Even if President-Elect Donald Trump substantially reduces illegal immigration, he will be a disappointment if he does not fulfill promises to cut legal immigration, according to an advocacy group.
Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, said in an interview that the top immigration reform priority for the next Congress should be ending “chain migration,” which allows new immigrants to sponsor relatives for permanent residency. That is the main reason why legal immigration ballooned from about 250,000 a year in the 1950s and 1960s to roughly 1 million annually since 1990, Beck said.
“The most important single change Congress can make is to end chain migration.”
NumbersUSA recommends that Congress limit immigrants to sponsoring only spouses and minor children. That one measure would cut legal immigration nearly in half, Beck said.
“The most important single change Congress can make is to end chain migration,” he said. “If at the end of four years of the Trump administration, chain migration is still standing, no matter what he does on illegal immigration, his record on his promises on immigration will be a total failure.”
A number of groups favoring tighter controls on immigration, including NumbersUSA, have pointed to a number of steps that Trump can take without congressional action. That starts with more aggressive enforcement of existing immigration laws, repealing President Obama’s executive actions protecting large groups of illegal immigrants from deportation, and suing or cutting off funds to local jurisdictions that thwart federal immigration officials.
But Beck said some of the most meaningful action cannot occur without Congress.
“We don’t want him to pull an Obama and do some kind of illegal executive action,” he said.
Narrowing chain migration will not be an easy lift, politically. With at least 48 senators in the Democratic caucus come January, any change will have to win the support of at least eight Democrats to overcome a Senate filibuster. And the national party, Beck said, sees immigration as a “global Democratic voter registration program.”
While there is broad consensus for enforcing laws against illegal immigration, legal immigration is much trickier. Trump has offered contradictory statements about immigration — promising to reduce it, but also suggesting he would have a “beautiful gate” on the “beautiful wall” he wants to construct along the Mexican border.
Politicians tend to wax poetic about the virtues of legal immigration, and law-and-order Republicans often contrast the harms of illegal immigration with the benefits of legal immigration.
“That’s way too simplistic,” Beck said.
He said polling conducted by NumbersUSA consistently shows that Americans favor measures to limit chain migration to immediate family members. That is the case even among Americans who favor granting amnesty to immigrants who came illegally, he said.
Beck said he thinks it is possible to get support from Democratic senators who will be running for re-election in 2018 in states carried by Trump.
“It’s realistic, but it’s going to be a very tough fight … [Trump] needs to be pushing this the first year,” he said. “Because it’s gonna take work.”
Beck argued that the economic benefits to Americans would be great. A large reduction in the annual flow of immigrants would open up job opportunities and drive up wages. Chain migration is the “No. 1 threat to vulnerable American workers,” he said.
“The American people have been waiting for years, decades, for a president that will actually fulfill the oath of office to enforce the laws of the land,” he said, adding that the second part of Trump’s promise is that “he would push for an immigration system that was for the benefit of the American worker … Legal immigration is a much more powerful, harmful policy toward the American workers.”
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Immigration supporters argue that newcomers do not take American jobs because as the population grows, demand for goods and services increases, leading to more jobs. Beck said it certainly is true that gross domestic product grows along with immigration, but he pointed to studies suggesting that most of the job growth since the Great Recession has gone to immigrants, while the number of working-age Americans who have dropped out of the labor force has grown by 12 million since 2000.
“One thing this election was about is the rebellion of people who are concerned about per capita and median income as opposed to those, basically the elites, who care about overall size of the GDP,” he said.
Beyond chain migration, Beck mentioned four other measures that would require congressional approval:
- Reforming visa programs like the H-1B that allow guest workers to come into the country, often displacing American workers or depressing wages in higher-end jobs.
- Eliminating a visa lottery that randomly selects about 55,000 applicants for permanent work authorization and residency in the United States. Beck said it makes no sense in the modern era to hand out permanent residency without regard to whether the immigrants have skills, education, or other attributes that would benefit the country.
- Making it mandatory for businesses to use the E-Verify system to make sure that new hires are citizens or legal residents. A bill to do so passed the House Judiciary Committee three years ago and had the support of several major business organizations, but then-House Speaker John Boehner refused to allow a vote on the House floor. “There’s only one reason [to oppose it], and that is you’ve got businesses that insist on the ability to hire illegal workers,” Beck said.
- Ending so-called “birthright citizenship” that grants automatic citizenship to any child born on U.S. soil, regardless of whether the parents were legal residents, illegal immigrants, or even tourists on vacation.
Permitting willing local law enforcement agencies to assist federal officials with enforcing immigration law.