Donald Trump’s immigration agenda is pretty good. Pity Donald Trump is in charge of it.
As he draws near the end of his first year in office, President Trump has delivered approximately squat: no Obamacare repeal, no tax reform, no economic turnaround, no radical reconfiguration of trade relations, no big check from Enrique Peña Nieto to pay for a border wall. Bupkis. Nada. Jack. Zero. Zilch. Zip. Diddly. Sporting lint in the way of accomplishments.
But it was immigration that galvanized the Trump movement, and there is still time for the president to get that right. Unfortunately, that means there’s still time for him to get it wrong. And with the headlines of the moment keeping the dancing rage monkeys of radio and cable news busy mouthing excuses for 32-year-old assistant district attorneys who hook up with underage girls while Mom is inside the courthouse for a custody hearing — well played, Republicans! — it is easy to forget that immigration is the one subject upon which the Trump administration has developed something like a coherent and substantive policy agenda.
Item No. 1, after the horrifying act of terrorism in New York City that the nation seems to have almost entirely forgotten in the course of two weeks, is getting rid of the “diversity lottery.”
The diversity lottery is emblematic of our wrongheaded thinking about immigration. Here’s the way it works: Countries that have sent lots of immigrants to the United States (more than 50,000 over five years) are put on an exclusion list, and the rest of the world gets to enter an immigration sweepstakes in which first prize is an immigration visa for the United States. Those are much coveted, because there aren’t a lot of other ways for people who do not already have family in the United States or highly prized work skills to immigrate. So, Canadians are out of luck, along with Mexicans, Colombians, Vietnamese, Indians, and those pesky Englishmen who have for generations been packed into the squalid Anglo-Saxon ghettos that mar so many of our otherwise fair cities with their tea and cricket and ironic diffidence.
On the other hand, the Trump administration complains, the diversity program has been used to bring in 30,000 new permanent residents from countries that are designated state sponsors of terrorism by our government. Beyond the State Department’s naughty list, the Trump administration is skeptical about immigration from the Islamic world in general, and not without reason. The Islamic State groupie who carried out the Halloween terror attack in Manhattan was here on one of those diversity visas — not the lottery we want to win. With all due respect for the glorious cultural and scientific achievements of Uzbekistan, we can do without that kind of diversity.
Immigration is one of the few areas where the policy agenda actually could use a dose of Trump’s “America first” politics, daft and dim as his application of it often is. Even in a world full of unhappy places, horrifying governments, refugees, genocides, crimes against humanity, poverty, oppression, and persecution, the obligation of the government of the United States of America is to the people of the United States of America, not to the people of Uzbekistan or Syria or Burma. The United States does more than any country in the world — in the history of the world — to help the poor and the oppressed around the world, both through government action and through private endeavor. But immigration policy isn’t philanthropy, and it isn’t meant to be.
It may be the case that the United States would benefit from the immigration of a few thousand Indian doctors, South African entrepreneurs, and highly educated and highly skilled people from around the world. The Islamic State terrorist who murdered those people in New York was a trucker and Uber driver. There isn’t a national crisis upon us related to a dearth of truckers, and no one expects one.
Beyond the diversity lottery, the Trump administration wants to limit or eliminate “chain migration,” the process by which new immigrants are able to sponsor the immigration of family members from back home, who in turn sponsor more family members, etc., in an exponential progression. Oversight of that isn’t exactly robust, and fraud is not uncommon. It has resulted in, among other things, an aging immigrant population: One in five family members brought in through chain immigration is more than 50 years old. The entitlement-based case for high levels of immigration — that young workers will support federal programs for aging Americans — doesn’t hold up very well when you throw in a lot of grandparents.
As I travel around the country, I do not see any great shortage of poor people, and there does not seem to be much of a case for importing them.
Policymaking is an activity dominated by highly educated professionals. It is not entirely lost on the Right’s newly energized populists that immigration is skewed away from those who are likely to compete with the lawyers and professors who dominate the public-policy discourse, and takes a much more generous view of the immigrants who are likely to be cutting their lawns or driving their Ubers. That should probably be reversed. Highly productive societies need highly productive people, which in the 21st century means highly skilled and educated people. I am not very confident of the government’s ability to foresee exactly what the labor market needs — this many software engineers, that many architects — but as I travel around the country, I do not see any great shortage of poor people, and there does not seem to be much of a case for importing them.
Ending the diversity lottery, reducing chain migration, choosing immigrants with American interests foremost in mind: There’s a lot to be said for Donald Trump’s immigration agenda. Too bad some idiot entrusted it to Donald Trump.