Trump says he wants immigrants 'who speak English' and won't 'collect welfare'

Trump and two GOP senators are pushing for the immigration limits.

ByABC News
August 2, 2017, 5:39 PM

— -- President Trump introduced legislation today with Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., aimed at cutting legal immigration to the United States.

The bill — a revised version of an immigration-reform bill introduced in February — would change the system for granting legal residency, or green cards, by giving priority to high-skilled, English-speaking immigrants.

"This competitive application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy," Trump said today at the White House alongside Cotton and Perdue.

Trump, who promised during his election campaign to reform the immigration system, argued that the bill, called the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, would replace "our low-skilled [immigration] system with a points-based system."

"They're not going to come in and immediately go and collect welfare," he said.

Under a 1996 welfare reform bill signed by President Clinton, legal immigrants are already barred from receiving government benefits for five years or longer. Some exceptions include children and human trafficking victims who allowed to collect certain benefits.

The RAISE Act would establish a point-based system for issuing green cards and would give more points to people who are highly skilled — which, Trump suggested, would reduce the number of immigrants receiving government benefits.

"For some people, they may think that's a symbol of America's virtue and generosity," Cotton said of the current immigration system. "I think it's a symbol we're not committed to working-class Americans. We need to change that."

Trump, along the same lines, said the new legislation would lead to higher pay for American workers and "help ensure that newcomers to our wonderful country will be assimilated, will succeed and will achieve the American dream."

According to the Department of Homeland Security, 1,051,031 immigrants gained permanent residency in the United States in 2015.

It's unclear when the Senate may take up the new legislation. The initial immigration reform bill was opposed by some Republicans and business groups and has been stalled in the Senate.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has already criticized the measure, saying it would hurt his state's economy.

Some immigration reform advocates also disagree with the idea that the RAISE Act would contribute to better wages.

"This bill slashes overall legal immigration by 50 percent -- the biggest reductions in a century -- which would severely harm the economy and actually depress wages for Americans," said Todd Schulte, president of, an immigration reform advocacy group founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and others in the tech industry.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also expressed doubt that the RAISE Act would improve the employment landscape.

"The goal of moving to a more skills-based immigration system that meets the diverse needs of our economy is a good one and one long championed by the Chamber," Randy Johnson, senior vice president for labor, immigration, and employee benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said. "But dramatically reducing overall immigration levels won’t raise the standard of living for Americans. In fact, it will likely accomplish the opposite, making it harder for businesses, communities, and our overall economy to grow, prosper, and create jobs for American workers."

But, other groups that want stricter immigration laws have expressed support for the new legislation. NumbersUSA president Roy Beck said in a statement that the RAISE Act "will do more than any other action to fulfill President Trump's promises as a candidate to create an immigration system that puts the interests of American workers first."

Sen. Perdue, R-Georgia, also rejected criticism of the proposed legislation. He said he does not believe the RAISE Act would unfairly discriminate against Latino workers, who accounted for 48.3 percent of the foreign-born labor force in 2016 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"I don't see that that's well founded at all," Perdue said. “What this does is let everyone compete individually."

ABC News' Ben Siegel, Jordyn Phelps and Cecilia Vega contributed to this report.