The RAISE Act: the Good, the Bad and the Politically Possible/Impossible

As I reported here the other day, the White House has endorsed an immigration reform bill by Sens. Cotton and Perdue, known as the RAISE Act. The bill seems to be already drawing both support and fierce opposition. CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta was so upset about the Trump administration’s endorsement of the bill that he picked a fight with Trump’s senior policy adviser Stephen Miller during the latter’s press conference. Harvard economist George Borjas talks up the bill in a Politico column today. Here I will add my own comments.

The good:

RAISE plugs two longtime, gaping loopholes in immigration policy, both unintended consequences of the landmark 1965 Immigration Act.

First there is the problem of family reunification aspects in the policy set in 1965, specifically what today is called the Fourth Preference. Under this provision, U.S. citizens can sponsor their adult siblings for immigration. It was sold, I believe, as means to reunite families that had been split up by war, both World War II and various conflicts related to the Cold War. It was anticipated that the provision would be lightly used, and that most beneficiaries would be European. Though it may seem odd in 2017, especially to younger readers here, there was considerable fear in both parties at the time that the Act would bring in a flood of Africans and Asians. But it was pointed out that the (immigrant) African and Asian populations in the U.S. were tiny, thus resulting in very little usage of this part of the Act by those groups.

This of course turned out to be stunningly incorrect. I must interject here that I am glad for this, and strongly believe that the diversity that has resulted is a highly positive outcome for our nation. But it remains the case that the authors of the Act, and Congress as a whole, simply got it wrong. The Fourth Preference (called the Fifth at the time), turned out to completely change the demographics of the U.S. Congress missed that, as they had no inkling as to the intense desire of Asians and Latinos to immigrate to the U.S., nor did they realize the high level of resourcefulness with which the Asians/Latinos, especially the former, would be able to exploit the Fifth Preference provision. It resulted in what is now called chain migration — John sponsors his sister Mary, who immigrates with her husband Bill. The latter’s sister Barbara sponsors her husband, who in turn…well, you get the idea. John might also sponsor his elderly mother, who then sponsors her siblings, forming another chain.

And of course this now wasn’t really family reunification to remedy family splits due to war. On the contrary, it is almost entirely motivated by economics. One person comes here for a better life, thus deliberately DIS-unifying his family, and later sponsors the family members for “reunification.” And by the way, when A sponsors B, the latter often settles hundreds or thousands of miles away from A, straining the “reunification” idea further.

Congress has been aware of these distortions for a long time — decades. People in both parties have tried to shut down the Fourth Preference, but always have backed down in the face of heavy lobbying, e.g. by the Organization of Chinese Americans.

In recent years there has been renewed interest, again on both sides of the aisle, in repealing the Fourth Preference. The RAISE Act contains such a provision.

The other unforeseen consequence of the 1965 Act was skyrocketing usage of welfare by elderly Asian immigrants, primarily the Chinese and Koreans. This includes cash in the form of SSI, health care through Medicaid, government-subsidized senior housing and so on. These benefits are typically enjoyed by people who have never worked a day in the U.S., absolutely not the intent of the 1965 Act nor of the welfare system.

Congress became aware of this in the early 1990s, and reforms were made in 1993 and 1996, always in a bipartisan manner. But it is still a major problem.

Canada had a similar problem, so much so that a Chinese language pun developed, a play on the Chinese word for “Canada,” Jianada. Canada, the joke went, was really Dajiana, meaning “Everyone come and get it!” Accordingly, Canada has recently tightened up, and my understanding is that it does not allow elderly parents of immigrants to become citizens and thus become eligible for welfare. A parent can be a long-term visitor, but the sponsoring son or daughter must provide iron-clad proof of supporting the senior during the visit.

The RAISE Act contains a similar position. Note too that this also helps reduce chain migration.

The bad:

From my point of view, the bill has two major drawbacks. First, as I mentioned earlier today, I don’t like point systems, as they are elitist. I believe the nation benefits by having a diversity of socioeconomic classes in its immigration pool.

