Advocates say Trump-backed bill could cripple Garfield economy | PostIndependent.com

Advocates say Trump-backed bill could cripple Garfield economy

Garfield Couty immigrants and supporters, including leaders in faith-based organizations, gathered at Sayre Park on Mother's Day to celebrate the immigrant community.

President Donald Trump is putting his weight behind a momentous immigration bill in the Senate, the Raise Act. But critics say the overhaul would cripple immigrant-dependent economies and breaks with America's long tradition as a safe haven for struggling foreign families.

Supporters of the Raise Act say it would help make the U.S. competitive because an influx of low-skill immigrants has been pushing down wages for American workers.

The bill would shift the legal immigration system's focus from family-based immigration to "merit-based" immigration, cutting legal immigration in half within a decade. Currently, the U.S. grants about 1 million immigrants legal residency each year. Most of those are people who already have family in the U.S.

Under the Raise Act, the immigration system would instead favor immigrants based on skill, education, offers of high-paying jobs and English proficiency.

Glenwood immigration attorney Jennifer Smith said the U.S. legal immigration system is indeed broken, and "any attempt to completely modify it is something we should have an open mind about." But she questions the foundation of the bill's logic, which she called a "mythology that the administration has been putting out there to justify the act."

Assertions that immigrants are keeping wages down in low-income jobs simply hasn't been proven true; in fact many American companies are begging for more foreign workers, said Smith. Economic growth is incredibly important to everyone, and "those who feel left behind in the economy are looking for a reason, and I think it's an easy scapegoat," she said.

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Neither is it true that taxpaying Americans are somehow paying for vast numbers of immigrants receiving government benefits, she said. Research shows that noncitizens use government benefits less than citizens and that immigrants pay in way more into the government system than they get out of it, said Smith.

"Our major industries of tourism, service and construction are dependent on the low- and medium-skill workers, and there are already not enough workers in the valley to meet that need," said Smith. "The Raise Act does not take into account the needs of our businesses the way it is written. The valley's economy would be totally crippled by this."

Jon Fox-Rubin, executive director of the Carbondale-based Valley Settlement Project, which helps immigrant families engage with schools and communities, agreed.

"Our resort economy depends on people skilled in vocational trades (e.g., chefs, waiters, construction, mechanics, welders, roofers, plumbers, electricians, cleaning, home health care, landscaping, etc.)," he said in an email. "Many of those working in these trades are first- and second-generation immigrants who have put down roots here, are trained locally and are critical to our economy."

Such a law, he said, "would hurt local families because it makes it harder for families to stay united by reducing options to sponsor family members."

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, has derided the bill on social media, tweeting that "reducing legal immigration will not fix our broken system. Need real solutions consistent with our values and that strengthen our economy."

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis from Boulder, who is running for Colorado governor, stopped into the Post Independent the day the president announced his support for the Raise Act. Polis said that cutting legal immigration will have a direct impact of increasing illegal immigration.

Neither has the bill has won universal support from conservatives. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham from South Carolina has said this reform of legal immigration would devastate agriculture and tourism, two top industries in his state.

The Raise Act would also cap the number of refugees accepted into the U.S. to 50,000 and kill a diversity visa program. That makes you question the real goal of the bill, said Smith. How will the government decide who has merit and who doesn't? she asked.

"There is no doubt the (immigration) system needs to change, but I don't see how this bill would improve any of the problems we have," said Smith.

It's important now for people to contact members of Congress, she said. However likely the bill is to pass, "it raises the stakes for families and businesses to say that this is not the solution we're looking for, not the way to raise the U.S. up as a world leader or to help the economy."

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