The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) was appalled to learn that the President and two Republican senators intend to push for the enactment of the RAISE Act, which would drastically reduce the number of immigrant visas (green cards) available on an annual basis by 50%. The RAISE Act would create a new immigration points system, replacing the current employment-based visa categories. Under this system, English language proficiency would be used to rank visa applicants according to their test results. This would have a disproportionately adverse impact on the Asian American community because immigrants from Asian countries with high rates of limited English proficiency would receive a lower ranking under this system, making them more likely to be denied green card status.
Margaret Fung, executive director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), said “This bill would move the United States in the wrong direction on immigration policy, harkening back to the era of restrictionist laws barring Asian immigrants.”
Annie Wang, staff attorney in AALDEF’s Immigrant Access to Justice Project, noted that the proposed legislation has little chance of becoming law. She attributed the widespread media attention about the RAISE Act to its appeal to the administration’s nativist, anti-immigrant base of supporters. “The co-sponsors and supporters of the RAISE Act are sending a clear signal to the Asian American community and other immigrant communities that the United States doesn’t value family unity, the cornerstone of our immigration system. They are disregarding the contributions of family-sponsored immigrants and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which paved the way for greater numbers of immigrants from non-European countries to come to the U.S., resulting in our country becoming a more diverse nation,” said Wang.
This bill disproportionately affects Asian American communities by reducing the number of green cards allocated to family-based sponsorship, the primary method by which Asian immigrants come to the U.S. and get legal permanent residence. Among the most dramatic changes proposed by the Act: it would no longer be possible for U.S. citizens to sponsor their parents and children over the age of 18 for permanent residence, and for green card holders to sponsor their adult children. (Currently, citizens and green card holders can sponsor children over the age of 21.) It would also cut refugee admissions to 50,000 annually (as opposed to the 110,000 designated under the Obama administration).
If the RAISE Act is passed, the economy would be adversely impacted due to the loss of small businesses and the lack of workers to care for elderly and infirm individuals. Small businesses, which create jobs for immigrants and native-born Americans alike, would be hit hard since many are started by immigrants. Home health care and other occupations that do not require a high level of educational attainment would also be affected.
The RAISE Act would reduce overall legal immigration by 50% over the course of 10 years, from roughly one million to 500,000, and cut family-based immigrant visas to 88,000 each year, a much lower number than current levels, By comparison, approximately 673,000 individuals received green cards through family sponsorship in the 2015 fiscal year. As mentioned, U.S. citizens would no longer be able to sponsor their parents and would only be able to bring an elderly parent on a new temporary visa for care-taking purposes.
The current family-based system has particular resonance for the Asian American community because of the virtual moratorium on immigration from Asian countries that began with the Chinese exclusion laws in the 1880s and continued until 1952. This restrictionist legislation kept Asian immigrants from living with their families in the United States for decades. Under the current system, Asian American family members have been separated due to years-long backlogs for family visas.
For more information, contact:
Annie J. Wang, Staff Attorney