The White House immigration plan, whose development is being overseen by Jared Kushner, is an attempt to show what the administration is for, not just what it’s against. This is a useful exercise, even though there’s zero chance it will be approved by Congress. The goal appears to lay out a roadmap of where Republicans want to go on immigration.
The package isn’t fully cooked yet, but its broad outlines are clear. It won’t try to address everything “comprehensively,” focusing instead on enforcement and the legal immigration system. It thus isn’t expected to include an amnesty or any changes to the myriad guest-worker programs. Enforcement measures will reportedly address the border crisis (a Flores fix, etc.), as well as mandate use of the E-Verify system to confirm the information collected by an employer when taking on a new hire.
The legal-immigration portion includes the changes the president has long talked about, including a narrowing of the family categories to limit chain migration, an end to the visa lottery, and an overhaul of the skills-based portion of the system to stress merit in the form of educational attainment, and other factors.
While the details, once they’re announced, will matter, this is all generally positive.
But there’s a fundamental problem that suggests the brain trust overseeing this effort is out of touch with the president’s base. The proposal will not include any reduction in the overall level of legal immigration, not even a symbolic one. In other words, all the reductions in green cards from ending the visa lottery and narrowing the family categories would be reallocated to the newly revised merit system. (This is unlike the approach of the Raise Act, which the president has endorsed, which would not shift the green cards from the family categories over to the skilled categories.)
This is especially important because the proposal is not really a legislative vehicle; there’s no chance an immigration bill even remotely acceptable to Republicans can make it through this Congress. That means this proposal is more of a campaign platform, outlining the official Republican approach to immigration. Formally embracing the current legal-immigration level of more than one million each year would mean that the GOP, as on so many issues before, would simply be the Democrat-lite party, wanting to go in the same direction, just more slowly.
You’d think bringing down the annual number of green cards issued from the current 1.1 million to, say, “just” one million wouldn’t be controversial for an iconoclastic president who’s in the White House mainly because of his hawkishness on immigration. But you’d be wrong.
Ever since this year’s State of the Union address, President Trump has been signaling his desire for an increase in immigration because of the low unemployment rate. This despite explicit commitments to the contrary during the campaign and earlier in his term.
Of course, the idea that we’re running short of potential workers is absurd; as Jason Richwine noted in these pages recently, “[w]ith one in nine prime-age males still sitting idle, terms such as ‘full employment’ and ‘labor shortage’ ring hollow.”
So the president is wrong about this, but if he really wants to follow in the footsteps of the Bush and Obama administrations (and the stillborn Jeb and Hillary administrations) and push for increased immigration to please “our corporations,” he can make his case, gauge the pushback, and decide if he’s willing to pay the political price.
But the tone from unnamed White House sources working on the Kushner plan has recently turned from attempted persuasion of skeptical Trump supporters to Hillary-ish contempt.
To begin with, the authors of the White House plan seem to consider that they’ve already made a grudging but significant concession to the Deplorables simply by not including an increase in immigration, despite the president’s rhetoric.
Then, last week McClatchy quoted “a person familiar with the plan” as saying that E-Verify was included “to calm concerns on the right over the lack of reduction of immigration numbers on the skills side.” This is absurd, and contains a whiff of “boob bait for Bubba.” E-Verify really is vital to any meaningful effort to limit illegal immigration, but why would anyone think it has anything to do with the excessively high level of legal immigration?
And in a Politico story Monday, a “senior administration official” went full basket-of-deplorables, “telling POLITICO that immigration restrictionists are a ‘pretty fringe’ group that have not ‘been an important part of the president’s base. They have bullied a lot of the most rational people out of the conversation.’”
If Republican voters wanted a White House that thought skeptics of mass immigration are an irrational fringe they would have voted for Jeb! On the other hand, the increasingly contemptuous tone suggests the team assembling the immigration plan are getting pushback for their decision not to include even a token reduction in numbers.
But the plan hasn’t been formally unveiled yet, so there’s still time to repair this mistake. It’s not even particularly difficult, and requires no walk-back by the president. Just reallocate the green cards from the extended-family categories to the new merit system, thus admitting “more people than ever before” based on their skills, but eliminate the visa lottery and don’t relocate those numbers. It wouldn’t even amount to a 5 percent reduction in legal immigration, but would acknowledge that there are problems caused by mass legal immigration, even in a good economy.
And, now that you mention it, why is the White House even talking about legal immigration when the border is spinning out of control, to the degree that even the New York Times is writing, “Congress, Give Trump His Border Money.” First things first.