Like most things Donald Trump says, his immigration proposal — only slightly more detailed than most of his superficial bombast — contains a few grains of rationality and a large helping of the sort of xenophobia and economic ignorance that appeals to a slice of the Republican base but which most Americans — including many Republicans — find distasteful and self-destructive.
Let’s start with the good stuff: Mr. Trump notes that a true nation must have its borders and its laws enforced. He points out the reprehensible record of federal law enforcement agencies releasing tens of thousands of criminal illegal aliens back into American society, a small number of whom commit heinous crimes such as the murder of Kate Steinle. He recognizes that a large percentage of our illegal aliens are people who came here legally but overstayed their visas and that the lack of a credible visa tracking system is unacceptable.
And while Mr. Trump’s rhetoric may be a little strong, he is right to remind Americans that the Mexican government encourages its citizens to enter the United States illegally and that we must eliminate sanctuary cities, which encourage the illegal aliens to come and to stay. (I mean eliminate the sanctuaries, not the cities.)
While the recognition of these problems is welcome — even for those of us who do not follow Mr. Trump further down his anti-immigration path — the rest of Trump’s “plan” is a bitter stew served up by a man pandering to Angry White People with ideas both fanciful and harmful.
On the fanciful side, Trump continues to beat the drum that he will “make Mexico pay for the wall.” Puhleeze. At least on this score, he offers what in Trump-world pass for details:
Mexico must pay for the wall and, until they do, the United States will, among other things: impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages; increase fees on all temporary visas issued to Mexican CEOs and diplomats (and if necessary cancel them); increase fees on all border crossing cards — of which we issue about 1 million to Mexican nationals each year (a major source of visa overstays); increase fees on all NAFTA worker visas from Mexico (another major source of overstays); and increase fees at ports of entry to the United States from Mexico. [Tariffs and foreign aid cuts are also options.]
Let’s look at these things with the brevity they deserve: How will the U.S. possibly know what remittance payments are derived from illegal wages? And even if a system were devised to determine that, don’t you think that clever people will find a way around it in less time than it takes you to read this sentence? How much money will the U.S. raise by increasing fees on temporary visas and don’t you think that Mexico would retaliate with higher fees on American tourists? (Maybe that’s how we make Mexico pay for the wall… they can take the money from Americans going to Cancun or Cabo and then send it back to us!) Also, wouldn’t raising the fee to cross the border legally simply push many of those people to cross illegally?
For each of the provisions relating to NAFTA and trade between the U.S. and Mexico, doesn’t Mr. Trump realize that the result of such policies would be to raise prices for American consumers? Tariffs are nothing more than mostly hidden taxes paid when you go to the store. If Trump’s plan to make Mexico pay for the wall were to come to pass, the big losers would be Americans.
Another of Trump’s major themes is a desire to “put American workers first.” But again, as he does not understand Frederic Bastiat’s contrast of the good economist versus the bad economist, Trump’s plan — to the extent that we know what it is — would not only have minimal beneficial impact for American workers (and would likely harm as many as it helped) but impose tremendous costs on American consumers (and corporations, though these days it’s not politically correct to care about corporations).
Trump ties low labor participation rates, the “shrinking middle class,” and unemployment among black teenagers to immigration — both legal and illegal — despite there being approximately zero credible evidence to support any such claims.
There is an argument to be made that illegal immigration holds down the wages for Americans who have less than a high school degree — which means that America has a school dropout problem, not an immigration problem. But across the entire economy, immigration is not just beneficial but absolutely necessary to sustain the Ponzi schemes that are the American entitlement systems of Social Security and Medicare.
It’s also worth noting that illegal immigrants compete with low-education low-skill American workers in the same way that technological advances do. The cotton gin, almost every machine made by John Deere or Caterpillar, the automobile, the computer — all of these things put people out of work. Perhaps if we should halt immigration we should also ban the use of mechanized farm equipment. Just think of how many farm jobs we could create!
Trump proposes to force companies to raise the minimum pay for H-1B visa holders — typically people coming to America for high-skill jobs. Has any true conservative ever supported price controls? What makes Mr. Trump think that getting government even more involved in the operations of private businesses is good policy, much less good politics? His plan to require businesses to “hire American workers first” has the stench of xenophobia backed up by the fist of government. Perhaps as a Jew I’m overly sensitive, but when I hear Trump speak I can’t help but think of “Germany for the Germans.”
