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H1B not in firing line as Trump backs plan for major overhaul of legal immigration

The battle cry for the US Election 2020 campaign has just been sounded via US President’s masterstroke Wednesday afternoon when he blessed the Reforming American Immigration For Strong Employment (RAISE) Act which aims to cut immigration by half from the current level of more than 1 million green cards granted per year and evaluate visa applications based on merit, with a preference for people with higher education or job skills.

Not yet law
Don’t be misled by the name of this Trumpian push - RAISE Act is not yet an Act, it is still a Bill and hundreds of such Bills get introduced in the US Congress every year. What is important is that Trump has singled out not just the Bill but also handpicked its authors and timed it to deflect any whining about his nothing burger on the promised Obamacare repeal.

Trump with his new pet intellectual - Tom Cotton is on Trump's right / Reuters

Trump with his new pet intellectual - Tom Cotton is on Trump's right / Reuters

Link: How a Bill becomes law

"This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and puts America first,” Trump said, speaking straight to his most loyal voters.

Read the full text of the RAISE Act (Bill) here

This move however will not affect other skilled worker visa programs such as H1-B and H2-B visas, the latter being the mainstay for staffing at Trump’s private clubs in Florida, including his favourite Mar-a-Lago resort.

As Trump’s rival party flounders, Trump is doubling down on sealing the the emotional investment of folks who voted him to power.

Trump's new favorite - Tom Cotton

Notice that beaky, young man standing beside Trump?

Take a good hard look at him. You’re going to be hearing a lot more about this rising star of the uncompromising right.

That’s Tom Cotton, 39, son of a cattle farmer, Harvard law grad and former McKinsey consultant who’s also served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, Cotton shared the stage with Trump for the single most cruicial issue that turned the 2016 elections - immigration. It’s easier to recall how divergent Trump and Hillary Clinton’s views were but that’s not the point here. First time politician Trump made mincemeat of 16 other Republican challengers over nine gruelling months of campaigning with his single minded devotion to beating back "low grade" immigration.

Trump has solid reasons for elevating Tom Cotton this summer even as his most ambitious legislative agenda - to repeal Obama’s signature healthcare law was killed off last week.

Cotton is equally if not more voluble than Trump against ‘low-skilled’ migration and its effects on working class families and their wages - which has nothing to do with business class travellers who are unscathed by immigration.

For all those who rant against Trump’s Twitter obsession, Cotton is now the go-to man for the long form version of American populism.

Cotton has made it mainstream.

The Associated Press reports how “the president is mischaracterizing many of the immigrants coming to the United States as low-skilled and dependent on government aid”. and quotes Pew Research figures: The Pew Research Center said in 2015 that 41 percent of immigrants who had arrived in the past five years held a college degree, much higher than the 30 percent of non-immigrants in the United States. A stunning 18 percent held an advanced degree, also much higher than the U.S. average.

That is precisely the point we are making here - not facts, not data but the emotional core that Trump has tapped into, the reconstitution of white identity at a time when the immigration wave that began in the 1960s threatens to upend the country's demography.

This is how the White House summarises the RAISE Act:

The RAISE Act replaces the current permanent employment-visa framework with a skills-based system that rewards applicants based on their individual merits. The system rewards education, English-language ability, high-paying job offers, past achievements, and entrepreneurial initiative.
This system is similar to the merit-based immigration systems used by Canada and Australia.
The RAISE Act reduces overall immigration numbers to limit low-skilled and unskilled labor entering the United States.
The RAISE Act prioritizes immediate family members of United States residents, including spouses and minor children, but ends preferences for extended family members and adult children.
United States citizens needing to take care of elderly parents can receive renewable, temporary visas for them.
The RAISE Act eliminates the outdated Diversity Visa lottery system, which serves questionable economic and humanitarian interests.
The RAISE Act limits permanent resident status for refugees to 50,000 a year, in line with the 13-year average.

Links: Trump backs RAISE Act
Statement by Trump, Cotton, Perdue

Trump is not grudging Cotton any praise, calling the latest move the “most significant reform to our immigration system in half a century.”

“I want to thank Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue for their tremendous work in putting together this historic and very vital proposal. As a candidate, I campaigned on creating a merit-based immigration system that protects U.S. workers and taxpayers -- and that is why we are here today.  Merit-based”, Trump gushed.

That’s what the RAISE Act is all about - while it is about immigration and will run into several thousand pages of background material but at its core, it tugs at how Trump’s voters ‘feel’ and not about what Trump is able to achieve, not how senators haggle in US Congress and certainly not about bills that don't pass.

The RAISE Act hits the sweet spot for Stephen Bannon, Trump’s dishevelled chief strategist and most likely the man who picked on Cotton. His paper Breitbart sums up the political messaging Trump wants America’s farmers to hear - “If the RAISE act becomes law, Democrats and their business allies would lose the huge annual inflow of immigrants whom they expect will soon bring them national political dominance. That loss will pressure Democrats to compete for votes from working-class Americans by offering to slash the very unpopular inflow of visa-workers.

Scaramucci? Comey? Russia? Trump's voters couldn't care less about any of these rabbit holes.

“If they hate him (Trump) for this, then they hate me. I’m the same way”, is the leitmotif we’re hearing from hordes of people surveyed on their Trump vote six months on.

Updated Date: Aug 03, 2017 02:29 AM

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