WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., would abolish a federal green card program originally created to bolster diversity under an immigration plan he plans to unveil later this morning.
The freshman Republican would like to do away with a special lottery system started more than two decades ago that annually selects 50,000 people from countries with traditionally lower immigration rates to permanently live in the United States.
Eliminating the State Department’s Diversity Immigrant Visa Program is just one of several changes to the legal immigration system Perdue, along with fellow first-term Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., plans to propose at a press conference on Capitol Hill later this morning.
Their legislation would also slash the number of visas the government offers refugees to 50,000 per year, on par with what President Donald Trump has advocated for in his recent executive order. By comparison, Barack Obama announced plans in September to let 110,000 refugees into the country during the 2017 budget year.
Perdue is said to want to target what he describes as “outdated” programs, such as the diversity lottery system, in order to return legal immigration numbers to lower “historic levels” and help reduce competition for American workers’ wages.
“Senator Cotton and I are taking action to fix the shortcomings in our legal immigration system,” Perdue said in a statement. “Returning to our historically normal levels of legal immigration will help improve the quality of American jobs and wages.”
Perdue and Cotton’s bill would also significantly alter another avenue for legal immigration. Under the current system, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents can sponsor members of their family and get them green cards. The new measure would eliminate preferences for the adult parents, siblings and children of citizens. It would only allow such preferences for spouses and dependent children of migrants, as well as elderly parents in need of caretaking.
Overall, their proposal seeks to lower legal immigration levels by 41 percent compared to 2015 levels during its first year of implementation and by half within a decade.
The legislation comes at a moment when immigration – both legal and illegal – is dominating the national conversation.
Trump administration officials will argue before a federal appeals court today that the president’s divisive executive order, which temporarily bans refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the country, should be restored. Opponents have framed the policy change as unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, some of President Donald Trump’s supporters have vowed to boycott several major corporations, including 84 Lumber, Coca-Cola and Budweiser, for airing pro-immigrant Super Bowl ads. And GOP leaders in Congress continue to formalize their strategy for fronting the money for Trump’s proposed wall on the Southern border behind closed doors.
Perdue is not the only Trump ally who has touted curtailing legal immigration. Top White House strategist Steve Bannon and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who is expected to be confirmed as attorney general in the days ahead, have similarly advocated for slowing the flow of people entering the country.
The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program is one of the world’s more unique green card programs. Nearly 14.4 million people from scores of countries around the world applied for 50,000 visas in 2015, the last year in which figures are publicly available. That means only 0.3 percent of applicants ultimately “won” the lottery.
Supporters have touted the program for its melting-pot ethos, but critics have faulted it for being susceptible to fraud. They have also called out the program for allowing people from countries that are deemed state sponsors of terror to apply for visas. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has a pretty useful analysis of the lottery here.
The program, and more specifically the experience of one Somali refugee, was the subject of a memorable episode of the public radio program “This American Life” back in 2015 that’s worth a listen.