The reason that so many Americans aren’t working is that we pay them so well not to and that over-regulation through laws like Obamacare and Dodd-Frank have made corporations cautious about expansion. Remember, more than 100% of net hiring in the United States is done by small companies, not giant corporations. Forcing entrepreneurs into bad and expensive hiring decisions, including raising the minimum wage, simply means they will not hire.
There is a reason that new company formation is actually slower than the rate of business closings and that the United States has plunged in its worldwide ranking of business startups. Trump’s immigration idiocy would put “America, Inc.” at even greater risk with, it bears repeating, the big losers being Americans.
Perhaps most destructive and most emblematic of Mr. Trump’s economic cluelessness is his suggestion that there be a “pause” in the issuance of work visas during which “employers will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers.” It’s hard to know where to start discussing an idea this bad but Trump may be correct to think that it appeals to a substantial number of Americans, proving that the discipline most needed to be taught to our students of all ages is economics. (For those reflexive Trump supporters who believe that he must understand economics because he’s made a lot of money, I ask if you would support George Soros’s economic policy proposals for the same reason.)
Mr. Trump wants to remove all illegal aliens from the United States. This is, of course, impossible and, even if it were possible, an outrageous waste of tens or hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. When asked by Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press if he would split up families in which one or more of the parents is an illegal alien but their children are U.S. citizens, Trump said no, clarifying in one of the most reprehensible statements I have ever heard from an American candidate for public office, “We’re going to keep the families together, but they have to go.” Yes, Trump would try to deport American citizens. Did I mention how ignorant of history Donald Trump sounds to this Jewish columnist?
What amazes me most is not that Trump would say such a thing, proposing something obviously both immoral and illegal, but that so many Americans still support a man bursting with hatred and idiocy. Donald Trump is to politicians what P.T. Barnum was to entertainers, knowing that you can reach great success by pandering to the many suckers out there. (Actually, the attribution of “there’s a sucker born every minute” to Mr. Barnum is probably both erroneous and unfair, but it remains a powerful piece of American lore.)
The most controversial part of Donald Trump’s immigration plan is his call to end birthright citizenship, namely the policy of the United States that almost anybody born here is automatically a citizen. (Birthright citizenship does not apply to the children of foreign diplomats, of foreign enemies or soldiers involved in an occupation of part of the United States, and, at least a century ago, of certain Indian tribes.)
Some who read the entirety of the relevant clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was passed to protect freed slaves and their descendants — “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside” — believe that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” arguably does not apply to illegal aliens, thus depriving their children of birthright citizenship.
It is not per se a meritless argument. But the practical problem with that line of thinking is two-fold: First, the Supreme Court has dealt with a similar (though not identical) issue in the 1898 case of U.S. v. Wong Kim Arkand determined that anyone born in the United States, with the few exceptions noted above, is a citizen. Although the ruling in the case was not unanimous, the likelihood of today’s Supreme Court overturning that precedent is extremely low. When you add in the societal turmoil that such a ruling would cause, the chance is zero.
Therefore, while it is in theory possible that the Supreme Court could end birthright citizenship for the children of illegal aliens by simply reinterpreting the Fourteenth Amendment as written, in practice that change would require a Constitutional amendment, a process that would end in failure but not before bitterly dividing the nation and ensuring the election of Democrats from coast to coast.
And this brings me to the most important aspect of Donald Trump’s so-called “immigration plan.” It is not a policy document as much as a rabble-rousing political screed aimed at riling up the most angry and xenophobic among us, particularly those with the least understanding of economics, and engaging in a divide-and-conquer political strategy that no true conservative should tolerate, especially after seeing what six years of our current president’s us-versus-them mindset has wrought.
Republicans often say things like, “If I wanted to destroy the United States, I would do exactly what Barack Obama is doing.” The longer Mr. Trump remains atop Republican primary polls while spouting rhetoric as angry, ridiculous, and dangerous as his immigration platform, the more Democrats will gleefully think to themselves, “If I wanted to destroy the GOP, I would do exactly what Donald Trump is doing.”