A new bill embraced by President Donald Trump that would cut legal immigration and re-prioritize the system could have a range of effects on the Fox Valley, area officials and immigration leaders said.
Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain said the policy wouldn’t help business owners there who have said they found it tough to fill positions, especially for unskilled labor. In Aurora, the proposal could have a significant effect because of the demographics of the city, Aurora immigration attorney David Richmond said.
Richmond said though several parts of the proposal appear, to him, unfair, other provisions would better meet the employment needs of the country today.
But the measure has not gained much traction in the Senate. Republican leaders have showed no inclination to vote on immigration this year and Democrats have dismissed it.
The bill would dramatically reduce legal immigration and the number of refugees, and eliminate a program that provides visas to people from countries with low rates of immigration.
It would eliminate preference for U.S. residents’ extended and adult family members, though spouses and children would continue to have priority. The bill instead focuses on merit and skills, creating a new points-based system favoring those would can speak English, have high-paying job offers, can financially support themselves and offer skills that would contribute to the U.S. economy.
The White House has said only one in 15 immigrants come to the U.S. because of their skills, and the current system doesn’t prioritize highly-skilled immigrants.
Trump has said immigrants compete with Americans for jobs and drive down wages. Those arguments are disputed by many economists who say in recent decades immigration doesn’t appear to have meaningfully hurt wages in the long run and that immigration is associated with faster growth because the country is adding workers.
It is an argument also disputed by Susan Sperry, executive director of the Aurora and DuPage chapter of World Relief, an evangelical relief and development agency.
“In the midst of all this debate, I believe it is a fallacy to equate immigration with a lack of growth because the evidence just doesn’t bare that out,” she said.
She cited examples of companies throughout Kane and DuPage counties that were founded by immigrants or their children.
“Aurora, in particular, has such a strong history of immigration that has strengthened the fabric of our community that I simply can’t imagine that changing and being good and healthy for the city of Aurora,” she said.
Sperry said World Relief wants to see immigration reform, and hopes the introduction of the bill will spark debate that will lead to a more robust, comprehensive measure. She stressed that the measure is not law and is likely to change as it moves through the legislative process, and there is room for input.
Richmond said the proposal would update the employment needs factored into the immigration system. The current system is based on the country’s employment needs in the 1980s, he said. It would also allow for more flexibility to change those needs in the future.
But he highlighted two provisions of the proposal that he called unfair.
In one, mothers and fathers who meet certain requirements, including proving they have medical insurance and can be financially stable without government help, could come to the U.S. for a limited amount of time on a non-immigrant visa, he said. But he said the move would likely require them to leave as they are aging and would be more likely to need the help of their children, which eliminates family members’ ability to take responsibility for each other.
The other provision means the immigration changes would apply to people who have previously petitioned for green cards or visas for siblings and are still waiting, he said. For example, he said, visas and green cards are just now going out for petitions for siblings from Mexico filed in September of 1997 and for petitions for siblings from the Philippines filed in April 1994. Petitions for siblings from other countries typically take seven to 10 years, he said.
He acknowledged that petitions for brothers and sisters to come to the U.S. can grow into a “mushroom cloud,” and that is contributing to the current backlog. But the bill would apply to applicants who have spent what can sometimes be decades waiting in the backlog, he said.
“So that, to me, seems quite unfair…” he said. “What would seem more fair is they would allow those people to still go forward who still have pending petitions.”
He said in Aurora, many residents obtained green cards under a sweeping immigration reform package in the late 1980s, then petitioned to have siblings join them once they became citizens. Others have gotten green cards through other paths, he said. Children bring parents over “quite often,” he said.
In a written statement, Aurora city officials said they did not know how federal decisions would affect states and municipalities.
“While we are not certain how federal decisions will impact or be implemented at the state and local levels, we are certain that the city of Aurora will continue to work with all of our community members and collaborate with our community organizations to make Aurora a safe and progressive place to live, work and visit,” they said.
In Elgin, Kaptain said he was troubled by the undertones of the immigration proposal.
His family would not have been able to immigrate under the proposed bill, he said. Relatives came from Hungary on one side and Sweden on the other, and “didn’t know a lick of English.” They were laborers and farmers, he said.
“It’s really trying to control what type of people they want here,” he said. “And it’s not the right approach.”