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Two Republican senators seek to slash legal U.S. immigration

By Patricia Zengerle

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two Republican senators proposed steps to slash the number of legal immigrants admitted into the United States by half on Tuesday, but the legislation, developed with the Trump administration, faces an uphill climb to get through Congress.

Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue said their bill would cut the number of immigrants granted U.S. residency each year to 500,000 from 1 million, through measures including cutting far back on which relatives can be brought into the country and eliminating a diversity visa lottery.

The legislation does not address visas specifically tied to employment, such as the H-1B visas for skilled workers used by many technology companies.

Cotton and Perdue said they had consulted Republican President Donald Trump, who vowed to crack down on both illegal and legal immigration during his campaign for the White House.

Cotton said he had spoken to Trump about the bill by telephone as recently as Tuesday morning.

The measure faces stiff opposition in Congress. Although Trump's fellow Republicans control majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives, several back comprehensive immigration reform, not a tough crackdown.

Republican Senator John McCain said he disagreed with the bill. A long-time advocate for immigration reform, McCain praised the contribution of immigrants to the United States.

"We need more Sergey Brins and people like that who were born outside of this country and came here, received an education and made enormous progress for all mankind," McCain told reporters, referring to the Google co-founder, who came to the United States as a refugee from Russia.

NEW RULES FOR FAMILIES

Any measure also would need Democratic support to advance in the Senate, and Democrats, who cite studies showing that immigrants boost the U.S. economy, are strongly opposed.

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen called it "wrong and senseless" to separate families and cut successful visa programs.

Perdue and Cotton acknowledged the bill would not come up any time soon, saying they hoped for a Senate vote this year.

Senator John Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Congress first needed to address border security, but said the new measure "will be a helpful constructive proposal."

The bill would admit only immediate family members of immigrants, eliminating preferences for adult siblings or adult children. Cotton said it would exclude parents unless they were sick and the family promised not to rely on public benefits.

The proposal came amid a larger immigration fight over Trump's travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees.

Cotton said his goal was to stop competition that lowers wages for workers without high school or college degrees. "Unless we reverse this trend, we are going to create a near-permanent underclass for whom the American dream is always just out of reach," he said.

Asked if the White House would support the legislation and whether it was working with the senators, a spokesman said, "We are reviewing it."

U.S. companies often argue in favor of immigration. More than 100 filed a legal brief opposing Trump's travel ban.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Ayesha Rascoe, Patricia Zengerle and David Morgan; writing by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)