Bishops in ‘strong opposition’ to Trump-backed plan that would sharply reduce legal immigration

President Donald Trump, flanked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R- Ark., left, and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Aug. 2, 2017, during the unveiling of legislation that would place new limits on legal immigration. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) President Donald Trump, flanked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R- Ark., left, and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Aug. 2, 2017, during the unveiling of legislation that would place new limits on legal immigration. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

U.S bishops flatly rejected a plan to rewrite the laws governing legal immigration on Aug. 2, expressing "strong opposition" to a Senate proposal that earlier that day had gained the support of President Trump. Flanked by Republican Senators David Purdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton at Arkansas, President Trump threw his support behind a plan that would end long-standing family reunification policies in favor of a “merit based” system for skilled English speakers. The proposal also includes a substantial cut in the annual numbers of legal immigrants allowed into the United States aimed at reducing legal immigration from the current 1.1 million to about half a million over 10 years.

In a statement issued on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Most Reverend Joe Vásquez, bishop of Austin and chair of the bishops’ Committee on Migration, urged the Senate to reject the proposed legislation and to instead return to negotiating a comprehensive immigration reform package.

“Had this discriminatory legislation been in place generations ago,” he said, “many of the very people who built and defended this nation would have been excluded.”

President Trump said the measure would “reduce poverty, increase wages and save taxpayers billions and billions of dollars.” He charged that the current system “has not been fair to our people, to our citizens, to our workers.”

But Bishop Vásquez said the act would mean the United States was turning its back on people “setting out to build a better life.”

“As a church,” Bishop Vásquez said, “we believe the stronger the bonds of family, the greater a person’s chance of succeeding in life. The Raise Act imposes a definition of family that would weaken those bonds.” He added that the measure would hinder the nation’s ability to respond to those in crisis.

“The pattern is clear: Deport Latinos, ban Muslims and now this bill would prevent Asians and Africans from entering the country.”

According to the president, the proposal, the first significant rewriting of U.S. immigration policy since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, would favor applicants “who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy.” He added that the proposals would prevent new U.S. arrivals from collecting welfare and soon lead to new employment opportunities for unskilled U.S. citizens.

J. Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy for the Center for Migration Studies and the Scalabrini International Migration Network, was not impressed by the president’s presentation. “It’s all part of their nativist agenda,” he said.

“The pattern is clear: Deport Latinos, ban Muslims and now this bill would prevent Asians and Africans from entering the country.” Mr. Appleby explained that in recent decades, in an attempt to redress past discrimination, immigration numbers from Asia had increased significantly under family reunification policies currently in force, and African green-card holders had benefited most from the diversity visa lottery which each year allocates 50,000 visas to residents of countries that do not currently send a significant number of immigrants to the United States.

“They are trying to create an immigration system in their own image. If you connect the dots they basically want a system that favors those who are more highly skilled and those who are more European,” he said. It is unclear how many Western Europeans with superior English language skills even wish to immigrate to the United States, Mr. Appleby pointed out.

The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment, or Raise Act, would end green card preferences for the adult parents, siblings or children of U.S. citizens, retaining preferences for spouses and minor children only. It would also eliminate the diversity lottery and would cap the number of refugees offered permanent residence in the country at 50,000 annually. Refugee quotas are allocated each year but historically have run closer to 70,000 each year and have run as high as 230,000 in recent decades.

“Basically the bill would eviscerate the family-based immigration, which has been the cornerstone of our system for generations and which has served our nation well,” said Mr. Appleby. “Families are economic actors, they strengthen the social cohesion of immigrant communities and protect members from [needing] public assistance.” He added that family connections also act to protect people fleeing persecution in their nations of origin.

“If you couple this with the reduction in the refugee program and [the president’s] stated goals in expanding expedited removal to the whole country, you basically have no U.S. protection regime [for refugees] at all,” Mr. Appleby added.

If part of the plan’s intent were to reduce undocumented migration into the United States, Mr. Appleby is convinced the new proposals would have the opposite effect. The nation’s low unemployment and demand for unskilled labor will only continue to serve as a magnet for migration, he argues. “If you cut legal immigration, people will have no other recourse” but to seek to enter the United States illegally.

“Family reunification has long been a core principal of U.S. immigration policy,” Patricia Zapor, communications director for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., or CLINIC, told America via email. “Yes, the immigration system needs an overhaul. But it should not be accomplished by sacrificing the basic American and humanitarian principle that families belong together. Families already wait many years to be together under the current system. Making it even harder on families is not who we are as Americans.”

Even with the president’s support, the Raise Act faces a doubtful future in Congress. The proposal has largely been ignored in the Senate since it was introduced in February. Mr. Trump’s backing was meant to give the plan a legislative boost, but so far no other lawmakers in Washington have signed on as co-sponsors and Republican leaders have shown no inclination to vote on immigration this year.

Some immigrant and business advocates have criticized the proposal, saying that slashing legal immigration would hurt industries like agriculture and harm the economy.

“Our system is broken, but the response should be to modernize it, not take a sledgehammer to it,” Jeremy Robbins, executive director of New American Economy, a group of business leaders, mayors and others backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that advocates for comprehensive immigration reform, told the Associated Press.

Mr. Appleby likewise believes the timing of the proposal, from an economic and demographic standpoint, is completely off.

