We’re only a few weeks into the Trump administration and the president has come out swinging when it comes to both illegal and legal immigration. He’s signed executive orders – one that paves the way for a wall along the United States-Mexico border and another that placed a travel ban on immigrants from certain countries.
In line with Trump’s restrictive policies on immigration into the country, two U.S. senators filed a bill Tuesday that seeks to reduce immigration further.
Sens. Tom Cotton (Arkansas) and David Perdue (Georgia) want to limit the number of immigrants coming into the country.
NPR’s John Burnett says this legislation is a reflection of how Americans are thinking about immigration. It’s a mentality that’s been changing from “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
The new legislation would lessen what critics call “chain immigration,” where naturalized citizens sponsor family members to come into the country seeking green cards. It would also cut the number of accepted refugees in half and eliminate the diversity visa lottery, which accepts people from countries with low rates of immigration into the U.S.
“We really want to narrow the gate into the United States,” Burnett says.
But the legislation is merely a reflection of a public rethinking of what immigration means to America, Burnett says. It’s a sharp turn from the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which opened up U.S. borders to immigrants from Asia and Africa and expanded who is accepted into the country.
“What it is is a direct reflection and a riff off of Trumpism,” he says. “President Trump had immigration front and center in his campaign from beginning to end and in the U.S. Congress they’re saying ‘Now is our moment.’”
Some critics of more lax immigration laws say foreign low-skilled workers are coming into the U.S. and competing with American low-skilled workers – hurting the American workforce.
But just as there are many economic studies that would validate that position, Burnett says, there are a similar number that would say the more immigrants you have, the more vital and creative the American economy is.
Burnett says other criticism points to large numbers of immigrant enclaves within certain states. U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith from Texas (R-San Antonio) has said he is considering sponsoring a companion bill in the House to go along with the bill introduced Tuesday.
“I think when you have so many immigrants being admitted, they tend to cluster together. They tend to maybe be a little bit more slow in learning the English language, to become acculturated, to becoming what we think of as being patriotic Americans,” Smith told Burnett.
Burnett says some of this thinking was the very thing that supporters for Donald Trump may have felt.
“These immigrant enclaves … feel like little outposts of a foreign nation and they don’t feel American,” he says. “People are perturbed by that and that may have fed into some of Trump’s anti-immigrant support.”
Written by Beth Cortez-Neavel.