The RAISE Act Will Cut Legal Immigration In Half—Here’s Why That’s Good

president trump may scrap daca

Senators Tom Cotton & David Perdue’s RAISE Act Would Help Fix America’s Legal Immigration System

UPDATE August 2nd, 2017:

President Trump has officially endorsed the RAISE Act. Watch below:

The original article is as follows:

According to reports from the Daily Caller, Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia are working with the White House administration to create a bill (the RAISE Act) that would fundamentally transform, and possibly fix, America’s broken legal immigration system.

The RAISE Act would not only stop the practice of chain-migration, but it would also cut the number of immigrants in half over the next decade.  Should the Act eventually get passed, it would be the biggest change to America’s immigration system since the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which opened up the US borders to mass migration from the developing world.

Although many Americans believe that we need to curb illegal immigration into the country, the question of legal immigration is more tricky.  In fact, many people think legal immigration is not only harmless, but that it’s an integral to America’s survival—many can’t imagine an America without mass-migration.

You’ve heard the mantra: “America is a nation of immigrants”.  This is taken as gospel.  To disagree is sinful.

But here’s the deal: we’re all sinners.  We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about immigration reform, whether legal or illegal.  So, very briefly, I’m going to explain why the RAISE Act hits the nail on the head, why America needs to reform its legal immigration system.

Problems with Legal Immigration into America

This critique is by no means exhaustive, and only focuses on some of the broader issues that the RAISE Act seeks to tackle.

1. How Chain Migration is a Burden on the Welfare State

First, the RAISE Act would end the pattern of chain-migration into America.  Chain-migration is when one person immigrates to America for economic reasons, and then sponsors his extended family, and friends to immigrate as well.  Chain-migration causes a number of problems.  The first, and probably most obvious, is that it inevitably leads to immigrant groups self-segregating, thereby making assimilation difficult.  Why?  Because people will naturally settle where they have friends and family.  Call this the “Chinatown” effect.

You get the picture.

The second problem with chain-migration isn’t as obvious, but it’s still important.  America takes a finite number of immigrants every year.  Therefore, when an immigrant sponsors his extended family to come to America, this displaces someone else.  This is pretty straightforward.  However, it causes a big problem: the sponsored immigrant does not need to meet the same economic criteria as someone immigrating on his own merit.  This deprives us of the economic opportunity associated with the  denied immigrant, and saddles us with the potential burden of the family connection.

A study was done by the Fraser Institute, a conservative think-tank in Canada, that found chain-migration was the primary reason that immigration was actually a net economic detriment to Canada—each economic immigrant sponsored a dozen others.  Accepting immigrants cost Canadian taxpayers billions every year.  The same logic applies in the US.

Let’s flesh it out with an example: John immigrates to America from Ukraine.  John’s a skilled nuclear physicist who will contribute greatly to the economy— pretend his net benefit is $250,000 per year.  John also brings his three children and stay-at-home wife.  The services for John and them, in terms of education, infrastructure etc. works out to $100,000 per year.  John’s taxes more than cover this.  No problem.

But John doesn’t stop there: he sponsors his parents (who are retired), his wife’s parents (who work part time), and his brothers, none of whom graduated college.  They, almost immediately, start collecting more in government funding than they pay in tax.  Before you know it John, who looked so promising, has brought his entire family over, and it’s costing American taxpayers to support them.  This is how chain-migration, coupled with the welfare state, helps to hamstring the economy.

These are the main problems with chain-migration, although there are others.  A good resource is the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

2. Mass Immigration Distorts the Labor Market, Hurting American Workers

My second argument’s based on the axiomatic principles of basic economics.  Ever hear of supply and demand?  It’s how free markets determine prices.  If supply goes up (for example, there are more candy bars), prices go down (cheaper candy bars); if supply goes down, prices go up.  The same applies to demand.

The market price for labor (people’s wages) is no different.  Increase the supply and prices (wages) will go down.  It’s that simple.

Of course, there are a few caveats.  For example, if America’s economy were growing rapidly enough that it caused a labor-shortage, then immigration could help the economy continue to grow rapidly.  Likewise, the immigration of people with the skills needed to grow the economy in the long run is generally beneficial: inventors and scientists are rarely a bad investment.

real vs nominal US wages

But are these caveats in play?  Not really.  America’s unemployment rate is laughably high—there is no labor shortage.  Period.

Right now, immigrants are directly competing with Americans for jobs, which is one of the reasons why wages are stagnating—in fact, they’ve stagnated for most of the period of high immigration.  It’s not a coincidence.

Likewise, competition with immigrant workers is also a big reason why the labor force participation rate is declining.  Think of it like this: America lost 8.7 million jobs between 2008 and 2010, during the period of the Great Recession.  And yet, in that period we accepted over 3 million immigrants.  Do you think that helped or hurt American workers?

What do you think happens when the economy sheds jobs, but imports more people?  Unemployment rises and labor force participation declines.  This is born out in the data:

labor force participation chart

But none of this really matters, if we’re being honest.  There is no compelling economic argument for mass immigration.  Period.


Because real economic growth isn’t predicated upon population growth, it’s caused by technological growth.  Sure, you can double the size of the economy by doubling the population.  But who cares?  No one’s better off per capita.  The country isn’t more prosperous.  That’s why India and China have big economies, even though their people are relatively poor, on average.

Immigration only makes nations richer if they contribute to its technological advancement in the long run.  That’s why importing scientists is probably a good idea, while importing ditch-diggers isn’t (better to just invest in more tractors).

But again, there’s another caveat at play here: if a nation becomes too dependent upon the immigration of foreign professionals, then its educational infrastructure atrophies, which is bad in the long run.  We’ve seen this with America’s medical schools, which train fewer physicians (that go on to practice in America) than in the 1980s.  And I’m not talking about per capita rates, these are raw numbers.

Immigration dependence is dangerous.

America Should Lower the Legal Immigration Rate

America is a nation of addicts.  We’re addicted to debt.  We’re addicted to imports.  We’re addicted to immigration.

Basically, America thinks only in the short-term.  If we want to remain the world’s most powerful nation by the end of the century, we need to reverse course on the bulk of our self-destructive policies.

It’s time we scrapped the fed, ended the trade deficit, and lowered immigration.  It’s time we got our house in order.

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About Spencer P Morrison 160 Articles
J.D. B.A. in Ancient & Medieval History. Writer and independent intellectual, with a focus on applied philosophy, empirical history, and practical economics. Author of "Bobbins, Not Gold," Editor-In-Chief of the National Economics Editorial, and contributor to American Greatness. His work has appeared in publications including the Daily Caller, the American Thinker, and the Foundation for Economic Education.