The RAISE Act is a sensible immigration plan. Can it pass?

President Donald Trump introduces the RAISE Act with Sen. Tom Cotton and Sen. David Perdue at the White House on Aug. 2.

Zach Gibson – Pool/Getty Images

Americans are less divided on immigration than you might think. If the question is whether we ought to admit more immigrants or fewer of them, you’ll certainly find disagreement. But when you ask about the kind of immigrants we should admit, there is something close to a consensus. Political scientists Jens Hainmueller of MIT and Daniel Hopkins of the University of Pennsylvania have found that preferences vary relatively little according to education, partisanship, labor market position, or the respondent’s level of ethnocentrism. Given a choice, Americans of all types strongly favor admitting highly educated, English-speaking immigrants in high-status jobs.

You’d think, then, that overhauling America’s immigration policies would be fairly straightforward: Let’s just reform the system to make it more selective and skills-based. That is roughly the tack Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and Georgia Sen. David Perdue have taken with the RAISE Act, a bill that aims to reduce the overall level of legal immigration to the U.S. while dramatically increasing the share of new immigrants earning high incomes. It does so by phasing out family sponsored preference categories for the siblings and adult children of citizens, which would greatly reduce family-based immigration over time, while at the same time replacing today’s employment-based immigration system with a streamlined points system, which would prioritize immigrants with valuable skills and high-paying U.S. job offers.

This certainly sounds like the kind of immigration reform Americans could get behind. But while many Americans say they want to reduce immigration levels, they will then balk at reducing admissions from any given category. (This is akin to how Americans say they want smaller government…

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