Pundits trying to explain Donald Trump’s success frequently discount the importance of immigration. Wednesday night’s debate performance suggests even Trump doesn’t get it.
I hesitate to predict anything about his polling, since smarter people than me have proven embarrassingly wrong. But by seeming to revert to the billionaire consensus that we need to increase immigration, Trump might have sowed seeds of doubt in some of his supporters. Sure, he’ll explain away his anti-worker comments, but that’s what politicians do, not anti-politicians like Trump.
What’s more, Trump allowed Marco Rubio — Rubio, for Pete’s sake — to get to his right on immigration, even as Rubio misrepresented his own position.
Rubio and Tech Visas
In posing the question on H1-B visas for tech workers, John Harwood contrasted Rubio, who has been eager to provide the tech industry more visas, with Senator Jeff Sessions. Harwood asked: “Your Senate colleague, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, says in reality, the tech industry uses this program to undercut hiring and wages for highly qualified Americans. Why is he wrong?“
Given Sessions’s rock-star status among conservatives, Rubio wisely didn’t counter him but rather disingenuously suggested he was against abuses, too: “If you get caught abusing this program, you should never be able to use it again.”
Sounds good, and he delivered it with brio, repeating three times his demand that employers using H-1B visas to replace Americans should be barred from the program — except that “abuses” aren’t the problem. When Disney laid off hundreds of highly skilled Americans in Rubio’s own state and forced them to train their cheaper foreign replacements imported on H1-B visas, that wasn’t an abuse of the program — that’s the way it’s supposed to work. In the past couple of years, Toys “R” Us has done the same thing, and SunTrust and Fossil and Southern California Edison and Northeast Utilities and others. The law was written precisely to allow this.
Rubio was clearly suggesting that these actions should not be permitted. So one would assume that the H1-B bill that he introduced in the Senate earlier this year — the “I-Squared” bill, that would triple the number of H1-B foreign workers admitted — addresses those “abuses,” right? After all, he said in the debate:
We need to add reforms, not just increase the numbers, but add reforms. For example, before you hire anyone from abroad, you should have to advertise that job for 180 days. You also have to prove that you’re going to pay these people more than you would pay someone else, so that you’re not undercutting it by bringing in cheap labor.
But Rubio’s bill on this very topic does none of these things. It does not require recruitment of American workers. It does not require employers to “pay more than you would pay someone else.” In fact, Ron Hira, one of the leading researchers in this area, says Rubio’s bill would provide Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his comrades “a huge increase in the supply of lower-cost foreign guest workers so they can undercut and replace American workers.”
Rubio followed this phony call for reforms with a bizarre tangent, suggesting that high-school vocational education for people that “can work with their hands” will produce employees for tech companies, eliminating the need for H-1B visas.
As so often regarding immigration, Rubio was either clueless or lying. His immigration comments are, yet again, a useful caution for those excited by his genuine rhetorical gifts.
Trump ♥ Zuckerberg
Rubio’s vulnerability on immigration would have been more obvious to viewers if Trump had not, in effect, renounced his own critique of the issue and embraced Rubio’s position.
Becky Quick offered Trump an ideal opportunity to follow Rubio with his critique of the H-1B program. After all, Trump’s own immigration platform calls for the very reforms to H-1B that Rubio falsely claimed he supported.
But exposing Rubio’s falsehoods would have required Trump to have actually read his own policy on immigration. He has not. Further proof that he hasn’t done so came when Becky Quick asked him about the line in his policy paper that attacks the I-Squared bill by referring to Rubio as “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator.” Trump’s response was “I never said that” and “I have [said] nothing at all critical of him,” meaning Zuckerberg. Only later did Quick mention that the criticism appeared on Trump’s own website, though Quick oddly apologized for bringing it up.
Instead, Trump embraced Zuckerberg and echoed the tech billionaire’s call to let all foreign STEM graduates stay in the U.S. He went further, essentially renouncing the entire pro-worker portion of his immigration program:
I’m in favor of people coming into this country legally. And you know what? They can have it anyway you want. You can call it visas, you can call it work permits, you can call it anything you want. . . . As far as Mark is concerned, as far as the visas are concerned, if we need people, they have — it’s fine. They have to come into this country legally. We have a country of borders. We have a country of laws. We have to obey the laws. It’s fine if they come in, but they have to come in legally.
Thus does Trump embrace the “legal good/illegal bad” perspective on immigration, wherein huge, even unlimited admissions of foreign workers are okay, so long as they’re given a piece of paper on the way in.
#related#This is consistent with leaked excerpts from Trump’s upcoming book, in which he is said to write: “I don’t want to stop legal immigration to this country. In fact, I would like to reform and increase immigration in some important ways.” Contrast this with his immigration platform: “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.”
Even worse, Rubio followed Trump’s comments by appearing more hawkish than Trump on legal immigration:
But in 2015, we have a very different economy. Our legal immigration system from now on has to be merit-based. It has to be based on what skills you have, what you can contribute economically, and most important of all, on whether or not you’re coming here to become an American, not just live in America, but be an American.
The immigration dove that sounds like a hawk, and the ostensible hawk who turns out to be a dove. I imagine Zuckerberg is pleased.
— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.