This week's issue of the the Economist focuses on Pres. Donald Trump's outlook on the global economy, including his thoughts on legal immigration to the United States where he said that he doesn't want to cut immigration. The interview sounded alarm bells for those seeking to reduce existing immigration levels.
As with most things policy related that come from the President, his answer lacked detail, but that doesn't make it any less concerning. Trump reinforced his commitment to ending illegal immigration, but when asked if he's seeking to reduce overall numbers, his response was troubling, but vague.
And what about legal immigration? Do you want to cut the number of immigrants?
TRUMP: Oh legal, no, no, no. I want people to come into the country legally. No, legally? No. I want people to come in legally. But I want people to come in on merit. I want to go to a merit-based system.
He was then asked specifically about reducing overall legal immigration numbers.
But the numbers of those people could be as high as the numbers that are coming in legally now? You're not looking to reduce the numbers?
TRUMP: Oh yeah, no, no, no, no, we want people coming in legally. No, very strongly.
Trump spoke more in detail of his plan to replace the existing immigration system with a merit-based system like Canada's and Australia's. He said he wants "talented people" who are going to "love our country". He also said that they'd be ineligible for any sort of public assistance for at least 5 years.
It's not tough to meet those standards without reducing legal immigration numbers. The last two attempts by Congress to pass "comprehensive immigration reform" (2007 and 2013) included merit-based systems, but neither system would have limited immigration to only "talented people" nor would they reduce legal immigration. In fact, both proposals increased legal immigration by awarding points to foreign citizens who had previously done low-skilled work in the United States or had extended family connections to U.S. citizens and green card holders, regardless of their potential need to rely on public benefits.
So what does Trump mean when he says "talented people"? Does "talented people" include foreign citizens with truly extraordinary skills who would fill jobs where there's no qualified American worker available? Or, does "talented people" simply mean someone with a certain level of education, skills, or experience?
Each year, more than 800,000 U.S. citizens earn either a master's or doctorate degree. If Trump's merit-based system is based solely on educational attainment, those 800,000 U.S. citizens would be forced to compete for jobs with foreign citizens who have the same educational attainment without regard for the job market's needs for each field of study.
During his Joint Address to Congress back in February, Pres. Trump said:
Protecting our workers also means reforming our system of legal immigration. The current, outdated system depresses wages for our poorest workers, and puts great pressure on taxpayers.
It'll be tough to keep legal immigration numbers at or above 1 million per year while also protecting wages for vulnerable workers and relieving the pressure on taxpayers.
It's entirely possible that Pres. Trump didn't want to come across in the interview as being against legal immigration, which would be consistent with some of his past statements on legal immigration. Mark Krikorian from the Center for Immigration Studies recalled some similar comments that Trump made during the campaign in his recent column in the National Review.
But it's also possible that Trump is being influenced by the same Big Business and establishment interests that seek increased immigration and have influenced every President for the last 50 years.
As Mark wrote in his column, Trump needs to listen less to Big Business and more to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) who introduced the RAISE Act, which would reduce legal immigration by up to 50% by eliminating the visa lottery and ending chain migration. Sen. Cotton was the only Member of Congress to speak out on the Senate floor last week against the omnibus spending bill that doubled the number of H-2B guest worker visas. (You can watch Sen. Cotton's Senate floor speech here.)
CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA
Updated: Mon, May 15th 2017 @ 2:18pm EDT