The second point is more subtle. Many of you are aware of various proposals to “staple a green card” to the diplomas of foreign STEM students earning master’s degrees or PhDs at U.S. universities. The immigration reform groups have rightly opposed such proposals, which would flood the STEM job market, greatly reducing wages and job opportunities for U.S. citizens and permanent residents. A particular harmful consequence would be to exacerbate the rampant age discrimination problem in the tech industry, since the Staple bills would apply to new graduates, who are young.

The problem is that RAISE would appear to have the same effect as Staple. It would give points for: earning a master’s or PhD; specializing in a STEM field; having good English; and being young — basically Staple a Green Card. (For those of you saying, as you read this, “My daughter’s TA in college had terrible English,” it’s the same point I discussed the other day: With the incentive of a green card, those TAs would go to huge efforts to develop whatever level of proficiency were required.)

Sorry, this would be a deal breaker for me, even if I did not already have one concerning the elitism.

The politically possible/impossible:

Clearly RAISE, if it ever even gets to committee, would face huge opposition from the Asian and Latino activist groups, and the wide array of entities that find high levels of immigration in their interest — the SIEU labor people, teachers, churches and so on, not to mention politicians with large Asian and Latino constituencies. But this may not be as difficult as it may appear.

For instance, I have seen various signs that the Chinese organizations have been shifting their emphasis from Fourth Preference to tech employer-sponsored green cards as a way to maintain/increase their numbers. If RAISE would throw in a provision for accelerated clearance of the current Fourth Preference backlog, the Chinese may be on board. And if a similar acceleration were done for the current huge backlog in employer-sponsored visas, the Indians would likely join in too.

The Latino groups would be a much tougher sell, though as Mark Krikorian has pointed out, adding DACA and similar programs could sway some of them.

But the opposition of the tech industry would be insurmountable. They would say that the point system, in spite of being tantamount to Staple a Green Card (albeit a finite version), would not give them the pinpoint accuracy they need in hiring for their special needs. Microsoft doesn’t hire many botanists, right?

The bottom line:

For the reasons I gave, RAISE is not my preferred solution. But it is a sound piece of legislation.

RAISE, in spite of what you hear on CNN, is thoroughly mainstream, similar to policy in several other liberal democracies. It fixes some longstanding problems. And maybe under RAISE the powers that be will decide that African-Americans can do a fine job of rebuilding a city post-hurricane after all.

Not being a DC insider, I don’t know whether RAISE is intended to go anywhere. It may simply be offered as a marker for future legislative proposals. Even as such, it likely will be brought into immigration discussions for quite some time.

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27 thoughts on “The RAISE Act: the Good, the Bad and the Politically Possible/Impossible

  1. Another component of the “chain migration” is the anchor baby issue. Many women (Chinese, Saudi, other countries) come here 4-5 m pregnant and have the kid here – instant citizenship. In many cases, they stiff the hospital and medical caregivers by leaving the country before paying the bill. In 20 years, the citizen kid comes here and uses chain migration to bring the parents, grandparents, whatever. If this bill were passed, all advantages of the anchor baby would be eliminated, and the 14th amendment would revert to a historical curiosity.

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    • Maybe what that means is that the 14th amendment would be used as it was intended – to protect American slaves who eanted to syay here. It is being mis-applied.

      Canada also stopped the anchpr baby scenario, which is insanity.

      I read one comentator who claimed that the Democratic Party loses members over time from the native population, so they have to import new voters, whether legal or otherwise. He probided numbers which seemed to buttress his argument.

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      • Canada has not stopped the anchor baby insanity. In the recent past, Australia, England and even India have. Just look at the wiki page on “Jus Soli”

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  2. I largely agree with you, the elitism is bad, the effect on American STEM workers is bad. I don’t have that much against chain migration, I do have something against anchor babies but this does not really affect that. The public discussion is gibberish because three issues are mixed: immigration, labor visas like H-1B, and illegal immigrants and visitors for things like farm labor.

