The Corner

Politics & Policy

Immigration: Too High or Just Too Low-Skilled?

I share Robert Verbruggen’s enthusiasm for the RAISE Act, an immigration bill by Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue unveiled today at an event hosted by the president at the White House. (I wrote about it over at The National Interest.) He and I differ, though, on what is the most important element of the bill.

Robert praises the bill’s points system that seeks to select immigrants with exceptional talents, and writes that “My own biggest objection is that the dramatic cuts to overall immigration levels are unnecessary and could doom the bill’s political chances.” Beyond political calculation, he says it’s “undesirable” to “cut the overall level of immigration.” The implication, though Robert doesn’t spell this out, is that he thinks the bill would be better if it limited family immigration to spouses and minor children (as it does) but then shifted all those visas over to the skilled immigration category.

I, on the other hand, think the bill’s most valuable change is the reduction in overall immigration, from one million-plus a year now to maybe 600,000 a year (with further reduction likely from a decline in spousal immigration, since most U.S. citizens marrying foreigners are themselves earlier immigrants). When immigration levels are lower, the makeup of the immigration flow is less consequential – there’s less risk in getting it wrong because the size of the program is smaller.

While I agree with Robert that the bill’s Canadian-style points system is indeed an elegant and streamlined way of picking non-family immigrants (though “a thing of beauty” may be going a little far), it preserves the current level of 140,000 a year, which is already too high (the comparable categories totaled less than half that as recently as 1990) – the world isn’t producing 140,000 Einsteins annually.

So the question that may divide critics of current immigration policy: Are the numbers too high, or is it just that the skill levels are too low? I’m for lower numbers, as such – the skill question is a serious problem, but even continuing to admit less-skilled immigrants would be less harmful if the numbers were lower.

Maybe the best thing about the Cotton-Perdue bill is that it will force us to debate the central questions of immigration policy – how many and who? – in a way that we haven’t for a long time. Even during the fight over the Gang of Eight bill, its doubling of legal immigration was never defended (or even mentioned) by its sponsors, and the lapdog media never confronted them about it.

Mark Krikorian — Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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