In 1903, these lines were engraved on a plaque and placed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
But should our immigration system be based on a desire to help immigrants from around the world? Or should it be based on our own national interests?
The main difference between legal and illegal immigration is that with legal immigration, the government decides which aliens will be allowed to come to the United States. Whereas, with illegal immigration, the aliens decide themselves whether they are going to come.
That distinction loses significance when the government does not base its immigration policy decisions on the country’s needs.
President Donald Trump believes that the current system for legal immigration does not meet our national interests.
Trump’s views on legal immigration.
When Trump was still a candidate, he delivered a statement on his plans for immigration reform. He said that he would —
- Keep immigration levels within historical norms;
- Select immigrants on the basis of their likelihood of being successful here, and on their ability to be self-sufficient financially;
- Choose immigrants on the basis of merit, skill, and proficiency; and
- Establish new immigration controls to ensure that open jobs are offered to American workers first.
In remarks to Congress that he made after becoming the president, he said that aliens seeking to live in the United States ought to be able to support themselves financially.
He has praised, Canada and Australia, which ensure that this will be the case by using a merit-based immigration system that takes education, work experience, income, and net worth into consideration in choosing the immigrants they will accept.
Trump is willing to increase immigration when it is in the national interest.
Trump just published a temporary rule in the Federal Register to make a one-time, 15,000 visa increase in the number of H-2B visas available for temporary non-agricultural laborers in FY 2017. There were not enough Americans available to do this work.
The plan to cut legal immigration in half.
Trump plans to support a bill that Republican Senators Tom Cotton (R-A) and David Perdue (R-GA) will introduce later this summer which, among other things, is expected to reduce the annual number of legal immigrants from one million to 500,000 over the next decade.
It will be a revised and expanded version of a bill they introduced in February, the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act (the RAISE Act).
The Jordan Commission.
The Commission recommended a 24 percent reduction in legal immigration from a total of 725,000 a year to a core admission level of 550,000 a year, to be divided as follows: nuclear family immigration (400,000), skill-based immigration (100,000), and refugee resettlement (50,000).
It recommended the elimination of family-based visa categories for adult sons and daughters of citizens and legal permanent residents and siblings of citizens.
It also recommended using the employment-based visa category for highly-skilled individuals; ensuring that American employees are not adversely affected by the employment of foreign employees; and ensuring that employers make a serious effort to recruit Americans before turning to foreign employees.
Former President Bill Clinton endorsed the Commission’s recommendations. This included the strong enforcement recommendations the Commission makes in its report on illegal immigration. Clinton had strong views on immigration enforcement, which are expressed in this video clip of his 1995 State of the Union immigration comments to Congress.
The RAISE Act.
According to Senator Tom Cotton, the objective of the RAISE Act is to restore legal immigration levels to their historical norms and to rebalance the system towards employment-based visas and immediate-family household members.
It would retain immigration preferences for the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents but eliminate visas for certain categories of extended and adult family members.
This would be done gradually, but by the tenth year, it would reduce legal immigration by 50 percent.
Should we reject this approach and honor Lady Liberty’s invitation? That might have been possible when the plaque was put on the base of the Statute of Liberty more than a century ago, but it is no longer possible. Even if we limited the invitation to the huddled masses who have been driven from their countries by war, criminal violence, and persecution, there are too many of them.
And is it really wrong to base America’s immigration system on our own national interests instead of on a desire to help people from other countries? Trump and the Jordan Commission concluded not only that we should do what’s in our national interests, but that the current immigration system is hurting us.
Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years; he subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years.