By Brad Polumbo
When President Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last year, he promised that Congress would come together to grant legal status to the “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who came here at a young age. Unless Congress acts, these would-be Americans could face deportation in March. But recent weeks have seen four different immigration bills die in the Senate after failing to win bipartisan support — mostly because of the GOP’s troubling turn toward “merit-based” immigration, and their insistence on including disastrous cuts to legal immigration in any DACA deal.
The Trump administration isn’t interested in unskilled immigration from poorer countries, partially because the president thinks that Haitians “all have AIDS,” but mostly because Republicans have demanded that we switch to a more selective system.
What that means isn’t exactly clear, but it’s generally understood to be immigration policy where priority is given to young foreigners that speak English or have college degrees, rather than uneducated immigrants who would perform manual labor. The RAISE Act, introduced in 2017 by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), would have used merit-based metrics to restrict immigration levels, and is probably the best example of the type of immigration reform Trump and company have advocated for.
But aren’t these the same Republicans who pay lip service to small government? When it comes to slashing federal agencies, cutting back on entitlements or rolling back regulations, most conservatives at least claim to believe that less government is a good thing. Yet merit-based immigration systems are essentially a form of central planning, where federal administrators use arbitrary criteria to pick and choose who can enter the labor force. The government bureaucracy necessary to carry out this process––and the higher taxes that would entail––aren’t needed under a more open, laissez-faire immigration system.
Whatever happened to the idea of the invisible hand? Republicans claim to think free markets and unrestricted exchange produce a more prosperous economy than any planned, centralized, state-created system. Immigration is one of the only issues where they abandon these principles–– but ironically, it’s the one where they ring most true. Harvard economist Lant Pritchett theorizes that the global GDP would double under a system of open borders, where the flow of immigration between nations was unrestricted.
That’s because businesses know what the economy needs, not bureaucrats. It’s simply impossible that the government can have enough information to know which (and how many) immigrants will be most beneficial to the labor force.
Still, Trump has said that he wants “people who will help take our country to the next level,” and thinks that selection by bureaucrats may be the only way to do it. He seems to have missed the fact that our current crop of immigrants––illegal, legal, unskilled, or otherwise unplanned––has played a huge part in our nation’s success.
Contrary to popular opinion, immigration actually has a positive impact on job prospects for native-born workers in the long run because it helps the economy expand. Low-cost, unskilled labor helps reduce prices to everyone’s benefit, and allows consumers to consume more while companies increase production.
It isn’t even true that immigration reduces wages for American workers, even if that’s what basic economic theory and Fox News anchors suggest. Research from the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, found in 2014 that immigration has “extremely modest effects for native-born workers, including those with low levels of education.” This is especially true when looking at the long-term effects, whereas many people disproportionately focus on short-term impacts and use that to bolster their argument that immigration will hurt native-born workers.
If anything, more immigration is exactly what the economy needs right now. With unemployment at 4.1 percent––near what economists consider “full employment”––and roughly 6.2 million open jobs, an influx of unskilled labor could be exactly what’s required to keep the economy growing. In fact, according to the New York Times, “eight of the 15 occupations expected to experience the fastest growth between 2014 and 2024—personal care and home health aides, food preparation workers, janitors and the like—require no schooling at all.”
So what’s the real reason Trump, and some Republicans, are so willing to embrace big government to keep “unskilled” immigrants out? Consider the fact that our president pushed the conspiracy that former President Obama wasn’t born in the US, once called for a blanket ban on Muslims entering the country, and was sued for housing discrimination against black people—it shouldn’t be hard to see why.
Don’t forget, Trump thinks we need fewer immigrants from Haiti and Africa, but more from Norway. When the president says “merit-based,” what he really wants are immigrants that look like him.
Brad Polumbo is a Young Voices Advocate. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Washington Examiner, and Spiked. He has also appeared on Fox News and NRAtv. He can be found on Twitter @Brad_Polumbo.