Why Congress Isn’t Cutting Legal Immigration in Half

Why the RAISE Act is considered "dead on arrival"

Aug 2, 2017

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), President Donald Trump, and Senator David Perdue (R-GA)
Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), President Donald Trump, and Senator David Perdue (R-GA) (Getty Images)

President Trump just endorsed a bill called the “RAISE Act,” which was drafted by two Senators with the stated intent of “reducing overall immigration by half.”

There are plenty of reasons to feel uncertainty about immigration policy these days. This bill isn’t one of them.

Let’s consider the facts

Only Congress has the power to change our current system of legal immigration, which allocates about 650,000 green cards per year to bring families together. A U.S. citizen can sponsor a spouse, child, parent, or sibling for a family green card. A U.S. green card holder can sponsor a spouse or unmarried child. This isn’t likely to change any time soon, because…

The RAISE Act doesn’t have the votes to pass Congress. For arcane parliamentary reasons, the recent bill to repeal Obamacare only required 50 votes in the Senate, and still couldn’t clear that hurdle. Passing a bill to reshape legal immigration requires a majority in the House (218 votes) and a supermajority in the Senate (60 votes). That level of support is unimaginable for a bill like this.

But you don’t have to take my word for it!

Simply put, the RAISE Act is a “message bill”—that’s a term you hear a lot in Washington, DC to describe a bill intended to make a political statement, not to become the law of the land.

Everyone does it, left and right. Here’s an Obama-championed bill to raise taxes on cigarettes to fund universal pre-K. Here’s a Republican bill to privatize 3.3 million acres of public lands. Like them or not, these bills are about taking a stand, not changing the law. They didn’t even come up for a vote, because they simply didn’t have the support to pass both houses of Congress—and neither does a bill to cut legal immigration in half.

That’s why, despite all the attention it’s getting, the RAISE Act evokes another term you hear a lot in the nation’s capital: “dead on arrival.”

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