Alice Stewart: Immigration is not an entitlement; it's based on hard-fought, well-debated policy
The RAISE Act proposed by President Trump and Senators Cotton and Perdue is a good start, Stewart writes
Editor’s Note: Alice Stewart is a CNN Political Commentator and former Communications Director for Ted Cruz for President. The views expressed in this commentary are solely hers.
Ellis Island should serve as a welcome mat, not a doormat.
New proposed legislation has shifted the heated immigration debate from discussion of a southern border wall that Mexico was never going to pay for to the Statue of Liberty, and more fundamentally to what our nation stands for. President Donald Trump, along with Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and David Perdue, R-Georgia, announced details this week of the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, a plan to slash legal immigration into the United States. Critics argue this flies in the face of Lady Liberty, which serves as a beacon of hope to immigrants arriving from abroad.
The RAISE Act aims to reduce the number of low-skilled immigrants who are allotted green cards by 50% and would replace the current employment-based system with a merit-based system grading possible immigrants according to specifics such as education, English-language ability, high-paying job offers, and age.
Democrats in Congress dismissed the policy as shameful, disgusting and emblematic of naked intolerance in the White House.
CNN’s Jim Acosta questioned White House Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller about the policy, invoking “The New Colossus,” the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. Written in 1883, it reads in part, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”
Yes, America has an honorable tradition of taking in persecuted people from across the world – that’s what the poem on the Statue of Liberty is all about. We still take in the persecuted under the Refugee Act of 1980, though the RAISE Act would limit the numbers of those admitted. The broader point is this: the RAISE act is not about refugees; it’s about immigrants seeking green cards.
But our policymakers cannot ignore the reality: legal immigration numbers have shot past historical levels. Liberal elites argue that we should continue to take in the world’s poor like we always have; anything less is discriminatory. The problem is that everyone wants to come to the United States. When we have too many people coming into this country who fit the low-skill profile, that hurts low-income, blue-collar people who already live here.
According to figures from the Department of Homeland Security, over one million immigrants were accepted into the United States for legal permanent residency last year; many are low or unskilled workers or working in low-skilled jobs. And according to the White House, more than 50% of all immigrant households receive welfare benefits, compared with only 30% of native households in the United States that receive welfare benefits. Although those numbers have been disputed by some, the ultimate goal of the RAISE Act is to get more immigrants here who do not have to rely on welfare and who contribute positively to our economy – and polling data shows that one third of Americans favor an overall reduction in immigration.
Our immigration system should attract young and highly skilled people, those who can integrate into American society most effectively, and focus on uniting immediate families, as opposed to extended family members.
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I was born and raised in Sen. Perdue’s state of Georgia and lived the last 17 years in Sen. Cotton’s state of Arkansas. I have seen what they see: everyday Americans who want to work hard, build wealth, and achieve the American dream. The RAISE Act helps make that possible.
Immigration is not an entitlement; it’s based on hard-fought, well-debated policy. It’s time we decide what’s best for America today, not what a poem from the late 19th century tells us.