    We should in general not have any policy to bring in masses of refugees, especially of the sort currently available, and that excuse is fraudulently used by tons of what are otherwise illegals coming in from Latin America. What is needed is restriction, but in an attempt not to sound “mean” (and also to placate greedheads like Microsoft and Facebook) this bill sounds like promotion, and that’s the real problem with it.

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  3. I’m a little fuzzy on the difference between “elitism” and “best and brightest,” or “good for the economy,” or “re-uniting families?” Almost every policy favors some group over others. Other than a random lottery, what policy is not elitist in some sense?

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    • I believe the term “elite” is pretty much well understood in any society. Having a policy which in essence only benefits the elite is different from, say, having a small “best and brightest” category as we do now.

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    • You’re groping around what is the underlying essential premise for immigration policy. Right now, we don’t actually have one. If you doubt that, consider illegal immigration, where a person self-selects, and the government not only does nothing about that, but states/cities/congress fight to keep it that way.

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  4. I must interject here that I am glad for this, and strongly believe that the diversity that has resulted is a highly positive outcome for our nation.

    I continue to be baffled by this worship of diversity for the sake of diversity, diversity as a good in and of itself. Boiled down to it’s basics, your position seems to be that there was something wrong with the ethnic makeup of America before the 1965 Act, and that the Act improved America by changing its ethnic makeup for the better. How can it ever not be an objectionable position to say that you can improve a country by changing its ethnic makeup, whether it’s America or any country??? Would it be OK to go to Japan or China or Nigeria and say “you know, this would be a better country if it weren’t quite so full of Japanese or Chinese or Nigerians?” I don’t think so!

    The idea that diversity in and of itself is inevitably a good thing seems highly questionable to me. Looking at the map, it seems to me that I can pick out countries where diversity has been nothing but a burden, countries that have been ripped apart and ruined by diversity. So why is it so wonderful in America? Seriously, can you give me any examples of how either white or black Americans have benefited in any concrete way? I’m willing to bet you won’t be able to come up with anything more compelling than ethnic restaurants. Or you’ll say that America was boring when it had too many white people. Really, the 60’s were boring? I’m ranting a bit here, but I’m asking a serious question, and if you’re willing to answer I’d be very interested in hearing what you have to say. Because I don’t get it.

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    • This is something personal, and can’t be explained in any rational way.

      I really hate the saying, “America is a nation of immigrants,” and the alleged implications that some activist groups and politicians claim for it. But the fact is that our nation was “diverse” from the beginning, given the American Indians(who were also originally immigrants), the Europeans of various nationalities and religions, a sprinkling of Jews and of course the immigrants from Africa (even though under force). I like that fact that so many place names in the U.S. are non-Anglo in origin, and that non-Europe cultures have infused our language, our music and so on.

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    • I only saw “diversity!” narrative show up once areas of the country were flooding in excess foreign labor, and saw it as a preemptive narrative as a stake in the ground to defend it in times of citizen layoffs/widespread unemployment. This question came up years back when we were creating the town master plan and were developing questions for the public. When someone suggested we add the question, “Do we have a problem with diversity in our town?”, I asked just what it is they were asking: “Do we have too many white people? Too many citizens? Too many immigrants?”, all of which are offensive, and never got an answer.
      My Mr., an immigrant, said he worked for one bizarre US employer who insisted _each_ hire come from a different country. Apparently a human zoologist. I attribute social support for international “diversity!” to some bizarre strain of chronic self boredom and self-aggrandizing notion of being cosmopolitan.
      The use along political lines, I attribute to genuine intent to create a labor glut/wage suppression/labor rights suppression. Our current anything goes benefits business only, and is quite a slap in the face to citizens and immigrants.

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    • Good points jb. There are obvipusly groups who contribute more, and groups that struggle. See my examples below on Ethiopianz and Somalis in America.

