HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A controversial plan to cut legal immigration to the United States by 50 percent over the next decade could permanently separate many Hawaii families, an immigration attorney said.
President Trump threw his support behind the proposed legislation Wednesday, saying it "demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and puts America first."
But critics say it would hurt American families, including many in the islands.
"People would not be able to petition their parents to come as green card holders," said attorney Clare Hanusz. "The other category that it would completely eliminate is the ability for U.S. citizens to file petitions for certain family members such as siblings or adult children."
Hanusz believes Hawaii's Filipino community would be hit the hardest.
Elaine Mateo's mom immigrated to the United States, and she says she has family currently on the waiting list and worries what will happen if this legislation passes.
"I think it would be devastating. It's hard living without family," said Mateo.
Critics say the proposal could also have a devastating impact on Hawaii's agriculture and hospitality industries.
"Hotels rely heavily on this labor pool. I think we all rely heavily on this labor pool in places we don't realize," said Hanusz.
The RAISE Act would do away with the current lottery system and instead institute a merit-based system for earning a green card.
It would also cut the number of refugees admitted into the United States each year from 110,000 to 50,000.
Trump said the application process would favor people who speak English, can support themselves financially and have job skills so they can immediately enter the work force.
Supporters say it would be fairer — to immigrants and Americans.
"I think it's a good idea because too many times we have people coming here who have nothing to offer," said Trump supporter Mike Addelia.
Every year, more than a million people come to the United States on green cards. The majority are in the country through family-based petitions. The RAISE Act would make it nearly impossible for American citizens and legal residents to bring immediate family into the country from overseas.
Former Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom calls the proposal a step in the right direction.
"As the president said the two objectives are one to protect American jobs and number two to get people off welfare and have more skilled workers," Slom said.