Trump's legal immigration stance could be felt hard in Hawaii

Updated: Aug. 29, 2017 at 3:25 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - President Trump's plan to restrict the number of America's legal immigrants is causing fear in some members of the state's immigrant community – and the businesses that employ them.

President Trump ran for the White House on a platform that included a strong need to protect the jobs and wages of American workers. The President has thrown his support behind a piece of legislation known as the Raise Act, which would limit the number of new, unskilled immigrants.

"The Raise Act will reduce poverty, increase wages and save tax payers billions and billions of dollars," President Trump said.

The benefits of the legislation have been disputed by critics who say the bill will actually harm Hawaii's economy. The measure calls for cutting legal immigration by about half, down to between 5,000 or 6,000 green cards a year, and a change to a merit-based point system similar to immigration policies in Canada and Australia.

It would also prioritize immigrants with advanced degrees and skills.

"It turns out that a lot of studies suggest that this really won't do what the president suggests," says Colin Moore, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii.

Moore believes the U.S. economy would suffer because of a strong dependence on low-skilled, legal immigrants.

"Particularly here in Hawaii, we have a famous history of immigration, and they are assets to our community," said Moore, who also believes that immigrants are often willing to take jobs many Americans won't, in industries like agriculture.

At Catholic Charities Hawaii, they provide assistance in preparing and filing the appropriate immigration documents. CCH also provides general immigration services as well as education and training to prepare people for U.S. citizenship.

"the areas are, number one, the civics, history and government." said Kim Winegar, who teaches citizenship and ESL courses there, "we also have specific ESL classes, just English as a second language."

Kim Winegar, who teaches citizenship courses for Catholic Charities Hawaii, says that many immigrants – in addition to learning about the United States – are voicing concerns over the proposal.

"As for the immigrants themselves, they're obviously very concerned about the family reunification aspect," Winegar said. "Some of them have petitions in the works right now and they're not sure if that should pass."

Right now, about two-thirds of all green cards in America are awarded because of an immigrant's family relationship to a U.S. citizen. Under the new measure, preferences for extended family members would end.

"To cut legal immigration in half would mean that ... if your grandmother wants to immigrate to the United States, the answer might be no," Moore said.

The reaction in Congress to cutting legal immigration has been lukewarm – unlike the President's plans to attack illegal entry. Advocates for immigrants are hopeful the Raise Act doesn't rise any higher on congressional agendas.

"They pay taxes. And they're hard working people," said Melba Bantay, the Immigration Program Director at Catholic Charities Hawaii. "They come here to succeed. They are not a liability. They are assets to our community."

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