The Trump Administration is making immigration its most important and ambitious domestic initiative. It seeks to lead in a once every 40 to 50 year cycle in the nation’s immigration policy.
As backdrop, America has long wavered between restrictive and permissive approaches to foreign migration. The nation waxed permissive from the 1880s until an explicitly racist restrictive act in 1924. Lyndon Johnson extended the civil rights movement by engineering with liberal Democrats a permissive reform in 1965. Since then, Washington has been paralyzed from expressing goals for immigration that come down to practical solutions to questions about goals, labor expectations, and enforcement.
Note below how in each of the three strategies, the administration will be leveraging and taking credit for some trends in place for years.
Prong One: changing expectations on unauthorized residency
Most published commentary, such as here, focuses on the crackdown on illegal migration and the 11 million unauthorized persons in the U.S. Trump’s people showed quickly that it absorbed the lessons from President Obama on the executive power over immigration. Obama protected classes of unauthorized persons; Trump applies his discretion to bar admittance, and to expand deportations. Obama deported millions, but his deportations fitted in the narratives about him of neither supporters nor opponents. The quickly emerging narrative of this administration is more coherent, sharply defined, relentless.
On March 20, President Trump said in a Louisville speech that illegal immigration at the southern border declined by 61 percent, “and we haven’t started.”
Illegal entries from Mexico have been declining for years. A decline in the number of 15 – 40 year old Mexican males in the U.S. has been baked into demographics of Mexico for some time.
Prong Two: Domestic jobs
Expect executive branch-sponsored reports on how foreign workers combined with unfair foreign competition stymie the careers of native-born Americans.
American employers of low wage workers were already feeling the pinch of tight labor markets. Restaurants have a hard time finding cooks. Farms considering more mechanization, for instance to pick fruit. Meat processing plants are looking at automatic deboning machinery.
Computer engineers are in great demand, with salaries well over $100K. Google pays $177K for a recent bachelors graduate from a high ranked college.
A recent paper estimates that H-1B workers depress the wages all computer workers, and prompt native born workers to go into other fields. But the study also said that the program results in a larger total supply of computer workers. As information technology spurs all sectors, so grow the entire economy and the workforce.
Prong Three: Ethnocentrism.
The Administration nurtures a message that foreigners appear to fail in what I call civic culture – looking and acting like native Americans in public. Its focus on Muslims is a good example. Ironically, Muslim immigrants on the whole are very middle class, more American than Americans in their surveyed views. As early as 2000, Robert Putnam of Harvard noted that rising immigration levels led to lower perceptions of civic culture.
I see the administration as selecting immigration as its signature policy through the 2018 and 2020 election cycles.