This past month and a half, Bombs + Dollars has published an immigration-related argument by our Korea analyst Daniel Kim. The topic of immigration has been in the news since Donald Trump referred to some countries as “shitholes” and called for cutting down on immigration in a meeting with senators. I have discussed my views with Kim and now join the discussion in a response piece.
I find myself sympathetic to Kim’s argument that it should be made easier for foreign students to stay and work in America after graduating and for qualified foreigners in general to be able to obtain work visas in the United States. Unfortunately, those positions run exactly counter to the narrative and policies put forth by the Trump administration. Kim’s biggest mistake, in my view, is mischaracterizing the Trump position to be more pro-immigration than it actually is.
Kim starts his article by telling us, “Trump has been called an ‘anti-immigrant’ extremist, but I’m telling you, as a Korean aspiring to immigrate to the United States, that is simply not true.” He simply wants to change America to a completely merit-based system that tries to attract talent with high levels of education and skills. There are valid arguments for and against such a system.
First and foremost, however, I believe this interpretation of Trump’s and the Republican Party’s position is misleading, or at least incomplete. The bill that Republican Senator Tom Cotton introduced and that Trump supports, the “Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act”, would not only introduce a points-based system (at a time when there is already a system in place for employers to sponsor those immigrants who possess necessary skills for their jobs), it would also cut the number of green cards in half. And it would require that applicants for immigration calculate the points their spouse would score, despite the fact that the person immigrating would already have to have a job that pays well more than enough to take care of a family. At the same time, it would cut refugee admissions and cap them at 50,000, end the visa diversity lottery, and make it harder for extended family members to immigrate.
Taken as a whole, the Cotton immigration bill is a restrictionist measure. Even if one agreed with changing the criteria for acceptance of immigrants, this bill does much more than that. In fact, the Cotton bill would decrease the number of spots open for skilled immigrants. It would cut the number of H-1B visas by 500,000.
The bill and the rhetoric surrounding it is nothing more than a push to cut legal immigration while dressing it up in innocuous language. For all the talk from the anti-immigration right about enforcing America’s immigration laws, they actually want to change the laws themselves, to restrict the flow of immigration. They are not just opposed to illegal immigration but to legal immigration, too. Trump had in fact called on the campaign trail for an indefinite end to all green cards.
Kim talked about how hard it is for companies to hire qualified workers who happen to be of different nationalities. Trump wants to make it harder. He has campaigned for a “hire Americans” policy and pushed it in his inaugural address, too. He proposed raising the prevailing wage for workers to qualify for H-1B visas, making it more expensive and burdensome to hire them. In fact, the NY Times reports that even without any new immigration measures having been passed by Congress, issuance of work visas has slowed down and hit road blocks, suggesting a possible administrative push by the Trump administration to decrease immigration.
So Kim might be right about making it easier for foreign nationals to work in America, but he’s assuredly not right that Trump or Trump’s policies would help with that. Just the opposite.
One note, also, about Kim’s opposition to any kind of amnesty or in-state tuition measures for illegal immigrants: The amnesty plans and in-state tuition plans all have some kinds of merit-based qualifications attached. For example, in Texas, illegal immigrants must have resided in Texas for attended at least 3 years of high school in Texas (so it’s not like they have no connection to the state), same as in Colorado, California, New Jersey, Nebraska, Maryland, Minnesota, and Illinois. Most of these people are going to be living in America for the rest of their lives—even Trump doesn’t have the political capital nor ability to deport 12 million people—so wouldn’t it be better for America to encourage those who would be in America to get an education and become legalized?
Maybe it is a question about fairness versus pragmatism.