      Dr. Matloff, I would have agreed with our being “diverse” up until a month ago when I read an interesting article which stated that the majority of our immigrants and citizens came from Western Europe. They have a different background from people who grow up, say, in the Middle East. Completely different world and cultures.

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      • That is why the issue of assimilation is central. Up to now, immigrants from all parts of the world have assimilated. But one can imagine scenarios in which this may not be true in the future.

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    • There is an answer to this, which I will outline here, but what I describe is about diversity, and not an insanity that grips some people and maybe whole nations which is not about diversity but about doing anything besides what you’re doing, or assaulting you under some false flag of diversity.

      Diversity itself is almost a mathematical phenomenon, and is a matter of how much are you able to utilize, out of everything there is. Think of it as a search engine. Think of it in biological terms. Evolution is diversity in action, to bend the old cliche. A species tends to accumulate a thousand small mutations, “neutral variation”, that don’t even mean much in current situations but they are insurance policies, so that when conditions change maybe a few of those previously useless mutations survive where the other 99% do not. This is cold fact. How larger mutations work or produce new species is a much fuzzier issue. Perhaps all you need are small mutations and a lot of time. Perhaps there are other principles at work. But now we’ve gone beyond mere diversity.

      The benefits? Similar. Look up “hybrid vigor”, when separate strains come together it’s almost always a good thing. Now, in this context, note that I did say “come together”, if you keep them entirely separate you lose the benefit or at least don’t gain it, and you can’t crossbreed a man and a mouse (for which perhaps we should give thanks). Look at what different groups add to US culture, you may sneer at restaurants (though without diversity in restaurants I think Britain might have died out by now), and sports, and entertainment, but similarly “diverse” groups in the US excel at science, at politics, at literature. AND none of this is to say that there are not some groups with which we have no reason at all to include in efforts of diversity, that we have every reason to avoid, and loathe, or even fight.

      I live in Los Angeles and it’s about as diverse as anyplace on Earth in history, you can’t swing a dead cat in a grocery line without hitting people who were born on every continent and speak a dozen different languages … and exemplify every one of the 57 new genders we’re supposed to have. Frankly I could do with a lot less diversity. On the other hand a few years ago I took a business trip to the midwest (Columbus, Ohio), and the lack of diversity was enough to make it all seem strange (also a lot more people smoked … cigarettes back then, not vaping).

      So one can defend the virtues of diversity at much greater length than I have here. And yet, when I hear it raised in political contexts, I know just what you mean and it gives me an immediate headache, too, because I expect it will all be improper nonsense, which we just have this huge excess of, all of a sudden. I could go off on that at great length, too.

      Hope that helped!

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  5. I don’t believe anyone has eliminated the green card preference for parents of citizens. The fact that immigrants who have never worked a day in their lives can receive benefits unavailable to citizens and others who have labored for 40 to 50 years is unconscionable.

    At one of my physicians offices, they will not take any more Medicare patients but will take new Medicaid patients. They had patients of all ages, and they were big participants in providing services to children on Medicaid (most of the kids in the state it seems). But a new older individual who had never paid taxes can receive services not my DH. Am I angry; you better believe it!!!

    There are numerous discussions of immigrants who have resources in and pensions from their home country that are hidden when they go to apply for benefits. If someone wants to bring their parents, he should be responsible for them forever; they should never receive a welfare benefit. They are free to return to their country of origin.

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  6. Norm, have you ever asked any of your Democrat or pro-immigration contacts what is the “End Game”?

    Do they want the US to end up like Bangladesh – 160 million plus people in the area of the state of Iowa?

    Don’t they realize what this massive influx of people does to the price of housing, the environment and other living costs?

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    • I always ask them if they support open borders. In almost all cases, they immediately back down, though sometimes with some irritation.

      It has always amazed me that they don’t see the connection with housing prices.

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  7. While America is a nation of immigrants, it is convenient for the liberals to forget, it was because we needed to settle the western territories. The reason we had open immigration back then don’t exists any longer. Now we have no job growth and financial distortions in every sector of the economy. Until things get back on track, I’m for building the wall, sending them all back home, and stopping immigration, period.

