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Trump-Backed Immigration Legislation Would Have Far-Reaching Effects

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump says it is time to change American immigration policy. He is supporting a Senate bill that would cut down the number of immigrants from more than a million a year to half of that. The biggest restriction would come from reducing green cards granted to family members of immigrants. The new law would also favor immigrants with higher education levels, English-language skills and job offers.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and that puts America first.

GREENE: That's President Trump speaking yesterday. With us in our studios this morning, Kevin Appleby with the Center for Migration Studies. It's a think tank that calls itself pro-immigrant. It advocates for a robust immigration program. Good morning.

KEVIN APPLEBY: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Thanks for coming in. You know, just listening to the president's words there, does the current immigration system put the needs of Americans first?

APPLEBY: Yes, it does because as studies have shown, immigrant workers complement the work force in America and help create jobs. This proposal's taking us in the wrong direction. We've got - U.S. citizenry is growing older. The number of U.S. citizens at retirement age will double by 2050. And we also will not have the immigrant workers.

We have a jobs gap that's approaching us. It's 7.5 million jobs that will need to be filled in these these low-skill industries in the next three to five years. So by him cutting the legal employment in half and favoring highly skilled immigrant workers, it's going to leave a gap for a lot of different industries that will need low-skilled workers.

GREENE: Stephen Miller, President Trump's policy adviser, was defending this bill yesterday. I just want to listen to a little bit of what he had to say.

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STEPHEN MILLER: This is a major promise to the American people to push for merit-based immigration reform that protects U.S. workers, protects U.S. taxpayers and protects the U.S. economy and that prioritizes the needs of our own citizens, our own residents and our own workers.

GREENE: Now, he was citing studies that he says show immigration actually costs American jobs. You were citing studies suggesting that immigration is actually a help to the U.S. economy. Are you guys just looking at different statistics and different numbers here?

APPLEBY: Well, it's always a battle of the studies when it comes to the economy and immigrants. But, you know, institutions like the National Academy of Sciences and the Cato Institute, which are not conservative institutions, have said that immigrants complement the workforce. They don't compete directly with American workers unless they're a high school dropout. So by and large, we're going to need immigrant workers in industries like construction, agriculture, tourism, et cetera.

I mean, Lindsey Graham, who's a Republican, came out against it yesterday right off, saying this is going to devastate the South Carolina economy. So what he's doing is not preparing us for the 21st century. We're not Canada the last time I looked at a map. And we're certainly not Australia. We're a larger economy. We're a larger population. We're going to need skills of all levels moving forward to grow this economy.

GREENE: Are there any restrictions you would accept? I wonder if this could be the beginning of a conversation where there'd be some compromise and maybe some tweaks.

APPLEBY: Yeah. We've never said that the system shouldn't be looked at, shouldn't be reformed. Right now, it is favoring family based immigration. And that's served us well over the last several decades. They can increase employment visas. They certainly can increase them, but it's not a zero-sum game.

Family based immigration has served us well. Families are economic actors. You can't go into any strip mall in this country without seeing a business owned by an immigrant family. So I wouldn't forsake that for employment. But you just can add employment and increase the number of green cards.

GREENE: OK. Kevin Appleby is with the Center for Migration Studies, a Catholic-based think tank that describes itself as pro-immigrant. Thanks for coming in.

APPLEBY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.