U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan cast doubt Friday on a plan by President Donald Trump to cut legal immigration, saying the American economy needs workers to replace retiring baby boomers.
“I just think arbitrary cuts to legal immigration don’t take into effect the economy’s needs as the boomers are retiring,” Ryan said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “With baby boomers leaving the workforce, we’re still going to have labor shortages in certain areas and that is where a well-reformed legal immigration system should be able to make up the difference.”
Ryan cautioned he has yet to fully review the proposal and said he does want to overhaul the immigration system to focus on economic needs like dairy farms and research and engineering work. But he questioned the wisdom of actually cutting the number of immigrants entering the United States.
“I think legal immigration is good for our country. I’m a supporter of legal immigration,” Ryan said.
On Wednesday, Trump proposed a broad new U.S. immigration system that would rewrite the rules for becoming an American citizen and cut in half the number of immigrants allowed in.
The plan drew questions from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, with some worried about the impact on their state economies and others about the nation’s tradition as a refuge for immigrants.
Trump’s attacks on illegal immigration have been central to his presidential campaign and his first six months in office, as he mobilized the Department of Homeland Security to ramp up deportations of undocumented immigrants. Wednesday’s announcement, however, marked his first attempt to tackle the legal immigration system.
The proposal is part of a bill sponsored by Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia. It would switch from a system based on family members in the U.S. to one based on economic value to the country.
Taking cues from immigration systems in Canada and Australia, the plan would end the long-held practice of U.S. citizens sponsoring parents, siblings and adult children for permanent residence and ultimate citizenship. Americans would only be allowed to bring in their spouses and minor children, a restriction immigration opponents have sought for years.
A “merit-based” system would grade other foreign applicants on their potential contributions to the economy, with the highest scores — and entry — going to those with advanced education, English proficiency and a stellar work history.