Seeking English speakers with skills should be priority.

Who knew that speaking English could be such a political liability on Planet Earth, 2017?

Apparently, those who are fluent in the language, and living in countries other than the United States, would have an “unfair” advantage on our immigration line if the newly unveiled, President Trump-supported RAISE Act ever sees the light of day.

And, for good measure, those who see some merit in the RAISE Act must be the R word – racist.

RAISE, the latest attempt to overhaul the U.S. immigration system was unveiled by Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue on Wednesday. The bill seeks to cut immigration to the U.S. -- currently around one million per year, the clear majority of which is family-based -- by about half.

President Donald J. Trump, Senator Tom Cotton, and Senator David Perdue | August 2, 2017


The bill would slice and dice all of the existing legal avenues, and prioritize the employment-based categories to favor the skilled, educated and those with English speaking skills like the Irish who currently get a paltry three-fifths of one percent of the green cards allocated each year. Canada and Australia currently prioritize language and skill levels. It is what makes sense.

Discrimination again non-English speakers

This whole “it’s blatant discrimination against those who can’t speak English” argument against the RAISE Act is pretty ridiculous when examining our current five employment-based categories (as against the far larger family reunification categories) for permanent resident status – otherwise known as green cards.

The top three employment categories are, for the most part, for highly skilled workers who have a minimum of a university degree.

Read more: Stephen Colbert on Trump’s immigration bill “Eat stick Paddy!”

What are the odds that 99 percent of these best and brightest new immigrants already speak English, probably better than native Americans in many cases? I’d say very high. So, what’s all the fuss that somehow the RAISE Act is encoding an unfair advantage to those who are conversant?

Why is English all of a sudden a dirty word, and why is it unreasonable to expect people to have at least an understanding of it? Being able to communicate is one of the keys to advancement not only in our country but everywhere else too. It’s not racist to believe that those who have at least some English skills will have a head start when they get here – it’s reality.

"Family unity" - flawed argument

Another problem with RAISE, according to the naysayers, is that it’s anti- “family unity.” Again, it’s a flawed argument when taking into account our current immigration categories.

U.S. citizens currently have the privilege of sponsoring siblings for green cards under present law; if the sibling has a spouse and minor children, they too can come along.

Problem is, the fourth preference sibling category which allows this flow is so hopelessly oversubscribed as to render it meaningless, given the annual 23,400 green card allotment. The processing time is at least a dozen years – currently, those who filed on or before November of 2004 are eligible for interview.

Such lengthy waiting times make the sibling category – and another one, the third preference, which allows married adult (over 21) children and their families –useless. (The third preference is processing cases filed on or before July 2005).

I’m all for family reunification – but there’s a strong case to be made that adult children of citizens and their spouses and kids should be able to fend for themselves. Same with brothers and sisters. It’s the way life works in general – why should it be different when it comes to U.S. immigration? The existing system is ineffectual; anyone who argues otherwise is in La La Land.

"Existing system is ineffectual"

Currently, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens – now defined as spouses, parents and unmarried children under 21 – can immigrate in unlimited numbers each year. RAISE keeps the spouses and children, downgrading the age to 18 – that’s a negative for sure – and eliminates parents. That’s also a bad change, though the architects of RAISE would disagree with my logic -- the immediate relative category is a lifeline for those undocumented who have lived here for years and given birth to U.S. citizens, hoping to stick it out till the child turns 21 and can then sponsor the parents.

Another issue roiling up the anti-RAISErs is the elimination of the annual diversity green card lottery, which gives 50,000 green cards each year. Most of the world’s citizens can apply, including those from Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Irish perspective

From an Irish perspective, winning the lottery is like finding a needle in a haystack. Only a trickle each year – less than 150 or so – are Irish. Other countries like Iran, with 4,500 green cards in the last lottery, do much better. Even Saudi Arabia with 489 visas scored better than the Irish. (Not to digress, but it’d be hard to find a more racist, misogynist country than Saudi Arabia…I wonder what their immigration policies are?)

There is no question whatsoever that our economy greatly depends on both high and less skilled workers – I’d even argue that the calculus tilts in favor of the latter. The idea that such immigrants are taking jobs from Americans is preposterous – and the major flaw in the otherwise pretty sensible RAISE Act.

Read more: Trump's new immigration bill could lower Irish visa numbers

How many natives aspire to slice onions in the back of delis in New York City? Do you know Americans who grow up with a dream to pick fruits in our fields? Who wish to be hotel maids?

Yeah, I don’t know too many either – but our way of life is vitally dependent on them. So our immigration policy going forward must acknowledge our shortage of less – I hate the term “low” -- skilled workers, and make appropriate accommodations to ensure our employers have a steady stream of legal workers.

This could entail a healthy boost in the annual number of non-immigrant visas we allocate in categories like the H-2A and H-2B non-immigrant categories – non-immigrant meaning temporary. The present “other worker” green card category should be expanded too. Long story short, we need to listen hard to our employers and make sure their needs are met. If Americans don’t want the jobs, then let’s make sure they’re filled with ready and willing immigrants.

One other is absolutely undeniable that America is a nation of immigrants and stands as the world’s shining star because of their contributions. The anti-RAISErs claim that the bill turns its back on our immigrant tradition … hard to fathom as the bill would still allow for some 500,000 new immigrants each year, not to mention the huge number of temporary workers we admit.

I’d claim that yes, our country has for sure been enriched by our immigrants from all over the world…but America has also given back to them, and allowed them to pursue their dreams unfettered.

My father came to the U.S. in 1951 from County Sligo not because he wanted to leave his parents and seven siblings behind…he had no choice. There was nothing going on at home, and America gave him a lifeline. He came to an uncle on Long Island, worked as a cashier in a food store and eventually worked his way to owning a construction company.

My dad certainly contributed to the immigrant success story which is so much a part of American life, and he never forgot that America gave him a chance that simply didn’t exist in Ireland at the time. So, the exchange was mutually beneficial…this country got the best of him, and he took full advantage of all the opportunities.

Such stories will continue to be told in the future, whether the RAISE Act passes or not. But let’s give it a chance, let’s get the dialogue going on immigration reform again – it’s been a while, and there’s always plenty of give and take – and who knows, maybe we’ll soon get around to dealing with an issue that also requires urgent attention…the undocumented.

If Donald Trump really wants to leave his mark as president a fair and equitable immigration policy would be a huge legacy.

What do you think of the proposed US immigration bill? Let us know in the comments section below.