Bess Levin writes in Vanity Fair:
“The most public components of Donald Trump’s nativist agenda are also, somewhat reassuringly, the most symbolic. Yes, the president wants to build an expensive wall along the southern border to keep “rapists” and “criminals” from Mexico from illegally entering the country, but as even Republicans have pointed out, building a wall is just about the least effective way to secure the border. Life will go on, regardless of whether the president adds an extra foot or two of barbed wire to the eyesore that already stretches across several hundred miles of Texas, Arizona, and California. Trump also wants a figurative fence around the country, in the form of his executive order banning travel from several Muslim-majority countries, but said ban was always designed to be temporary. The president’s long-term ambitions to curtail immigration, meanwhile, have mostly flown under the radar: a plan dreamt up by the White House’s resident nationalists Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller to crack down on legal immigration.
Now, Trump’s endgame appears to be moving into public view. According to a new report from Politico, Miller and Bannon—the latter of whom apparently keeps reminders to himself to restrict immigration “scribbled on the walls of his office” like other people keep reminders to order more ink for the printer—have been working on a bill with Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue that would cut the number of legal immigrants coming into the U.S. by half, to 500,000, as of 2027. The bill is said to be a “revised and expanded” version of the RAISE Act that Cotton and Perdue presented in February and discussed with the president in March.
The lawmakers, along with Miller, Bannon, and Trump, argue that allowing lower-skilled immigrants into the country hurts job prospects and suppresses wages for American-born workers. In addition to wanting to restrict the overall number of legal immigrants, they want to shift to a merit-based system in which foreigners who are granted entry, for example, hold advanced degrees or demonstrate a particular “extraordinary ability” in their given field. That dovetails with the White House’s desire to “limit citizenship and migration to those who pay taxes and earn higher wages.” Last month, in a display of his infinite generosity, particularly toward those who haven’t “made a fortune,” Trump promised that legislation banning legal immigrants from coming into the U.S. if they were expected to rely on any kind of welfare would be coming “very shortly.”
The move will likely appeal to Trump’s base. Unfortunately, a restrictionist immigration policy could backfire for the same set of voters. In April, 1,470 economists wrote an open letter to the president explaining that, actually, the economy benefits from immigration, describing it as “not just a good thing” but “a necessity.” Senators like Lindsey Graham and John McCain have also argued that the economy gets a boost from cheaper labor. Mountains of evidence suggest native workers aren’t interested in the kind of grueling, seasonal, low-wage employment that is typically the domain of recent immigrants. Experts have warned that a crackdown on immigration could, for example, destroy the U.S. agriculture industry, whose workforce is disproportionally made up of foreigners.
Of course, wanting to drastically restrict legal immigration and actually getting a bill passed to do so are two very different things, and Team Trump faces a steep uphill battle, given that G.O.P. lawmakers like Graham and McCain are against it. There are also more pressing matters to attend to, including but not limited to: health care, tax reform, and avoiding a government shutdown in September. Building a border wall around the entire country might have to wait.”
The white nationalist agenda is a threat to America. Immigration is good for America. And, the real answer to the “immigration enforcement issue” is more, not less, legal immigration. This is particularly true with a declining birth rate and an expanding economy. Without the benefits of immigration, the U.S. economy is doomed to stagnate like the economies of Japan and some European countries.