by Editorials · February 1, 2018
After zig-zagging for a year over the fate of 800,000 young people brought to the U.S. as children, President Trump last week zagged to call for creating a path to citizenship for the Dreamers. Very good.
But Trump yoked that relief to a radical proposed overhaul of America’s legal immigration system designed to choke off the flow of reinvigorating talent and energy that is vital to the American character. Very, very bad.
In its just-released framework on immigration, the White House dangles the possibility of legal status for 1.8 million current and future Dreamers — a seemingly risky proposition for the President given the screams of “amnesty” from his base.
In return, he demands billions to build his wall and otherwise enhance border security, at an initial price tag of $25 billion. Which means, quite officially, Mexico isn’t going to pay for the unnecessary symbol, we are — for roughly what it would take to dig a new rail tunnel under the Hudson.
And no one has yet to explain how a wall makes any sense when roughly half the southern border is a river that the U.S. needs access to.
But the worst piece of the package is embedded in Trump’s sweeping call to end what he calls chain migration. This is another way of saying “take a meat cleaver to family-reunification entry” — sharply limiting new citizens’ ability to sponsor relatives, which now includes parents, adult children and siblings, to spouses and kids only.
The effect would be to cut in half the current 1.1 million legal immigrants entering the country annually — itself a small, easily absorbed percentage of the overall American population.
That would be terrible for the economy. At a time when 10,000 Baby Boomers a year are retiring, when the labor market is tight, we need more workers badly.
It would be terrible for the funding of Social Security and Medicare, which are straining even as population growth has stalled.
It would be terrible for the character of the country. Immigrants, to coin a phrase, are what makes America great. They make New York City, where nearly 40% of the population is foreign-born, especially great.
Trump cheaply pretends a visa lottery that lets in 50,000 people a year is a security risk, because one terrorist got in through that channel. Ridiculous. Still, the lottery is imperfect and surely can be reformed, or even ended.
And Trump’s call to increase “merit-based” immigration, whereby more immigrants are admitted based on skills, has much to recommend it.
The status quo isn’t sacred. But using the cover of reform to clamp down dramatically on the inflow of legal immigrants would be a fateful mistake.