Heartless immigration policy afoot

August 7, 2017

The immigration debate through the decades has featured the pious pronouncement that no one being depicted as a foe of immigration was talking about legal immigration. As the familiar challenge goes: What part of illegal don’t you understand?

But President Donald Trump’s proposal to slash legal immigration blows the cover off that story. It’s clear — just as it was with his proposed ban on people from six largely Muslim countries — that the president had a whole lot of immigration in mind for restriction. The nation’s tradition of welcome and inclusion comes apart at the seams with a measure by two senators — backed by the president.

The bill is sponsored by GOP Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia. It would essentially eliminate many of the legal entries allowed in the name of family reunification. Americans and legal residents would still be able to sponsor spouses and minor children, but other categories are eliminated.

Parents, siblings and adult children couldn’t be sponsored. The measure’s sponsors estimate that about half of the number of green cards now awarded will be eliminated.

Instead, the nation would institute a “merit” system based on skills, English ability and education.

In other words, even those hardworking Irish, Italian, German, Russian and Mexican forebears of yore who arrived penniless — many without education — and fleeing persecution at home wouldn’t have qualified. And America as we know it would not exist because many of the people who built it and made it great wouldn’t have been able to come here. You might not even be here.

The rationale of the proposal is that the influx of low-skilled workers has decreased opportunities for similarly skilled Americans. But the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy group, says that with current immigration levels, the country already faces a labor shortage by 2020. Many of these shortages were already going to be in low-wage categories.

Americans are not taking these jobs because the wages are so low? OK, follow that logic: Do Americans really want to increase the price of everything from fruits and vegetables to hotels and from homebuilding to roof repair?

If your answer is “yes” — as in “I’m willing to pay that much” — that’s perhaps laudatory but would likely be an economy buster. Too high a price on supply will surely decrease demand on all manner of foodstuffs, goods and services.

Agriculture is a $100 billion business in Texas alone. It is No. 1 in the nation for livestock receipts and No. 2 for agricultural receipts, behind California.

And then there’s the humanitarian aspect of curtailing family reunification for immigrants. Yes, spouses and minor children can still be sponsored, but siblings, adult children and parents not.

Does Trump think love for family diminishes with age — that families aren’t stronger united? There is value in extended, loving families. And there has been value getting these immigrants here — many have gone on to become the nation’s innovators and entrepreneurs.

The welcome mat that this nation has set out for those huddled masses has been a hallmark — in many ways it has defined us. If this measure passes, that will change. Our economy will suffer, as will the respect people the world over have held for us.

It is hard to imagine a more hardhearted and economically nonviable immigration policy than this one.

Here’s what components of true immigration reform would contain. Yes, more border security — though not a wall — a path to legal residency for undocumented immigrants already here, a guest-worker program and an employee-verification system that holds employers accountable.

Congress should scuttle this proposal. The Texas delegation should lead the way.