Last Thursday, President Donald Trump unveiled the rough details of an incipient White House-spawned immigration initiative. Politico, citing Capitol Hill sources who had been personally lobbied by White House ombudsman Jared Kushner on the plan, had also previously outlined many of the same substantive talking points.
Here is how conservative policy analyst Rachel Bovard summarizes the key tenets of the Trump/Kushner immigration plan:
Instituting a merit-based system to address the 1.1 million people who come here legally each year, with a points system that emphasizes education, employment prospects, age, and English language ability.
Eliminating the diversity lottery, and restricting family-based immigration (a.k.a. chain migration) by limiting family members a citizen can sponsor to just the nuclear family (spouses and children under age 18).
Placing physical barriers at 33 key points along the border, which are identified as key crossing points for illegal drugs and human trafficking.
Modernizing ports of entry, and ensuring that all vehicles and people are screened.
Reforming asylum procedures and closing loopholes, as the president said Thursday, to make sure frivolous claims are not displacing legitimate ones.
On paper, this plan looks somewhere between good and excellent. While it does not include the RAISE Act's reduction in the total number of legal immigrants or otherwise address our temporary guest worker visa program that has societally balkanizing effects via the legal codification of a distinctively second-tier labor class, there is much to be applauded in this proposed outline. Re-orienting legal immigration from chain migration to a merit-based system is not only utterly logical — it is also what effectively every other industrialized first-world nation does. The closing of asylum loopholes and cracking down on bogus "credible fear" assertions at our border is also salutary and long-overdue. So while I am cynical enough about immigration legislation to still warn conservatives to dutifully ensure that the final legislative product matches the White House's talking points, intellectually honest immigration hawks must still be pleased, overall, with what we have thus far seen.
The problem is that the timing for this legal immigration-centric legislative policy push, coming amidst an unprecedented mass illegal alien infringement upon our sovereignty at our porous southern border, is truly bizarre. Why is the White House using scarce political capital and lobbying resources to promote a legislatively quixotic and therefore wholly symbolic piece of legal immigration policy at a time when we are facing a full-on illegal immigration assault the likes of which we haven't seen in over a decade — and potentially ever? As Daniel Horowitz wrote in his analysis of the plan, "It’s like a person who has a leak in his roof, but then a river floods his basement. While the roof was certainly important to focus on the day before, it is a moot issue unless he deals with his basement first."
It is worth re-emphasizing the dire nature of the full-on migrant crisis — with all of the accompanying gang, drug, and crime problems that inevitably accompany the cartel-centric trafficking rings that guide the largely-Central American migrants up through Mexico — currently transpiring at our southern border. As U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) noted in its April numbers, total border apprehensions between points of entry in April rose 6.62% over March's already-record-shattering pace. Astoundingly, April's apprehension total of 98,977 was a full 94.04% higher than the monthly total from the beginning of the federal government's fiscal year, in October 2018. In other words, apprehensions between points of entry along the border have nearly doubled in just the first seven months of the current fiscal year. While March already represented a "system-wide emergency," in the words of CBP Deputy Commissioner Robert E. Perez, April represented "an unprecedented and unsustainable situation."
We live in a country where a whopping 43% of all federal offenses are committed by non-citizens, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has nonetheless released 168,000 illegal aliens into the interior just since December, and CBP itself released another 33,000 into the interior just from March through May. The more illegal aliens we let abscond into the interior, the more the message gets back to Central America that we don't enforce our own immigration laws, the more that migrants desire to make the dangerous trek north, and the more that the cartels, criminal rings, and trafficking organizations are empowered. Through the inaction and listlessness of our political elites, our crisis metastasizes further and turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why on earth are conservatives not focusing like a laser beam on that?
This whole legal immigration-centric policy initiative therefore amounts to a misdirection, a distraction, and a misuse of political priorities. As I wrote two weeks ago:
The current situation at our southern border is past the point of crisis level. We are inundated daily with largely-bogus asylum claims that are perversely goaded by the pernicious dissemination of inaccurate information throughout Central America's "Northern Triangle." Policymakers ought to be focused like a laser beam upon ramping up interior enforcement, amending the deeply flawed Flores consent decree with respect to illegal alien detention policy, and, at least for now, fully shutting off our southern border until we regain operational control of it and become a sovereign and secure nation once again. To the extent the White House feels the need to touch legal immigration at all and dangle possible legislative compromises for open-borders Democrats and infamously wobbly Republicans, it ought to initially focus on cutting overall numbers and resuscitating the moribund RAISE Act.
Trump should instead focus on invoking his 8 U.S.C. § 1182(f) power — which "exudes deference to the President in every clause," as Chief Justice John Roberts described it in the "travel ban" case of Trump v. Hawaii — to temporarily shut off all immigration whatsoever right now at our southern border. He should vow to enforce the already-on-the-books provisions of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which would affirmatively preclude much of the judicial malfeasance and mandated catch-and-release that we see ordered from our unelected black-robed masters.
Good for the White House for floating a meritorious immigration proposal. But it is the wrong time, and it is the wrong use of political capital, for such an effort. Before we care about who comes over the border, we first need to make sure we even have a border.