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Why Trump’s Immigration Plan Is Bad News For The Middle Class

Joe Guzzardi Contributor
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President Trump’s senior White House advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with business groups, pro-immigration advocates and immigration reduction groups for weeks to make recommendations on a way forward on immigration. Last week, President Trump outlined a broad overview of his immigration vision.

The plan’s priorities ranged from more effective border security to implementing a merit-based immigration entry system, thereby moving away from low-skilled, family migration and the diversity lottery which randomly selects 50,000 foreign nationals for permanent residency each year.

During his speech, President Trump said that 87 percent of immigrants arrive either as lottery winners, relatives or have been admitted for humanitarian relief reasons. As President Trump said, his plan would achieve “two critical goals.” It would stop illegal immigration, and it would create a merit-based “Build America” visa.

Certainly, the speech outlined a commendable step forward in updating the nation’s immigration system. Previous administrations, Republican and Democrat alike, waffled on immigration. Former presidents dating back to the Carter administration were ineffective and knowingly ignored unlawful entry. Worse, President Obama bypassed Congress by way of executive action to create a means for illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. and get employment authorization documents, e.g., deferred action for childhood arrivals, DACA. (RELATED: Trump Reportedly Tapping Former Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli For DHS Post)

But the president’s speech was disappointing in several ways. He didn’t refer to mandating E-Verify, the online program which assures that only legally present aliens or U.S. citizens can get employment. E-Verify, which has languished in Congress for decades, would replace the existing and easily falsified I-9 paper-based system that permits unauthorized persons to get and keep jobs. During his presidential campaign, candidate Trump promised to defend American workers, his “Hire American” policy. E-Verify is a tool to achieve that goal, assuming American job protection is still the administration’s priority.

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 16: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about immigration reform in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 16, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump’s new immigration proposal will be a “merit-based system” that prioritizes high-skilled workers over those with family already in the country and does not address young undocumented immigrants that are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

More worrisome is that “Build America” visas represent a serious job displacement threat to millions of white-collar American workers. For decades, myriad visas have steadily eroded American middle-class jobs, and kept downward pressure on U.S. wages. At least a dozen visas allow employers to hire white-collar immigrants to work in jobs that require a college degree, often for lower salaries.

In D.C. speak, an employment-based visa means that the federal government has authorized a foreign national to work in the U.S. By extension that also means that an existing employee may lose a job, or a recent college graduate will have fewer employment opportunities.

The H-1B visa, allegedly intended for highly skilled workers, has consistently displaced American engineers and tech workers since Congress created it as part of the Immigration Act of 1990. American workers at Disney, Southern California Edison, Caterpillar and dozens of other prestigious U.S. corporations got their walking papers and, before exiting, had to train their foreign H-1B replacements, adding insult to injury.

In reality, the H-1B visa enables employers to discriminate against American tech workers, and hire cheaper, less competent foreign nationals. As a result, only 29 percent of today’s Silicon Valley IT workers are U.S. citizens even though no U.S. tech worker shortage exists.

The H-1B visa is one prominent example of how employment authorization granted to overseas workers can quickly spiral out of control, and swallow up American jobs along the way. Nearly 30 years after Congress authorized the “temporary” visa, the H-1B is still going strong, and has been modified to lead to permanent residency and a citizenship path.

The H-1B also led to another employment opportunity for noncitizens. After years of intense lobbying, H-4 visa holders, the spouses of H-1Bs, convinced the pliant Obama administration to grant them work permission specifically excluded from the original terms of their nonimmigrant visa. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the H-4 will cost American workers 155,000 jobs this year alone with an additional 55,000 jobs lost to native-born in successive years. Expect the “Build America” visa to be an equally destructive force in displacing U.S. citizens from their jobs.

Although Americans have indicated an overwhelming desire to end the Southwest border immigration crisis, President Trump didn’t mention the criminally organized illegal immigrant influx. Amnesty seekers, upon their release, have entered the interior U.S. where they’ll require social services that will strain municipal budgets. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 1 million Central Americans and Mexicans will be caught and released during this fiscal year.

US President Donald Trump arrives to announce a new immigration proposal, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on May 16, 2019. – Trump proposed an overhaul of US immigration to favour applicants with high skills and good English, while cutting back on family based arrivals and asylum seekers. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

In New Mexico, the tiny town of Deming declared a state of emergency after Border Patrol agents dropped off about 170 migrants that the city could not afford to care for. Deming’s poverty rate is 34.3 percent, the nation’s worst. The Trump administration is negotiating with private contractors to move 225,000 migrants from the border to interior cities where it will become the responsibility of local governments to feed and shelter them at taxpayer expense. (RELATED: This Overwhelmed Mexican Immigration Detention Center Has Had Six Mass Escapes In Six Weeks)

Finally, no immigration proposal that President Trump may propose will be acceptable unless it contains a provision to dramatically reduce legal immigration, a measure that a Harvard-Harris poll found 81 percent approval for among likely voters.

Immigration is the major driver of population growth. More than 90 percent of future population increases will be generated through immigration and births to immigrants. Annually, we now see in excess of about 1 million legal immigrants admitted to the U.S. Upon becoming lawful residents, immigrants will petition their family members, an average of 3.5 chain migrants per each new permanent resident.

Assuming the status quo remains unchanged, U.S. population will exceed 400 million by 2060, 75 million more people or about a 25 percent increase from today’s 329 million. The RAISE Act, which would end chain migration and thus eventually lower immigration totals, was recently reintroduced in Congress. Although in 2017 President Trump spoke glowingly of the original bill, he’s been mum since.

President Trump should ask himself which among the following four immigration actions are the most important to Americans: A) protecting U.S. jobs, B) securing the border against the ongoing criminally sponsored and facilitated invasion, C) lowering legal immigration to create a better quality of life for all or D) creating a new employment-based visa that will displace citizens from their jobs.

The landslide winners, choices A, B and C, should tip off President Trump about what immigration course the White House should pursue.

Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at jguzzardi@pfirdc.org.