists. In the past ten years they have circulated more than 2,000 pieces from such sources, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Center of Immigration Integrity reports that “Miller—along with White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon—are aligned with CIS’ anti-immigrant platform.”

NumbersUSA, another anti-immigrant group that has influenced Trump’s agenda, issued a statement endorsing the RAISE Act. “Our recent polling confirms that American voters overwhelmingly want far less immigration,” NumbersUSA president Roy Beck stated, “because they know mass immigration creates unfair competition for American workers”—one of many popular, and baseless, myths about immigrants

The RAISE Act places a cap on refugee admissions at 50,000 a year and calls for reductions­ to family-based immigration programs, ending the visa diversity lottery that, according to the Washington Post, awards 50,000 green cards a year, mostly to African applicants.

These immigration policies have been in place for decades, some for more than half a century, as the Washington Post noted. There have been no indications from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the services-arm of the immigration system, that the family-based visa system and the diversity visa program aren’t working. “There is also no proof that these policies threaten U.S. workers, as Trump repeatedly implied,” Lipscombe said.

BAJI’s research found that nearly 69 percent of Black immigrants come to the United States via sponsorship by relatives or through the diversity visa lottery. The RAISE Act, according to Lipscombe, targets every path Black immigrants take to the United States.

“We’ve seen the attacks on undocumented communities and so it’s almost a logical next step for this administration to begin targeting the few paths that Black immigrants have to get to the U.S. and obtain documents,” the director said. “This is absolutely about excluding Black and brown immigrants from the country.”

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