The Week Ahead: Aug.7-11
August 7, 2017
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Dairy farmers need migrant [labor]. … So we really need to take a look at the reality of the situation. I don’t want to limit what our economy needs.”
— Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), Aug. 3
Upcoming Paper to Highlight Economic Need for Legal Immigration
A forthcoming paper from the National Immigration Forum and the National Foundation for American Policy will outline the negative impact of a proposed point-based immigration system on America’s workforce and, consequently, our economy.
With the backing of President Trump, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and David Perdue (R-Georgia) have announced a plan that would reduce legal immigration by half. The RAISE Act, originally introduced in February, would implement a point system and limit the number of immigrants eligible for family-sponsored categories. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) plans to introduce a House version of this act after Labor Day.
Many business and conservative leaders have already spoken in opposition, highlighting the negative impact such policy would have on an already shrinking labor force. The American Action Forum projects that by 2020, our economy will face a private-sector worker shortage of 7.5 million. Slashing immigration would impair our ability to fill this deficit. Furthermore, the proposed point-based system would take power out of the hands of employers in determining which employees will bring the most valuable skillsets.
The new research demonstrates that the point-based systems implemented in Australia and Canada cannot be easily transferred to the United States.
Emphasis on Enforcement Continues to Increase
Across the country, communities are experiencing the negative impact of enforcement actions that extend far beyond the priorities to which our limited resources should be devoted.
For example, in Painesville, Ohio, in a Rep. Dave Joyce’s (R-Ohio) district, a mother of four was deported last week — the latest in a stream of deportations this year. A local Catholic church has witnessed the deportations of seven members.
Also last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that officers had apprehended 650 people in a recent operation — including 457 whom they had merely encountered coincidentally, indicating that anyone and everyone in the undocumented population is a priority.
The administration suggested last week that enforcement will continue to widen. On Wednesday, Acting Director Thomas Homan said that ICE will take greater punitive measures against those who employ unauthorized immigrants, while reiterating that all operations could result in “collateral” arrests.
Please note: For the month of August, the Forum will release legislative bulletins on Aug. 10 and 24 only. Our most recent summary of legislation introduced and government reports on immigration: http://immigrationforum.org/blog/legislative-bulletin-friday-july-28-2017/
NEW YORK TIMES: Trump Supports Plan to Cut Legal Immigration by Half
By Peter Baker
August 2, 2017
WASHINGTON — President Trump embraced a proposal on Wednesday to slash legal immigration to the United States in half within a decade by sharply curtailing the ability of American citizens and legal residents to bring family members into the country.
The plan would enact the most far-reaching changes to the system of legal immigration in decades and represents the president’s latest effort to stem the flow of newcomers to the United States. Since taking office, he has barred many visitors from select Muslim-majority countries, limited the influx of refugees, increased immigration arrests and pressed to build a wall along the southern border.
In asking Congress to curb legal immigration, Mr. Trump intensified a debate about national identity, economic growth, worker fairness and American values that animated his campaign last year. Critics said the proposal would undercut the fundamental vision of the United States as a haven for the poor and huddled masses, while the president and his allies said the country had taken in too many low-skilled immigrants for too long to the detriment of American workers.
“This legislation will not only restore our competitive edge in the 21st century, but it will restore the sacred bonds of trust between America and its citizens,” Mr. Trump said at a White House event alongside two Republican senators sponsoring the bill. “This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and that puts America first.”
In throwing his weight behind a bill, Mr. Trump added one more long-odds priority to a legislative agenda already packed with them in the wake of the defeat of legislation to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care program. The president has already vowed to overhaul the tax code and rebuild the nation’s roads, airports and other infrastructure.
But by endorsing legal immigration cuts, a move he has long supported, Mr. Trump returned to a theme that has defined his short political career and excites his conservative base at a time when his poll numbers continue to sink. Just 33 percent of Americans approved of his performance in the latest Quinnipiac University survey, the lowest rating of his presidency, and down from 40 percent a month ago.
Democrats and some Republicans quickly criticized the move. “Instead of catching criminals, Trump wants to tear apart communities and punish immigrant families that are making valuable contributions to our economy,” said Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “That’s not what America stands for.”
The bill, sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, would institute a merit-based system to determine who is admitted to the country and granted legal residency green cards, favoring applicants based on skills, education and language ability rather than relations with people already here. The proposal revives an idea included in broader immigration legislation supported by President George W. Bush that died in 2007.
More than one million people are granted legal residency each year, and the proposal would reduce that by 41 percent in its first year and 50 percent by its 10th year, according to projections cited by its sponsors. The reductions would come largely from those brought in through family connections. The number of immigrants granted legal residency on the basis of job skills, about 140,000, would remain roughly the same.
Under the current system, most legal immigrants are admitted to the United States based on family ties. American citizens can sponsor spouses, parents and minor children for an unrestricted number of visas, while siblings and adult children are given preferences for a limited number of visas available to them. Legal permanent residents holding green cards can also sponsor spouses and children.
In 2014, 64 percent of immigrants admitted with legal residency were immediate relatives of American citizens or sponsored by family members. Just 15 percent entered through employment-based preferences, according to the Migration Policy Institute, an independent research organization. But that does not mean that those who came in on family ties were necessarily low skilled or uneducated.
