Magazine article Foreign Policy

Trump's Massive Miscalculation: How the Current Administration Totally Misunderstands the Economics of Immigration

Magazine article Foreign Policy

Trump's Massive Miscalculation: How the Current Administration Totally Misunderstands the Economics of Immigration

Article excerpt

NO ISSUE IS CLOSELY ASSOCIATED with U.S. President Donald Trump's ascendancy as immigration, but those who thought his only concern was stopping illegal immigration weren't paying close attention. Trump's ugly campaign rhetoric may have focused on illegal immigration--building walls, protecting Americans' jobs, and stopping a largely imagined crime wave--but, behind the scenes, candidate Trump was working closely with hard-liners who have long lobbied for cutting legal immigration drastically.

In a mostly ignored 2015 campaign policy paper titled "Immigration Reform That Will Make America Great Again," Trump promised, "Before any new green cards are issued to foreign workers abroad, there will be a pause where employers will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers." He also proposed making it more difficult for employers to hire highly skilled foreign-born workers on H-1B visas, reining in funding for refugee programs, and ending the J-l exchange program that brings in foreign workers. It should come as no surprise then that on Aug. 2 the White House threw its weight behind the most sweeping restriction on legal immigration proposed in nearly a hundred years.

The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, which was introduced by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) with the support of the Trump administration, would almost immediately cut 41 percent of legal immigration to the United States, halve it within 10 years, implement a point system that favors skilled workers and English speakers, largely eliminate family sponsorship except for spouses and children under 18, and dramatically change the demographic profile of new immigrants. The bill is a throwback to an earlier era, when the 1917 and 1924 immigration acts, for the first time in the country's history, imposed broad restrictions on immigration to the United States.

The RAISE Act is missing the inflammatory language of those earlier laws, but its intent appears similar--to keep immigrants out. The 1917 law barred "all idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, [and] insane persons" and virtually all immigrants from what was called the "Asiatic Barred Zone." The 1924 act restricted immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, then the largest source of immigration, because immigrants from those countries were presumed unassimilable. Of course, those fears proved unfounded as immigrants, many of them illiterate, eventually learned English and climbed the socio-economic ladder, achieving parity with other Americans within a couple of generations. Current data suggests that the same is true for newer immigrants as well.

The children of immigrants now have higher college graduation rates than the overall population: 36 percent compared with 31 percent, respectively. Fear that today's immigrants won't assimilate as quickly as previous generations may be driving the RAISE Act, but that fear is overblown at best--and at worst motivated by prejudice toward immigrants from Latin America and Asia.

According to analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, the RAISE Act would have an immediate effect on immigration from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, China, India, and Vietnam--the countries that most rely on family-based visas--because although some immigrants from these countries might qualify under the new, skills-based system, most would not, and there would be fewer visas to go around. …

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