At the time the Act was passed, arriving immigrants were almost entirely white and European. Fifty years later, nine of 10 newcomers were from outside Europe, and—to the consternation of Miller and other immigration critics—their share of the American population was nearing an all-time high.
“The reality is that the foreign-born population into our country has quadrupled since 1970. That’s a fact,” Miller declared, leaving no doubt he sees such immigration growth as a disturbing development.
“As a result of this [immigration] policy,” he said, “we’ve seen significant reductions in wages for blue-collar workers, massive displacement of African American and Hispanic workers, as well as the displacement of immigrant workers from previous years who oftentimes compete directly against new arrivals who are being paid even less.” In his White House briefing, Miller did not highlight the cultural impact of nonwhite immigration, although he suggested that criticism of the proposal betrayed “a cosmopolitan bias.”
In fact, most economists say immigration has a net economic benefit and is associated more with job creation than with job loss, even though there may be negative effects for the least skilled, least educated native-born workers.
The legislation introduced by Cotton and Perdue and enthusiastically supported by the White House would aim to cut legal immigration to the United States by half, mainly by severely restricting the allocation of legal permanent residence status (green cards) on the basis of family ties.
Currently, naturalized U.S. citizens can sponsor the immigration of spouses, parents, children, and adult siblings. Legal permanent residents can sponsor spouses, minor children, and unmarried adult children. About two-thirds of all immigrants currently achieve legal status because of these family ties.
The proposed legislation would eliminate all family sponsorship beyond spouses and minor children and thus theoretically end the phenomenon of “chain migration,” which Miller defined as what happens when someone sponsors a relative “who can bring in a relative who can bring in a relative.”
The priority instead would be immigrants who score “points” as a result of their ability to speak English, their income prospects, and their marketable job skills. During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to select immigrants “based on their likelihood of success in U.S. society” and their ability “to successfully assimilate.”
Ironically, the original version of the 1965 law had a similar goal, favoring immigrants with skills considered “especially advantageous” to the United States. The priorities were changed, because critics feared that a merit-based system would open the gates to a more diverse immigrant population and thus change the demographic character of the United States.