The Corner

Politics & Policy

In Infamous Meeting, Trump Spoke of Attracting Asian Immigrants

Everyone is putting such weight on last Thursday’s White House meeting, it’d be nice to have a transcript to know exactly what was said. As it is, we are working off differing, fuzzy accounts that, while broadly consistent, are inevitably influenced by the viewpoints of the various participants (my favorite Russian adage: No one lies like an eyewitness). Plus, the meeting, as the Washington Post describes it this morning, “was short, tense and often dominated by loud cross-talk and swearing.”

I thought this passage in the Post account was notable: “[Trump] also objected that Democratic proposals to adjust the visa lottery and federal policy for immigrants with temporary protected status were going to drive more people from countries he deemed undesirable into the United States instead of attracting immigrants from places like Norway and Asia, people familiar with the meeting said.”

Now, I don’t think a president should talk the way Trump does, and if he thinks it’s impossible to get good immigrants from ramshackle, dysfunctional countries, he’s obviously wrong. But much of the argument that his comments exposed a hideous racism is that, while dumping on “sh**house” countries, he said he wanted immigrants from Norway, an overwhelmingly white country.

I believe he said this for two reasons: 1) He’d just met with the prime minster of Norway, who had spun him up about all the wonders of Norway; 2) Norway was a way to contrast immigrants with education and skills to those without.

This interpretation is buttressed by the Post’s sentence. What do immigrants from Norway and Asia have in common? It’s not that they are white. It’s that they are skilled, or at least associated with skills.

Of course, the picture for Asian immigration differs from country to country, per the Migration Policy Insitute: “The majority of immigrants from India (76 percent), Taiwan (70 percent), and Saudi Arabia and Singapore (68 percent each) were college graduates, compared to less than one-quarter of those from Vietnam (25 percent), and Cambodia and Laos (15 percent each).”

The economic success of the better-educated Asian immigrants is astounding:

In 2014, the median income of households headed by an Asian immigrant was $70,000, compared to $49,000 and $55,000 for overall immigrant and native-born households, respectively. Households headed by Indian ($105,000), Taiwanese ($91,000), Filipino ($82,000), and Malaysian ($80,000) immigrants had the highest median income among all Asian immigrant groups.

Anyway, I believe the simplest explanation for most Trump controversies is that he’s being crude and thoughtless, and that applies here. The sh**house controversy has been longer-lasting than most, now on its fifth day, but by the end of week, we’ll be on to something else.

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