Legal immigration: Time for a new approach?
“So much for the tired, poor, huddled masses,” said The Washington Post in an editorial. We already knew what Donald Trump thinks of illegal immigrants, but now we know his administration holds the legal variety in almost as much disdain. Last week Trump endorsed the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, a Republican bill that would roughly halve the number of immigrants the U.S. accepts each year and change the criteria by which green cards are awarded. The bill would end so-called chain migration, which lets immigrants bring over their adult children and extended families, and replace it with a merit-based “points” system that rates candidates by academic credentials, English proficiency, and earning potential. Trump wants to make “getting into the United States almost as difficult as getting into an elite college,” said Ruben Navarrette Jr. in USA Today. Our nation has been largely built by desperate immigrants who arrived with little but their hopes for a better life, which is why the Statue of Liberty expressly invites “the wretched refuse” who are “yearning to breathe free.” To shut the door on such people is “profoundly un-American.”
Actually, said Rich Lowry in Politico.com, the “huddled masses” poem was not added to the statue until 1903, 17 years after it was erected. And why should we craft “21st-century policy in accord with late-19th-century poetry?” With 1 million immigrants accepted annually since 2000—up from 500,000 throughout the 1990s, and 300,000 in 1970—it’s clearly time to “tap the brakes” on immigration, to give those already here time to assimilate. As for merit-based admission, this is hardly a novel or shocking idea. Both Australia and liberal Canada favor high-skilled immigrants to boost their economies. Reducing the flow of low-skilled immigrants, meanwhile, will lower the unemployment rate and relieve downward wage pressure on low-skilled American workers. Our government’s primary obligation is to protect its own citizens, said Philip Wegmann in the WashingtonExaminer.com, not to admit 1 million immigrants a year who take jobs from Americans.
“The economy simply doesn’t work that way,” said Jeremy Robbins in WashingtonPost.com. Only a small percentage of the American workforce—high school dropouts—competes with low-skilled immigrants for work. For the nation as a whole, “immigration is an economic boon,” with high-skilled immigrants starting businesses, and low-skilled immigrants providing the cheap labor that many businesses need to thrive. Cutting legal immigration would actually result “in fewer jobs for Americans.” That’s why Canada and Australia admit far more immigrants overall (2.4 and 3.5 times as many, respectively) as a proportion of their populations, despite giving some priority to those with high skills. For the most highly educated immigrants, including scientists and engineers, our “family friendly” policies are central to America’s appeal, said Mark Regets and Harriet Duleep in the New York Daily News. Would Albert Einstein have chosen to live here “if he couldn’t bring over his sister Maja?”
There’s a middle way forward, said Ross Douthat in NYTimes.com. “By embracing the new bill’s points system without making its steep cuts” in overall numbers, we could ease the pressure of mass immigration on the working class without harming the overall economy. Sadly, this debate has become too polarized for compromise. To the nativists of Trump’s base, immigration is an absolute evil. Liberals, meanwhile, are increasingly adamant that any restrictions on immigration “are ipso facto racist.” So the RAISE Act will likely stall in Congress, and we’ll continue debating immigration into the next presidency.