by The Editors · January 12, 2018
The latest all-consuming Trump controversy is over his remarks in an Oval Office meeting that he doesn’t want people coming here from “sh**hole” countries (although he may have really said “sh**house” countries, for those who are sticklers for accuracy when it comes to presidential vulgarity).
There are many reasons a president shouldn’t say such a thing. It is disparaging to people in the United States who are from these countries. It is insulting to the leaders of those countries, for no good reason. And, inevitably, it will serve to make it even harder to pass a serious restrictionist agenda.
Of course, many of the countries that Trump was talking about — the accounts are fuzzy, but reports suggest he was talking about sub-Saharan nations, and perhaps Haiti — really are basket-cases. One argument from the left for not sending back beneficiaries of so-called Temporary Protected Status to Haiti and El Salvador is that those nations are so terribly dysfunctional and violent.
Trump’s statement came in the context of a discussion of the fate of the visa lottery in a proposed DACA deal. The lottery is one of our worst immigration programs, randomly selecting people to come here who have no connection to the country and then opening up a continuing stream of immigrants behind them through chain migration. The program should simply be abolished. The Gang of Six’s idea, to the contrary, is to re-allocate visas to keep beneficiaries of TPS here and to sprinkle visas among various Third World countries.
This is what set Trump off. He wondered why we instead can’t bring in immigrants from a place like Norway, presumably having that country on his mind after the visit this week by the country’s prime minister. This has been taken as Trump’s admission that he wants white immigrants instead of dark-skinned ones. What he was almost certainly trying to get at, in his typically confused way, is that we’d be better off with immigrants with higher skills.
This is the thrust of his proposed reforms of legal immigration — to put a greater emphasis on skills. If such a system is ever implemented, it will probably shift the composition of our immigration away from Latin America and toward South and East Asia (not the Nordic countries). This would make for a more rational system and one with a more diverse flow of immigrants than under the status quo.
This wouldn’t mean blocking people from sh**hole countries. Obviously, even dysfunctional places have their talented people who could pass muster under a merit-based system, and we should always have a refugee program for people facing persecution in their home countries. We have a long history of people thriving here who’ve come from dirt-poor countries or hideous dictatorships. President Trump would do himself — and the cause of a more rational immigration system — a favor by cleaning up his remarks and straightening out his thinking.