The legislation would award points based on education, ability to speak English, high-paying job offers, age, record of achievement and entrepreneurial initiative. But while it would still allow spouses and minor children of Americans and legal residents to come in, it would eliminate preferences for other relatives, like siblings and adult children. The bill would create a renewable temporary visa for older-adult parents who come for caretaking purposes.
The legislation would limit refugees offered permanent residency to 50,000 a year and eliminate a diversity visa lottery that the sponsors said does not promote diversity. The senators said their bill was meant to emulate systems in Canada and Australia.
The projections cited by the sponsors said legal immigration would decrease to 637,960 after a year and to 539,958 after a decade.
“Our current system does not work,” Mr. Perdue said. “It keeps America from being competitive and it does not meet the needs of our economy today.”
Mr. Cotton said low-skilled immigrants pushed down wages for those who worked with their hands. “For some people, they may think that that’s a symbol of America’s virtue and generosity,” he said. “I think it’s a symbol that we’re not committed to working-class Americans, and we need to change that.”
But Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, noted that agriculture and tourism were his state’s top two industries. “If this proposal were to become law, it would be devastating to our state’s economy, which relies on this immigrant work force,” he said. “Hotels, restaurants, golf courses and farmers,” he added, “will tell you this proposal to cut legal immigration in half would put their business in peril.”
Cutting legal immigration would make it harder for Mr. Trump to reach the stronger economic growth that he has promised. Bringing in more workers, especially during a time of low unemployment, increases the size of an economy. Critics said the plan would result in labor shortages, especially in lower-wage jobs that many Americans do not want.
The National Immigration Forum, an advocacy group, said the country was already facing a work force gap of 7.5 million jobs by 2020. “Cutting legal immigration for the sake of cutting immigration would cause irreparable harm to the American worker and their family,” said Ali Noorani, the group’s executive director.
Surveys show most Americans believe legal immigration benefits the country. In a Gallup poll in January, 41 percent of Americans were satisfied with the overall level of immigration, 11 percentage points higher than the year before and the highest since the question was first asked in 2001. Still, 53 percent of Americans remained dissatisfied.
The plan endorsed by Mr. Trump generated a fiery exchange at the White House briefing when Stephen Miller, the president’s policy adviser and a longtime advocate of immigration limits, defended the proposal. Pressed for statistics to back up claims that immigration was costing Americans jobs, he cited several studies that have been debated by experts.
“But let’s also use common sense here, folks,” Mr. Miller said. “At the end of the day, why do special interests want to bring in more low-skill workers?”
He rejected the argument that immigration policy should also be based on compassion. “Maybe it’s time we had compassion for American workers,” he said.
When a reporter read him some of the words from the Statue of Liberty — “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” — Mr. Miller dismissed them. “The poem that you’re referring to was added later,” he said. “It’s not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.”
He noted that in 1970, the United States allowed in only a third as many legal immigrants as it now does: “Was that violating or not violating the Statue of Liberty law of the land?”
WALL STREET JOURNAL (Editorial): The Body Count at the Border
Aug. 2, 2017
Every so often comes a dark reminder of the human costs of immigration dysfunction, and last month 10 people suffocated in an 18-wheeler in Texas while trying to move to the United States from Mexico and Central America. Congress could prevent similar tragedies with more legal visas for guest workers, as a new report details.
The National Foundation for American Policy in a report out this week notes that “more than 7,000 men, women and children have died along the Southwest border” over the past two decades. More than 200 people have died so far this year, and last year the count topped 300. This year there have been 7.8 deaths for every 10,000 apprehensions of illegal border crossers.
The number of deaths increased by about 80% between 1999 and 2012, even as apprehensions—a reliable proxy for illegal immigration—plummeted by more than 75%. As a result, a person picking their way across the border is now “5 times more likely to die in the attempt than 18 years ago,” the report notes. One reason is that an enforcement crackdown has encouraged people to slip across more treacherous or remote areas of the southwest.
Most immigrants come to the U.S. for work and opportunity, so the solution is to allow them to find jobs legally. The paper notes that the U.S. doesn’t have a visa program that permits immigrants to work legally in “year-round industries like construction, hotels and restaurants.” In the 1940s and ’50s the Bracero program allowed workers to enter legally from Mexico, and illegal immigration apprehensions dropped 95% between 1953 and 1959.
Some who make it across the border stay in the U.S. illegally because they can’t risk multiple crossings. A visa holder who could travel home freely might be less likely to venture a dangerous crossing with his entire family. By the way, more work visas would be a fillip for the economy; agriculture, construction and many other industries report labor shortages despite rising wages.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who has since decamped for the White House, put out a statement that the Texas smugglers “have no regard for human life and seek only profits.” But smugglers make money when politicians slap on new restrictions on immigration, and the way to bankrupt them is a system that allows safe, legal entry and exit. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) has a bill in the Senate to let states experiment with guest-worker programs, which would be a place to start.
