President Donald Trump, having cracked down on illegal immigration, has turned his attention to legal immigration reform. He proposed a piece of legislation called the RAISE Act, based on a bill being pushed by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. and Sen. David Perdue, R- Ga. The proposed law would change entirely how legal immigrants are chosen to enter the United States.

Selecting immigrants based on skills

Currently, a number of criteria are used to determine whether a person can legally immigrant to the United States. One can have a family member already living in America who agrees to be a sponsor.

A lottery system is also used in a variety of countries.

The RAISE Act proposes to change legal immigration to a merit based system. Preference will be given to immigrants with marketable skills, can speak English, and who can support themselves and their families. The number of legal immigrants per year will be reduced to 50,000, roughly half the current levels. A cap would also be imposed on refugees.

The theory behind the change is that the current system imports a great many low skilled immigrants who then compete for jobs with Native Born Americans, driving down wages. Immigrants are also more likely to receive some kind of government benefit, roughly 50 percent as opposed to 30 percent.

Admitting immigrants with higher skills, who can more easily assimilate into American society, would enhance economic growth and job creation.

The political push back

The bad news, from the point of view of those who favor this kind of reform, is that it needs 60 votes to pass in the Senate. The sentiment among Democrats and some Republicans is that a merit based system would be unfair, partly because it makes it more difficult for recent immigrants to reunite with family members still residing in their home country.

Some in Congress want to go in the opposite direction, expanding legal immigration and providing a “path to citizenship” to illegal aliens.

A cynic would be forgiven for believing that what Trump and his allies regard as bugs in the current system some Democrats believe are features. Recent, low skilled immigrants could be counted on to vote for Democrats.

Tamping down on economic growth and job creation keeps large numbers of native born Americans in dependency and in thrall to the Democratic Party.

On the other hand, the facts behind this theory may be changing. Trump got a significant number of votes, especially from rust belt states that had not gone Republican in a generation, from working class voters who felt hammered by the anemic economy, especially by competition for jobs by immigrants. The Democrats, therefore, may be walking into a trap by opposing the RAISE Act.