On Wednesday, Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-LA) went to the White House to announce a new immigration bill alongside President Trump. Trump announced the plan thusly: “This would be the most significant reform to the immigration system in half a century. It is a historic and very vital proposal.”
Trump points out in his proposal that the system of legal immigration currently in place costs the United States in terms of welfare (“More than 50 percent of all immigrant households receive welfare benefits, compared to only 30 percent of native households in the United States that receive welfare benefits”). This is eminently correct. It is also true that legal immigration should take into account the culture of immigrants — are they likely to assimilate to American notions of liberty?
With that background in mind, Trump’s proposal encompasses several points, all related to creating a merit-based system rather than a family-based system for new legal immigrants. It would reward “education, English-language ability, high-paying job offers, past achievements, and entrepreneurial initiative.” It would reduce immigration among low-skilled and unskilled labor. It would prioritize immediate family members of U.S. residents, but not extended family members; it would make way for elderly family members. It would do away with the Diversity Visa lottery system, and limit refugee status to 50,000 people per year.
All of this is excellent. It’s insane that the United States would create an immigration system based on lottery rather than selecting the best and brightest; it’s also true that importing a low-skill or unskilled population is more likely to add to the welfare rolls and to criminal incidents than importing high-skill labor.
The only problem with Trump’s approach is his contention that importation of labor generally harms American workers and the economy. He stated, “Among those who have been hit hardest in recent years are immigrants and minority workers competing for jobs against brand new arrivals. It has not been fair to our people, our citizens and our workers.” Cotton said our current immigration system was a “symbol we’re not committed to working-class Americans and we need to change that.”
That’s economic foolishness. It’s essentially the same argument as minimum wage: restrict the supply of labor through regulation, and that will boost wages. The only problem is that businesses will have to spend more money on labor, raising prices and thereby making them less competitive in the global marketplace. That lack of competitiveness forces automation and/or outsourcing, which actually harms job supply in the United States over the medium to long-term. You can’t simultaneously argue that Americans are losing jobs to China and Mexico and argue that we ought to heavily restrict the labor supply.
But leave aside the justification: the proposed bill would be a grand move. We have a problem with assimilating people from cultures that are less consonant with American values; we also have a problem with people taking welfare. This move would cut down on both those problems, and turn the immigration system into a benefit rather than a drawback.
Good for Trump. Even if it goes nowhere, this is a public conversation well-worth having — and it has nothing do with racism or bigotry, and everything to do with preserving America’s interests.