ST. LOUIS - The local immigrant community warns St. Louis' economy could take a hit if a new bill restricting legal immigration becomes law. The bill would cut the number of legal immigrants allowed into the U.S. by half over a decade.
President Trump backs the bill, saying it would restore trust between America and its citizens. Some local immigrants say it would keep families apart and could force some businesses to leave St. Louis.
In his home country, Iraq, Hatem Shkhoth worked as a military translator for the United States.
"All the U.S. soldiers were telling me how beautiful the U.S. is," Shkhoth said.
Eventually, he and his wife moved to the U.S.
"They gave me the special immigrant visa," he said.
While they came to the U.S. legally, several family members remain in Iraq. He says the chances of them moving to the U.S. are slim.
"Our house got taken over by ISIS," Shkhoth said. "When I hear about this bill, it's kind of like crushing my and their dreams."
Shkhoth owns a property management company. Blake Hamilton, vice president and director of programs at International Institute St. Louis, says the bill would mean fewer entrepreneurs.
"Studies have shown that immigrants in St. Louis are 30 percent more likely to start a small business than a native-born American so a limit on immigration is going to reduce the opportunities for people to start small businesses," Hamilton said.
He says the bill would also make it harder to fill positions within the hospitality and tourism and food manufacturing and packaging industries, which already have high turnover rates.
"Back-of-the-house positions like dishwashing or laundry or housekeeping," Hamilton said. "If we are eliminating a pool of people from being in this country who can take part of those positions, those jobs are going to leave our region."
Hamilton says the bill would also affect high-skilled jobs. He says 50 percent of immigrants in St. Louis have a bachelor's degree or higher. Without them, he says, there would be fewer people to fill gaps in fields like STEM, where jobs are widely available.
Trump and supporters of the bill say this change would fix a broken immigration system and help the economy.
"It has not been fair to our citizens, to our people, to our workers," Trump said.
"That's why our legislation's focus on trying to make sure that unskilled and low-skilled immigrants aren't coming to this country to compete for the same jobs and drive down the wages of American citizens," Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said.
That bill would base entry on merit. The government would favor applicants who speak English and can support themselves and their families while contributing to the economy. The proposal faces an uphill battle in Congress.
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