    It took decades to get the voters this pissed off and I personally I’m not backing down.

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    • > While America is a nation of immigrants, it is convenient for the liberals to forget, it was because we needed to settle the western territories. The reason we had open immigration back then don’t exists any longer. Now we have no job growth and financial distortions in every sector of the economy.

      Perfectly said. However, the wall isn’t going to stop the alphabet soup of visas, only Congress can and the senate GOP’s actions so far don’t give me any hope.

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  8. 1) First of all, if RAISE Act becomes law, does that mean an end to the H-1B visa program?

    2) I said in one of my comments before that Software Development becomes tedious if candidate is not writing his own novel algorithms & there is not much specialization in this area. But, Software Developers know this, most H-1Bs like those who’ve been employed in Electronics Industry for more than 4 years or so, spend most time (at work) mastering Hardware (E-M & Elec. Ckts both A&D) stating it isn’t WYSIWYG. I‘ve seen Computer Science majors spend extended periods of time with proprietary Hardware to become innovative. Many H-1Bs are US University graduates who couldn’t handle Hardware, so, they ended up in Software. It’s one thing to study with students in a University with its limited infrastructure, but something entirely different to train in Hardware from professionals, while working in the Industry (for years). So, on one hand, the Software Engineer works completely under the guidance of his/her Team Lead/Manager & on the other hand, uses most of the free time to pursue innovation & Entrepreneurial goal. Under RAISE Act’s points based system, these workers would get a high valuation from their respective companies (a raise in salary). My point is these H-1B workers enjoy an overwhelming advantage over unemployed Americans. There is almost zero probability that the company would replace former with the latter, who’ve been unemployed or sporadically employed for sometime in the past, on grounds of contribution to innovation.

    3) Another important point to be made is that presumably many H-1Bs working either STEM/non-STEM jobs have both UG & PG from India (foreign degree), where the cost of education is very low compared to the US. Under the current system, weaker non-Computer Science candidates have a significantly low chance of getting a job. These people would rely on jobs leftover after all the ‘bright’ candidates are employed at companies with available funds, but those jobs would likely go to talented foreigners. There is high likelihood that these candidates are from poor families, who were not lucky enough to have excellent high school/college education. In this way, the current system would hamper socio-economic mobility (in America).

    4) In this era of laptops, smart-phones & the internet, it is very easy to quickly learn English to very high level of proficiency for anybody whose proficiency is average. In the 80’s & 90’s it was difficult because people had to go through tedious task of looking up a word in the dictionary.

    5) Trump has identified chain migration as the major problem with immigration in America. Other than that, his vision of America is that of customers rushing into the stores on Black Friday to get best Masters and PhD candidates from all over the world, instead of encouraging his own people to pursue higher education by lowering the cost of education to 1970’s levels, re-employing under-employed citizens etc.

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    • Unfortunately, there is a common attitude in DC that H-1B and green cards are totally separate issues. I view the lack of RAISE’s including H-1B as due to that.

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  9. Lots to chew on here. Not an expert, but a few points nonetheless.

    1. My understanding is that a Canadian of Chinese decent helped lead the charge to reduce Asian immigration / welfare abuse.

    2. Is it not possible after recently taking in 20 to 45 million illegal immigrants, we have a surplus of cheap low-skilled labor? The 12 million figure is a joke.

    3. I’m not sure diversity is some nirvana trail, we need to be more discriminating. My understanding is that uber liberal Minnesota has extensive problems with their Somali population; in contrast, I think I have yet to have a single negative interaction with an Ethiopian America. Industrious, pleasant, educated, high rates of family formation and businesses. I’m no expert, but I believe I have read of surveys which show a shockingly high acceptance rate for violence within the Muslim American community. Is thus why there was so little outrage in Davis CA from the Muslim community when an iman recently espoused hatred and violence towards Israel and our Jewish brothers? Not my kind of diversity.

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