The Corner

Politics & Policy

Trump Is Wrong: U.S. Should Move to Merit-Based Immigration System

As has already been ably pointed out, in NRO and elsewhere, the comments from President Trump that came to light yesterday evening were obviously abhorrent. The president evidently doesn’t understand the substance of the immigration issue in any demonstrable way, nor does he appear to have much respect for human beings as individuals with unique personal dignity. And it surely isn’t a shock to any of us that he continues to be inarticulate and unpresidential. He deserves the blowback he’s getting, and you won’t hear me defend him on any of this.

We shouldn’t, however, allow his heinous remark to pass for a real, thoughtful articulation of a suitable immigration policy. And we mustn’t let it distract us from having a substantive conversation about our immigration system and the ways in which we might shape immigration policy going forward.

It is wrong, of course, to discriminate between immigration applicants based on immutable characteristics such as race. It is a shame that we even have to state that. But it is not wrong to discriminate based on other criteria such as literacy, education level, and other skills. To claim otherwise is akin to advocating open borders, or at least a first-come, first-served immigration policy.

Consider, too, that some of our existing immigration policies already discriminate between applicants based on their country of origin. Many on the left praise the diversity lottery, which explicitly prioritizes applicants from some countries over others based on how many immigrants from each are already present in the U.S., giving priority to under-represented groups.

Temporary-protected status, meanwhile, grants admission to the U.S. based on where individuals are from, explicitly on the grounds that their home country is, in some way, an undesirable place to live, at least for the time being. Interestingly, Haiti is one such country whose residents were given protected status by the U.S. in recent years.

When immigrant-enforcement advocates suggested last year that conditions in some of these countries have improved enough to require temporarily protected immigrants to return home, the Left screamed foul, insisting that these places are too horrific to even contemplate forcing immigrants to return. Is Haiti a great place to vacation, as progressives have suddenly determined over the last 24 hours? Or is it such an inconceivably terrible place to live that we can’t possibly send anyone back there?

The conditions in Haiti — or any other country — aren’t really the point. Consistent thinking is necessary if we are to reshape our broken immigration system, and it is evidently lacking in this ongoing debate. The simplest and most effective solution to all of this controversy would be to move to an immigration system like Canada’s — a points-based system that prioritizes applicants based on merit alone.

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