WASHINGTON – Two Republican senators proposed steps to slash the number of legal immigrants admitted into the United States by half on Tuesday, but the legislation, developed with the Trump administration, faces an uphill climb to get through Congress.
Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue said their bill would cut the number of immigrants granted U.S. residency each year to 500,000 from 1 million, through measures including cutting far back on which relatives can be brought into the country and eliminating a diversity visa lottery.
The legislation would not affect foreigners admitted to the United States on visas specifically tied to their employment.
Cotton and Perdue said they had consulted Republican President Donald Trump, who vowed to crack down on both illegal and legal immigration during his campaign for the White House.
Cotton said he had spoken to Trump about it by telephone as recently as Tuesday morning.
The measure faces stiff opposition in Congress. Although Trump’s fellow Republicans control majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives, several back comprehensive immigration reform, not a tough crackdown.
Any measure would need Democratic support to advance in the Senate, and Democrats are strongly opposed.
Perdue and Cotton acknowledged the bill would not come up for a vote anytime soon. “We’re hopeful that we’ll see this on the floor of the Senate this year,” Cotton told a news conference to unveil the bill.
The measure would admit only immediate family members of immigrants, eliminating preferences for adult siblings or adult children. Cotton said it would exclude parents unless they were sick and the family promised not to rely on public benefits.
The proposal came amid a larger immigration fight over Trump’s travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees.
Cotton said his measure would still allow in “high-skilled individuals who can come and help our economy.”
He said it was intended to stop competition lowering wages for less-educated workers. “Unless we reverse this trend, we are going to create a near-permanent underclass for whom the American dream is always just out of reach,” he said.
Asked if the White House would support the legislation and whether it was working with the senators, a spokesman said, “We are reviewing it.”
U.S. companies often argue in favor of immigration, and more than 100 filed a legal brief opposing Trump’s travel ban. They said the executive order “inflicts significant harm on American business.”
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly meanwhile tempered some of President Trump’s recent promises on curbing illegal immigration before a congressional panel on Tuesday, explaining that funding to cities that refuse to cooperate with immigration agents would only be cut on a case-by-case basis.
Trump has threatened to cut large swaths of federal funding to about 300 so-called sanctuary cities in order to pressure them to cooperate in the apprehension and deportation of illegal immigrants.
“If we are specifically giving grants for cooperation on the removal of illegal aliens and the department or city is no longer doing that, it seems irresponsible to me to continue giving them the money, but it will be case by case,” Kelly told the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security.
Trump’s executive order on Jan. 25 protected police from funding cuts but left programs like education and health care on the table.
Kelly also said he did not expect to meet Trump’s hiring goals of 5,000 additional U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents within two years. Trump did not specify a timemline when he called for the hiring in his executive action on Jan. 25.
Kelly said he would not “skip on training and standards” to speed up the pace of hiring.
Lawmakers grilled Kelly over the controversial immigration ban on refugees and visa holders from seven countries, which is temporarily on hold by a court order.
Kelly defended the order, claiming that the seven countries were known to have inadequate systems for sharing information with the United States on their potentially dangerous citizens.
Reports circulated last week that 12 countries could be added to the travel ban were false, Kelly said, adding that no additional countries were being considered for the temporary travel ban.
Kelly also said that the wall Trump has called for building on the U.S.-Mexico border may include fence and may not cover the whole border. He said he expected to be “well underway” in the construction of some kind of physical barrier along parts of the border within two years.
Kelly previously told Fox News he expected the barrier to be finished within two years.