The president first tweeted regarding, then approved, a Presidential Declaration temporarily pausing some categories of immigration. Predictably, the left, much of the media, and the Democrats all decried the new policy as terrible. But the president’s decision was also criticized by immigration hawks, including my colleague Mark Krikorian, who has long argued that reducing the level of immigration would be good for the country. Mark is not alone; many felt that the move was mostly meaningless because of all the things that it did not do.
But I think these critics miss the idea. President Trump justified his decision because it was necessary to “help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens.” The idea that immigration should not result in a reduction in wages or job opportunities for Americans is something the vast majority of Americans agree with. Still, almost no American leaders ever even mention. By framing the issue around jobs, the president has done the country a valuable service.
Those who are unsatisfied with the limited nature of this decision need to acknowledge how crucial it is to have a president who takes the view that immigration should not harm American workers.
It is undoubtedly true that the actual declaration is modest and limited in scope, as opposed to the president’s initial tweet about it.
It deals only with people being issued green cards (permanent residency), not guest workers, and other related programs. Moreover, many of the green card categories remain in place under the new declaration. Nonetheless, it is profoundly significant as a nation to approach the immigration issue by considering its influence on American workers. This is even more vital now given that the unemployment rate may soon match the Great Depression levels.
There were about 7 million people already jobless in March of this year, and some 26 million people have filed for unemployment since the middle of last month. The U.S. labor force, which is the denominator used to calculate the unemployment rates, is about 165 million. It is possible the unemployment will peak 20 percent in April or May when those numbers are published. Before the Wuhan coronavirus hit, the U.S. was issuing about 80,000 green cards each month, all of which come, by definition, with lifetime work authorization.
Also, about 70,000 temporary work visas are issued each month, and something like 150,000 international students, asylum seekers, DACA recipients, unapproved green card applicants, and others are also given work permits monthly.
There is certainly ample evidence that immigration reduces wages and employment for some American workers. Now, with perhaps 30 million Americans unemployed, it makes even more sense to look at immigration levels. Unfortunately, the whole system runs on autopilot, with no regard for the labor market, only to their “morality,” conditions in the United States.
Trump has taken at least part of the system off autopilot, and that is an essential 1st step. Critics should witness his actions in that regard. To be sure, a disproportionate share of the people who have lost their jobs in the last 2 months have modest levels of education. So enabling in large numbers of foreign workers to take unskilled jobs — through, for instance, the H-2B visa and some of the programs under the J-1 visa — is unwise. But there is nothing in the declaration that prevents the president from expanding it to include more green cards and guest-worker programs. The declaration itself calls for the departments of Labor and Homeland Security to present within 30 days suggestions on changes to guest worker programs.