Curtail family reunification, but leave legal immigration limits alone: Our view

For far too long, the key to immigrating legally to the United States has not been job skills or evidence that an immigrant is likely to be productive and succeed. It’s having a family member who’s already in America legally.

In 2015, 65% of the immigrants granted green cards, which bestow lawful permanent residence, were relatives of U.S. citizens or other legal residents — a trend that that goes back five decades. And it’s not just spouses and minor children, but a stream of adult siblings and children, all of whom have family members of their own who can then qualify for entry.

Now two Republican senators, in a measure introduced last week and championed by President Trump, would change this system in a way that makes sense, by focusing more on merit and less on family ties.

This change is long overdue. It was part of immigration proposals a decade ago, when President George W. Bush proposed a comprehensive reform package, and again in 2013. It made sense then and still does.

This time, though, it’s coupled with an unwise effort to slash legal immigration by more than 40% next year and keep cutting until the limit would stand at 540,000 in the 10th year — about half the number in 2015.

OPPOSING VIEW: Immigrant families make America great

Even if some decrease were warranted, such a precipitous drop would neither give the nation time to absorb the change nor test its effect on the economy. It might even spur more undocumented immigrants to sneak over the borders to jobs that go unfilled.

Because of the drastic cuts, the proposal by GOP Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia appears dead on arrival, turning off not only immigration advocates but also Republican conservatives such as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Graham said such cuts would be “devastating” to his state’s economy, which relies on immigrant workers in agriculture and tourism.

The best approach would be to keep legal immigration levels close to where they are now, but put more focus on skills rather than family relationships. This country is in a global race to attract the best minds and most productive workers, yet the current system ignores that reality by focusing on “chain immigration.”

Family reunification is unfair to many who seek to immigrate but have no…