The recent deaths are gruesome but hardly unprecedented: The policy brief recalls how a dozen men died in the Arizona desert in the 2000s, one of whom was Lorenzo Ortiz Hernandez, a father of five who took out a loan at 15% interest to underwrite an illegal crossing. He was looking to support his family. Such casualties will continue until Congress finds the political will to reform the broken U.S. immigration system.
WASHINGTON POST (Long Post): It’s a ‘grave mistake’ for Trump to cut legal immigration in half
By Heather Long
Aug. 2, 2017
President Trump endorsed a steep cut in legal immigration on Wednesday. Economists say that’s a “grave mistake.”
A Washington Post survey of 18 economists in July found that 89 percent believe it’s a terrible idea for Trump to curb immigration to the United States. Experts overwhelmingly predict it would slow growth — the exact opposite of what Trump wants to do with “MAGAnomics.”
“Restricting immigration will only condemn us to chronically low rates of economic growth,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group. “It also increases the risk of a recession.”
During the campaign, Trump repeatedly told illegal immigrants to “get out.” Now he wants to cut back on legal immigration as well. On Wednesday, Trump stood side-by-side with Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) to endorse their bill, the RAISE Act. The bill does two things: It moves the United States toward a “skills-based immigration system” where people with special skills get top priority and it cuts legal immigration by 50 percent.
“This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families,” Trump said Wednesday. He believes immigrants — both legal and illegal — take jobs from Americans, even though the jobless rate in the country is incredibly low.
Many economists and business leaders endorse the skills-based approach. Canada and Australia, among other countries, use this method. But there’s heavy criticism for the RAISE Act’s plan to slash the number of green cards from 1 million a year to 500,000 over the next decade. In the first year alone, the bill cuts the number of green cards by 41 percent.
“We need to modernize the immigration system, but cutting immigration in half is bad for the economy and bad policy,” says Jeremy Robbins, executive director of New American Economy, a coalition founded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to improve U.S. immigration policy.
Robbins points out that Canada and Australia — the supposed models for the Trump administration’s reforms — both let in more than double the number of immigrants per capita than the United States does. There are also concerns that such a dramatic cut to legal immigration would cause illegal immigration to rise.
Cotton introduced the RAISE Act in February. It wasn’t expected to go far given the crowded to-do list for Congress this year, but Trump’s news conference Wednesday is giving it new life.
In April, over 1,400 economists from across the political spectrum sent a letter to Trump urging him not to cut immigration. The letter said there was “near universal agreement” on the “the broad economic benefit that immigrants to this country bring.” Thomas Simons, senior economist at Jefferies investment firm, said a 50 percent reduction would be “absolutely harmful to an economy with a population undergoing the demographic transformation.”
The bottom line is that the United States needs more workers. Growth happens when one of two things occurs: The economy gets more workers or the existing workers become more productive. At the moment, both of those factors are red flags. Productivity growth is sluggish, and, as Trump has pointed out many times, the percentage of American adults who actually work — the labor-force participation rate — is hovering at the lowest levels since the 1970s.
A big part of the problem is the baby boomers are starting to retire. The United States needs more people to replace them, but the U.S. birthrate just hit a historic low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s why many economists, demographers and business owners keep calling for more immigration, not less.
“Limiting immigration to the U.S. is a grave mistake,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “The only way to meaningfully increase U.S. economic growth on a sustained basis anytime soon is to increase immigration.” During the campaign, Zandi predicted that Trump’s protectionist stances on trade and immigration would lead to a “lengthy recession.”
Trump portrays immigrants as scooping up American jobs. But the data appears to tell a different story.
U.S. unemployment is at 4.4 percent. In May, unemployment hit the lowest level since 2001, a milestone Trump celebrated. That implies there aren’t many people struggling to find work. At the same time, the United States has 5.7 million job openings, which is near a record high. It’s been that way for a year now. Business leaders with big and small firms say they can’t find enough workers. They are especially vocal about not being able to find enough people for really low-skilled, low-pay work and for really high-skilled jobs.
Trump is already heeding the calls for more lower-skilled workers. His administration recently bumped up visas for seasonal foreign workers by 15,000, a 45 percent increase from last year.
There is growing support for moving the United States to a more merit-based immigration system. The idea is to attract more of the immigrant workers that the country desperately needs. At the moment, only 15 percent of green cards are issued for employment reasons, according to Department of Homeland Security data.
“There is a case for adopting a Canada-style system of ‘points’ whereby preference is given to people with desired skills,” said Martin Barnes, chief economist at BCA Research in Montreal.
The vast majority of legal immigrants are entering the country because they are relatives of someone already in the United States. It’s known as “chain immigration,” and the RAISE Act wants to limit that substantially so only spouses and children could come with a visa holder, not more-extended relatives.
From an economic standpoint, the key is to get more workers with the desired skills into the country. It’s why the tech community is lobbying so hard for more H-1B visas. Immigrants also tend to start more businesses. While start-up founders in Silicon Valley are glorified, the reality is business formation in the United States is near a 40-year low. That worries Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust.
“Countries that get collectively older are granted fewer patents, start fewer small businesses and take fewer risks with capital,” Tannenbaum said. All of that hurts economic growth.