President Donald Trump’s immigration proposal reveals what he has been after all along: an end to family-based immigration and the “lottery visa,” which would mean fewer Latino, African and Muslim newcomers. And perhaps more Norwegians, if any want to come.
Yes, Trump is trying to Make America White Again. You’re probably not surprised.
The broad amnesty that the White House offers to 1.8 million people brought here illegally when they were children is just a diversion. The $25 billion Trump wants for his “border wall system” — really more of an intermittent fence — is mostly a sop to his base. Much more important in the long run is the fundamental shift Trump wants to make in the nation’s system of legal immigration.
The administration seeks to drastically curtail the ability of immigrants to sponsor family members for entry into the country. This can only be seen as an attempt to halt the “browning” of America.
Under current law, U.S. citizens — including immigrants who are naturalized — can petition to obtain entry for their spouses, parents, siblings and sons and daughters of any age. Immigrants who are not citizens but hold green cards — meaning they are permanent residents — can sponsor spouses and minor or adult children for entry.
Trump proposes a sweeping change: Both citizens and green-card holders would only be able to sponsor spouses and minor children. As far as parents, siblings and adult children are concerned: Hasta la vista.
It is, of course, ironic that Republicans, who yammer so much about family values, would even entertain a proposal that is so deeply anti-family. But the party nominated and elected a thrice-married man who bragged about his habit of sexual harassment and allegedly paid hush money to a porn star for her silence about a tryst, so I guess that horse has long since left the barn.
The idea of limiting family-based sponsorship — championed by administration officials such as presidential adviser Stephen Miller and his former boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions — is broadly supported by GOP immigration hard-liners. Since it is difficult to argue against bringing close relatives together, proponents use the clinical-sounding term “chain migration,” as if we were talking about links of metal rather than flesh-and-blood human beings.
Trump also wants to eliminate the diversity visa program, which allocates 50,000 visas each year to countries that otherwise send few immigrants to the United States. Applicants are selected by lottery but then are carefully vetted. White House claims that individuals are admitted “at random” in a program “riddled with fraud and abuse” are lies.
What is true is that the diversity lottery has primarily benefited migrants from African nations, which Trump has called “shithole countries.”
The net result of Trump’s plan — the whole purpose, apparently — would be to welcome fewer people of color into the United States. In an Oval Office meeting, Trump reportedly demanded to know why there couldn’t be more immigrants from countries such as Norway. Surely it is not a coincidence that Norway is one of the whitest countries in the world.
It should also be noted that while Trump’s proposal would provide a 10- to 12-year path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came into the country as children, it says nothing at all about the other 9 million or so here without documents. Presumably they would remain in the shadows.
There’s a simple question here: Do you believe in America or not?
Throughout its history, the country has accepted waves of mostly low-skilled immigrants — German, Irish, Italian, Eastern European, now Latino. There are highly skilled immigrants, too; African newcomers, for example, are better-educated than the U.S. population as a whole, and an estimated 63 percent of people holding “computer and mathematical” STEM jobs in Silicon Valley are foreign-born. But most immigrants over the years have arrived bearing not much more than grit, ambition and a dream.
Does an influx of workers with entry-level skills tend to depress wages? That’s the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking why the federal minimum wage is so low as to be almost irrelevant.
And we should recognize that immigration gives the United States a tremendous competitive advantage. In other advanced countries, populations are aging rapidly. Immigration provides a steady stream of younger workers whose brain and brawn keep programs such as Medicare and Social Security viable.
The only coherent — if despicable — arguments for Trump’s plan are racial and cultural. The way they used to put it in the Jim Crow days was succinct: White is right.
Eugene Robinson is a columnist for The Washington Post.