President Donald J. Trump has endorsed various schemes to sharply reduce the flow of immigrants, be they unauthorized migrants, asylum-seekers, or legal immigrants seeking entry based on family ties. His plan to create a Canada-style point system is stalled in Congress, so he is now trying to accomplish the same end through regulation.
A just-published rule introduces such a system using English language skills, age, education, and family income as criteria for deciding eligibility to immigrate. It also includes a much harsher interpretation of the longstanding “public charge” provision in U.S. immigration law. It would exclude legal immigrants based on a bureaucrat’s expectation that they may use some form of public assistance in the future.
Litigation over the new rule will last months or years, but it’s time to call out the false assumptions on which it is based.
Public Benefits Don’t Drive Migration
First, there is no scientific evidence that access to taxpayer-funded services shapes migration decisions, which are responses to extreme poverty, lack of physical security, and family ties with the United States.
Our field research teams have interviewed thousands of actual and potential Mexican migrants, and we have yet to find one for whom U.S. public benefits were a determining factor.
The chief architect of the president’s immigration policy, Stephen Miller, pushed hard for the new rule as the key to reducing what he and other conservative critics of immigration decry as “chain migration.” For example, the public charge provision could prevent more than half of foreign-born spouses sponsored by their husband and wives in the U.S. from being able to immigrate. It will disproportionately hurt Latin Americans.
The underlying assumption is that family-based immigration yields nothing of economic value to the country. But it turns out the immigrants coming to the U.S. with family sponsorship and those who win a place in the diversity visa lottery (predominantly Africans), are better educated than the U.S.-born population.
The federal government doesn’t ask newly arriving, family-sponsored immigrants about their education. But according to the most rigorous estimate by the Cato Institute, nearly half (47 percent) of people who came in 2015 with a family-based or diversity visa had a college degree or above, compared with 29 percent of U.S.-born residents. Family-sponsored and diversity immigrants were 62 percent more likely than U.S. natives to have completed college.
Courts & Dems in Congress, neither of which have a clue, are trying to FORCE migrants into our Country! OUR COUNTRY IS FULL, OUR DETENTION CENTERS, HOSPITALS & SCHOOLS ARE PACKED. Crazy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2019
In other words, a plurality of the people derided by Trump and Miller as uneducated “chain migrants” are, in fact, bringing the education and skills that Trump and immigration restrictionists in Congress claim can be delivered only by a points system.
Migration as Solution
Throwing up new barriers to would-be legal immigrants makes no sense at this point in the nation’s history. The United States is a country with looming demographic and fiscal deficits, reflected in a historically low fertility rate that drops with each year, rapid population aging, the need to replace 76 million retiring baby boomers, and growing difficulty in financing Medicare, Social Security, and local government services. Already, nearly half of Americans live in counties that lost the prime working-age population during the last decade.
There is a very strong economics case that the U.S. should be significantly increasing our annual intake of roughly 1 million immigrants and refugees (who are also workers). America should do this by increasing both education-skills-based and family-based green cards. Adjusting the legal immigration system should not be a zero-sum game.
The U.S. economy has millions of low-skilled jobs that natives shun. The number of U.S. natives with a high school diploma or less is in freefall even as the economy continues to generate jobs requiring modest levels of education. In March of this year, the U.S. had 2.1 million low-skilled job openings but just 1.2 million people lacking a college degree were looking for work. Only selecting immigrants with advanced degrees would hollow out the rest of the labor force.
If the new public charge rule withstands legal challenges and goes into effect in October, this administration will have damaged the nation’s future economic prospects while inflicting needless harm on immigrant families, as well as on the local communities whose economies might be revitalized by their presence.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.