Trump has mounted an unprecedented attack on legal immigration. America will be worse for it.
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While one may like the Trump administration’s tax policy, or its policy on cutting unnecessarily burdensome regulations or the president’s nomination of conservative judges, Donald Trump has deviated 180 degrees from past Republican administrations on U.S. immigration policy.
Trump commenced his 2016 campaign claiming Mexico was sending rapists and murderers to the U.S., promising to build a “great wall” across our southern border — one that Mexico would pay for. In fact, only five miles of new border wall has been constructed, with the rest replacing existing border barriers. And, of course, Mexico did not pay for it.
While illegal border-crossings were at historic lows, he painted a picture of our country being invaded by criminal immigrants — even though undocumented immigrants commit crimes at far lower rates than the general population.
Trump repeated those claims in the 2018 midterm elections, saying we were being invaded by Central Americans, although statistically we were still at relatively low numbers. Even at that, the vast majority were not seeking to enter illegally, but to apply for political asylum based on well-founded fears of persecution in their home countries, primarily El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Contrary to his actions, Trump has repeatedly claimed he was only against illegal immigration and wanted to leave open a “big, beautiful door” in the wall for legal immigrants.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that Trump has had the most anti-legal immigration presidency in history. From the outset, his administration has waged an all-out assault on the very few options available to foreign nationals to legally immigrate. In an Oval Office meeting with congressional leadership, the president even lamented that immigrants were coming from “shithole countries” instead of countries like Norway.
Trump has outsourced his immigration policy to Stephen Miller, a well-known anti-immigrant restrictionist. Miller, in turn, has awarded key policy positions in immigration agencies to senior executives from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies, all of which are committed to reducing legal immigration.
In his effort to ban or significantly reduce all legal immigration, Trump in early 2017 banned immigration from 13 countries on dubious national security grounds, and has subsequently banned the issuance of temporary work visas, banned the issuance of employment- and most family-based immigrant visas, urged the abolishment of birthright citizenship, gutted our legal asylum system, slashed our refugee program to virtually zero, abolished DACA, cancelled TPS, implemented punitive policies separating children from their parents, reduced the number of foreign students in the US, increased processing times and denied applications for legal status that are approvable under existing law and previous interpretations.
Each new generation of immigrants has only strengthened America. Every American is proud of their own immigrant heritage, be it the Chinese and Irish workers who built the transcontinental railroad, Italian and other immigrant workers who built the infrastructure of big cities from the subways to the skyscrapers, Hispanic workers who are always the first on the scene to help rebuild America following natural disasters, do the backbreaking work of building our homes, and harvest our vegetables and fruits, or top scientists from China, India and elsewhere who have led the US in developing many of our great technologies and win most U.S. Nobel prizes in science.
One in six U.S. workers is an immigrant. In cities like Houston, a quarter of our population is foreign born.
Policies like those pursued by Trump do not protect America, they only diminish America, our economy and our future.
***UPDATED: This op-ed has been updated to clarify the organizations from which the Trump administration has drawn for key policy positions.
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Charles C. Foster