At various times over the last four years, President Donald Trump has endorsed a large reduction in legal-immigration levels. In 2018, the White House said it would veto any major immigration legislation — even legislation that funded the wall at the border with Mexico — if it did not reduce the numbers by ending chain migration and the diversity lottery.
It may have been a mistake to insist on the point given the lack of congressional support for cuts. But the administration is now sending signals that it is erring in the opposite direction. Over the last month, Trump has suggested on a few occasions that he wants higher immigration levels. In the State of the Union address, he ad-libbed that he wanted legal immigration “in the highest numbers ever.” At a White House event with Apple CEO Tim Cook and other business leaders, Trump said, “So we want to have the companies grow. And the only way they’re going to grow is if we give them the workers.”
We have workers in our country already, and we are continuing every year to take in hundreds of thousands of newcomers from abroad. Businesses that find themselves unable to fill jobs with Americans and the existing flow of immigrants should consider raising wages to attract more of them. That is, in fact, happening: Relatively tight labor markets and economic growth are bringing wages up, particularly at the low end of the labor market. It’s a phenomenon that is helping Trump make good on his promise to do more for blue-collar workers than Republicans usually do.
A big expansion of immigration would undermine that economic progress and subvert that political achievement. Legislation that raised high-skilled immigration while lowering low-skilled immigration would be worth supporting. For Trump to embrace an overall increase, or an increase in low-skilled immigration, would be a mistake as well as a flip-flop. And it is one that risks making some members of his political coalition emigrate from it.