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Trump's Immigration Reform More Campaign Document Than Threat

On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced what he called a “big, beautiful, bold plan” and a “sweeping modernization of our dysfunctional legal immigration process.” The proposal is an effort to address legal—not illegal—immigration, and it calls for a drastic reduction in family-based immigration, green cards allotted on a point system, and a patriotism test, as well as additional border security measures because Trump can’t talk about immigration without returning to the U.S./Mexico border. It doesn’t call for a reduction in the overall number of immigrants allowed into the country. 

This proposal is not on its own a great cause for concern. Even Republican senators and supporters of Trump had a hard time getting excited about the announcement because of its drastic lack of details. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that it is “not a complete immigration bill,” but “it’s something we can work from.” It also fails to address DACA and undocumented immigrants that have lived in the country for years and established productive lives in the United States. These are issues that need to be addressed, and even Trump supporters recognize that no legislation will move forward without a solution in mind. 

“We all know you’re not going to pass this without dealing with the other aspects of immigration,” Senator Lindsay Graham said. 

The proposal is best understood as a campaign document. It’s no surprise that Trump will try to make immigration central to his reelection campaign, just as he made it a big part of his 2008 presidential campaign and the midterm elections, but this document drafted by Jared Kushner lays out the directions of his thinking. As a New York Times editorial says, “Shifting legal immigration toward a point system is not an inherently good or bad idea. Congress considered such an approach in 2007 and again in 2013. As with any complex system, the devil is in the details.” 

The idea of asking immigrants to embrace the country sounds good, but as Daniel Griswold, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and co-director of its Trade and Immigration Project points out, it could create obstacles for the workers the government would like encourage. 

“This test is at best unnecessary and could screen out some very skilled, ambitious immigrants who are ready to be productive in America, whatever the test says,” he said. “It could be a barrier to very productive immigrants becoming a part of American society.”

Obviously, it’s disturbing to see the president staking out immigration as the issue he will use to divide the country going into the election, particularly when his positions are far more rooted in fear, suspicion, and conjecture than reality. Still, those who want to do something need to encourage greater oversight of existing agencies and their behaviors. 

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