Is the RAISE Act Racist? A Statistical Approach

On August 2, 2017 Senators Tom Cotton (R. Arkansas) and David Perdue (R. Georgia) introduced a modified form of the RAISE (Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment) Act, which aims to limit low-skilled immigration by imposing a points-based system not dissimilar to Canada’s immigration system. The bill, upon its introduction, was labeled “racist” by multiple political commentators and, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “[reflecting a] white nationalist agenda.”

The RAISE Act is certainly not “racist” in the sense that it will lead to exclusively white European immigration. The bill likely won’t encourage mass European immigration because, currently, no European country represents one of the largest sources of legal immigration to the United States; the top 10 countries in terms of immigration to the US are all Asian or Latin American countries. Thus, the exploration of whether or not the RAISE Act is “racist”—meaning that it favors certain groups over others—begs the following question: Whom does the RAISE Act benefit?

Out of the Act’s maximum one hundred and two points, ten relate to age, thirteen to education, twelve to English proficiency, forty to “extraordinary achievement” (either a Nobel Prize or an Olympic medal), and twenty-five points relate to job offers and investments. The final two points are given to prospective immigrants who would have been admitted into the US under the family preference category of immigration that the RAISE Act limits extensively.

To most prospective immigrants, accruing the 30 points needed to be granted admission into the United States comes from immigrants’ age, education, English proficiency, and job offers. The Act’s emphasis on education—education generally correlates to job prospects and English proficiency—as a means to immigration shines light on how the RAISE Act affects different groups.

In 2015, the five countries from which the largest number of immigrants came were Mexico, India, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Per a Migration Policy Institute study in 2000, Indian immigrants tend to be more educated than people from the other four major sources immigration, with 37.9% of Indian immigrants having an advanced degree beyond a Bachelor’s. In fact, the Times of India published an article on August 4th entitled, “Migrating to United States likely to get easier for educated Indians.”

The other Asian countries on the five country list also all have well-educated immigrant populations; over 40% of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Filipino immigrants had “some college” education, with 23.5% of Chinese immigrants possessing a degree beyond a Bachelor’s.

Thus, while the RAISE Act could encourage more immigration from well-educated Asian countries, the Act is likely to harm legal immigration from Mexico. The 2000 MPI study reported that 36.1% of the Mexican immigrant population did not complete high school, while 11.4% of the population completed no schooling at all. Therefore, unlike the other four largest immigrant groups, the education-focused RAISE Act is likely to curb Mexican immigration.

Now, whether or not the Act is “racist” is a complicated question. It is certainly not “white nationalist,” as the Southern Poverty Law Center put it, as it actually encourages non-white, chiefly Asian immigration. However, the act does inherently limit Mexican immigration and likely similarly affects immigration from other Latin American countries. In the United States, “racist” is an extremely powerful word, and it often connotes an unfair advantage to white people. Thus, in purely that sense, the RAISE Act is not racist. However, the fact that the Act seemingly actively curtails immigration from specific ethnic groups indicates that it hurts immigration equality in the United States.

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