The left would have you believe that the United States of America is a place that takes in all the world’s unwanted people with open arms and that — unless you’re a Native American — we are all immigrants.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” reads the inscription on the Statue of Liberty.
Immigration activists have used that well-known line to imply that unfettered immigration is America’s mandate and has been since its inception. That favorite line, however, was written by a wealthy New Yorker over a hundred years after the nation’s founding, and added to the base of the statute more than 15 years after its dedication.
Nevertheless, they charge Donald Trump and his populist agenda with violating this all-important creed. Many think if he had his way, we would have no immigration. Why, he wants to build a wall — just to keep people out!
Aside from what his opponents perceive his motivations to be for rethinking immigration policy, Trump and some of his political allies are onto something, which is: Perhaps it is time to rethink U.S. immigration policy.
In his joint address to Congress last month, Trump touched on immigration, proposing that it should be merit-based, which, he argued, would be a net benefit.
“Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration and instead adopting a merit-based system will have many benefits: It will save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages, and help struggling families — including immigrant families — enter the middle class,” he said. “I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security and to restore respect for our laws.”
That is certainly a departure from your tired, your poor and your huddled masses.
Our country has not always lived by this open immigration policy of allowing “wretched refuse” to come here and start a new life. For a sizable chunk of the 20th century, U.S. immigration policy was very restrictive.
After the period of mass immigration from Europe at the turn of the century, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924. That law limited immigration and established quotas based on nation of origin.
That was a departure from your tired, your poor and your huddled masses as well.
That pause in immigration allowed new immigrants in the country to assimilate into American culture and created positive outcomes for the country — positioning the U.S. to become an economic power.
It was four decades later that Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which drastically changed immigration policy. Then-Sen. Ted Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, championed the legislation, which eliminated the quota system based on nationality, drastically raised the number of immigrants accepted to the U.S. and gave priority to those with family members already in the country. It also put an emphasis on resettling refugees from violence-stricken and war-torn regions. President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law.
A country born of meritocracy still employs a largely family-based system to this day — and that still does not even take into account illegal immigration.
There is a movement underway in Congress spearheaded by Republican senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia which seeks to implement a merit-based policy like Trump proposed in his joint address to Congress.
Their bill, the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, or RAISE Act, would cut the number of green cards issued annually from 1 million to 500,000.
Almost immediately, detractors have cried foul — as if reducing legal immigration is an endeavor motivated by racism, intolerance, xenophobia, discrimination and so on and so forth.
For years as a senator, now Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a case for an immigration policy based on something that benefits the country and is more than just a feel-good gesture. As Ann Coulter has said, now is the time to stop thinking of the U.S. as a “battered women’s shelter.”
Those who oppose a merit-based immigration policy might yell xenophobia, but the lobbying money supporting the low-skilled immigration push has less-than-honorable intentions. Many view legal and illegal immigration as a cheap source of labor, which is true — but it is cheap labor paid for in the long run by Americans who lose in jobs lost, wages cut and tax dollars spent on infrastructure and direct welfare payments that benefit low-skilled immigrant labor.
For others, it is a new wave of largely Democratic voters. Such a demographic shift is already changing the political course of America, much as California changed over the past three decades.
Restricting low-skill immigration would have some consequences. The cost of construction could increase. The price of food, especially produce, would increase. Many service industry jobs could eventually be impacted as well — costs for hotels, restaurants, retailers, etc., increase, and that cost would almost certainly be passed on to the consumer.
In exchange, wages and benefits would increase for people in these sectors. Some sectors may try to do more with less. But with higher wages, there is less of a tax on our welfare system. For years, as noted, companies have had their labor subsidized by the government — by your tax dollars.
No, we should not completely shut out immigrants. That is not even on the table. As a country, however, the U.S. has a right — and, indeed, a duty to those who are already here — to be selective in choosing who gets to come when much of the world sees the U.S. as the place to be.