“It’s counter to the trends we’re experiencing,” he said. “We’re at replacement rate now in terms of [native] birth rate; we have an aging population. We are going to see [low-skilled] labor gaps ahead. There will come a point where we will want immigrant workers.

Were the plan implemented, Mr. Appleby foresees a “huge social cost.”

“We have the most diverse and robust economy in the world and and it needs all levels of skills to make it turn,” he said.

And undercutting family reunification policies, he charged, “will lead to another generation of U.S. children being separated from their parents. It attacks the family unit, which is really the glue which holds society together.”

Updated 10:11 a.m. E.D.T., Aug. 3.

Updated at 5:46 p.m. E.D.T. to include a response from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Updated at 3:19 p.m. E.D.T., Aug. 2: Additional reporting from the Associated Press and national correspondent Michael O'Loughlin.

Richard Bell
3 weeks ago

"According to the president, the proposal he is backing . . . would favor applicants 'who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy.' He added that the proposals would prevent new U.S. arrivals from collecting welfare and soon lead to new employment opportunities for unskilled U.S. citizens."
Mr Appleby does not offer any reason to doubt that it would be better for the U.S. economy if INS favored applicants who can speak English and who can support themselves financially and who have skills that will grow its economy. My mind is open. I concede it is possible that the U.S. economy would be improved if INS gave preference to applicants who cannot speak English and who cannot support themselves financially and who lack skills that will contribute to the economy. Only I would ask Mr Appleby to explain why that possibility is probable.

Mike Evans
3 weeks ago

Another cruel and racist proposal from Mr. Trump which reveals his penchant for hate. My grandparents would never have been able to become upstanding citizens. Without them, I would not exist.

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 weeks ago

Cruel?,,,,to whom?
Racist? .......predjudice against what race?

J Cosgrove
2 weeks 6 days ago

Another cruel and racist proposal from Mr. Trump

No, the real cruel and racist policy is the 1965 Immigration law which along with the War on Poverty, destroyed the African American community in the United States. The large influx of low skilled workers into the US depressed wages in blue collar jobs and made decent job opportunities for Black men extremely hard to get. This along with the financial incentives of the War on Poverty to single parent households destroyed the role of the male in the Black community. The current immigration law is the one of greatest causes for income inequality in the country.

So it is ironic that someone who calls the Trump administration racist is defending a policy that has been extremely racist for over 50 years and has hurt the poor substantially.

J Cosgrove
2 weeks 6 days ago

Until the Catholic bishops come up with a sensible immigration policy, they should remain quiet on the immigration topic. They seem to be advocating open borders which can never be feasible. It may have been possible 130 years ago but it is not possible now.

Since 1973 wages for unsupervised workers has remained the same or gone down in real wage terms due to the huge influx of unskilled immigrants that came to the US after the immigrant laws were changed in 1965. This has depressed wages at the lower end for all American workers for over 40 years while skilled wages have soared and fueled the American economy. Maybe the bishops are ignorant of this while Trump and his administration are not.

At this time there are over 60 million people in the United States who do not speak English at home. Some of these people obviously can speak English but it it not the language of choice for about 20% of US residents.

The Bishops should be more interested in how to improve the conditions in the countries that the prospective immigrants come from, many of which are dominated by a Catholic culture that is apparently dysfunctional economically. Someone should tell the bishops that the whole world can not move into the United States and Western Europe.

These articles are all part of the Scare and Shame philosophy that America, the magazine, employs. A departure from the old Jesuit policy of emphasizing reason.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 weeks 6 days ago

Mr Appleby has chimed in right on cue claiming that the proposed Bill is " ...counter to the trends we are experiencing....replacement rate in terms of native births, and an aging population and the labor gaps ahead"

Germany faced the same three issues starting with its Post 1960s economic resurgence and it adopted a "Guest Workers Program " with the State of Turkey. Germany has been dealing with the unexpected results ever since. The Washington Post notes that..."Contrary to initial government plans, a significant share of those workers never left the Country". (Washington Post July 18, 2017) The Post Article then goes on to cite the numerous complications this program visited on Germany and continue to cause....not the least of which is the President of Turkey recently instructing hIs 3 million ethnic compatriots to ignore Chancellor Merkel's call to "assimilate " stating that Germany's Turks should " integrate but not assimilate"!!!

This German program was designed precisely to deal with the issues Mr Appleby cites as a reason to open our borders. It seems that "the cure" in Germany may turn out to be worse than the "disease"it was suppose to tackle. Mr Appleby's advice to the US is that of a doctor mostly interested and vested by occupation in peddling his name brand cure.

Thomas Severin
2 weeks 4 days ago

I find this whole issue of immigration laws within our country to be reminiscent of the parable of The Rich man and Lazarus. Here we are the richest and most powerful nation on the face of the earth with thousands of poor, homeless and war weary people on our doorsteps. The world community is facing the greatest humanitarian crisis since the second world war, which we largely contributed to, and what is our response?
Rather than opening our arms to welcome and care for these desperate people, as modeled in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we restrict our immigration policy to the fittest, best educated and wealthiest of those wishing to enter our country. I fear that we can no longer dare to refer to ourselves as a Christian nation "under God" as we espouse in our pledge of allegiance to our country.

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