Late Sunday evening, the Trump administration submitted a list of “Immigration Principles and Policies” to Congress. The 70-point legislative wish list is an immigration restrictionist’s dream, a soup-to-nuts compilation of everything from the construction of a border wall, to a crackdown on so-called “sanctuary cities,” to deep cuts to family-based immigration.
Many expect that the proposals will serve as bargaining chips for Congressional debates around the fate of the nearly one million recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. These undocumented youth were thrust into limbo by Trump’s cancellation of DACA in September, and with it, recipients’ work permits and relief from deportation. They may be able to stay in the US if Congress concedes to Trump’s draconian wishes.
Trump’s proposals to root out unauthorized immigrants and shut off legal immigration has been sold to the public as part his America First platform. Yet the White House has engineered a false choice between the interests of DACA recipients and those of American citizens. The important goals of national security, public safety, economic growth, and protections for US workers can be accomplished in concert with the creation of permanent legal pathways for undocumented youth, their families, and other immigrants—the former, in fact, depends on the latter.
If Trump truly wants to put America first, he should revise his immigration wish list. A suite of recent research from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs offers guidance as to how:
- On National Security: Trump’s pet project—a $70 billion border wall—topped his list, purportedly to advance the national security and safety of US citizens. Yet border apprehensions have fallen dramatically in recent years, as more Mexican immigrants are leaving than entering the US. Council research determined that national security is best supported not by the addition of new resources, but by immigration reforms that better focus the existing infrastructure on true security threats. The country’s 11 million unauthorized immigrants pose minimal security risk, but because of their sheer numbers, they distract efforts to root out true threats. Deporting them is as impractical and economically unsound as it is inhumane. Instead, Trump should put his weight behind a documentation program that would allow the government to screen and adjust the immigration status of these unknown individuals, and focus security resources where they are needed most.
- On Public Safety: Trump’s list called for cutting federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities,” or places that limit their cooperation with federal authorities to detain, hold, and deport unauthorized immigrants. Council research describes how these local governments are not only acting within the law, but are also improving public safety by building trust between local police and the communities they serve. Council research has also catalogued other local government efforts to fully integrate immigrants into their communities, boosting safety and their local economies in the process. As Congress has failed to advance meaningful immigration reforms, local leaders are filling the gaps, building innovative immigration programs, including workshops for immigrant entrepreneurs, civics classes, and opportunities for cultural exchange. Instead of attacking cities’ efforts to address the immigration impasse, the White House should look for pioneering programs to scale nationally.
- On Economic Growth: Trump has called on Congress to build an ultra-selective, points-based immigration system that prioritizes highly-skilled workers, to the detriment of the lower-skilled immigrant workers that power economic sectors like agriculture, healthcare, and hospitality, especially in the Midwest. Council research has documented the effects of past restrictive immigration policies, enacted in the 1920s to the demographic and economic detriment of Midwestern cities and their economies. Instead of a wholesale restriction of low-skilled immigration to the US, Trump should pressure Congress to re-calibrate our immigration system to effectively respond with appropriate channels of lower-skilled workers to be legally hired where they are needed.
- On Protecting US Workers: Trump wants Congress to mandate employment verification—via a now-voluntary program known as E-Verify—to purportedly crack down on the undocumented workforce and put US workers first. Yet Council research, informed by dozens of stakeholders in key Midwestern industries including hospitality, highlighted how removing undocumented workers would decimate the sector. Taking low-skilled immigrants out of entry-level positions—in hospitality or elsewhere—does not necessarily open jobs for US workers, who take positions that require different skills and language abilities. Trump would better support the interests of American workers by improving E-verify—which is rife with inaccurate information, and create a visa for employers to legally hire entry-level, foreign-born workers. Wages and working conditions will improve when all workers can be hired through reliable legal channels.
For all that is wrong with Trump’s immigration wish list, he did get one thing right: Congress urgently needs to act on immigration legislation. Our 50-year-old immigration system, built by the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, is in urgent need of a refresh. But rather than focusing on how it can restrict the demographic and economic lifeline of immigration, Congress should look at how it can responsibly expand and update the system.
Trump will put America first by putting his weight behind responsible immigration reforms that promote national security, community safety, and vibrant workforces. Building a permanent pathway for DACA recipients is a great place to start.