White House’s Immigration Pillars Would Harm Our Economy

On January 25, 2018, the Administration released its “White House Framework on Immigration Reform & Border Security”, whose “pillars” featured prominently in the President’s State of the Union address. Previously, the Administration had not been clear on what it would accept in any deal to provide a path to permanent legal status for those with DACA, the so-called “Dreamers”, but this framework makes a deal harder, rather than easier, to reach.

What are the “Four Pillars”?

The semi-good:

  • A path to legal status for those with DACA, and those who were DACA eligible but never got the chance to apply. This would legalize an estimated 1.8 million immigrants youth who are already integrated into our communities, studying, working, serving in our military, and paying taxes. While this is a good start, the proposed 12 year long process relegates these young adults to long-term second-class status, and prevents them for years from being able to work in jobs that are restricted to U.S. citizens, for no rational reason.

The bad:

  • Border security measures. This “pillar” would include billions of dollars for the border wall, despite its lack of public support, with even some border state Congressional Republicans and conservative think tanks While many Democrats would agree to technology and personnel security upgrades, the wall, as envisioned by the Administration, would be ineffective and a waste of taxpayer funds, especially when about half of the undocumented population enter legally and overstay their visas. This “pillar” would also strip due process rights from those crossing the border in search of asylum, in violation of U.S. obligations under international law.
  • Drastic cuts to immediate family immigration. The Administration proposes to “emphasiz(e) close familial relationships” and end “extended family chain migration”. This is patently false. Current law does not allow extended family to immigrate. Permanent residents (green card holders) can sponsor only their spouses and unmarried children. U.S. citizens can, over a period of many years, bring their entire immediate families, including their spouses, fiancé(e)s, children of any age and marital status, parents, and siblings. Aunts, uncles, cousin, grandparents and other extended relatives of U.S. citizens are not allowed. This “pillar” proposes restricting family immigration to only spouses and minor, unmarried children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.   Under these terms, most of us would not be here, since vast numbers of our forebears immigrated in the categories being eliminated. (This includes the President, whose Scottish mother immigrated through her sister, and his German grandfather who immigrated through his brother.)
  • Elimination of the Diversity Visa (DV) lottery. The DV lottery was created by Congress in 1990 to give those without immediate family or employer sponsors a chance to immigrate and try their hand at the American Dream. Fifty thousand visas are available annually. The “framework” document states that individuals are selected “without consideration of skills, merit, or public safety.” This is disingenous. DV lottery visas are only issued to those who pass rigorous criminal and national security background checks, and can prove that they have, at a minimum, completed secondary or high school or have at least two years of experience in a skilled trade.  DV lottery “winners” also must prove that they will be able to support themselves in the U.S., and are ineligible for means tested public benefits for their first five years in the U.S. DV immigrants are a reliable stream of new workers for our economy. Changing or eliminating the DV lottery program may indeed be a viable negotiating pawn in the effort to create a path forward for DACA/Dreamers, but the Administration’s ostensible reasoning is dishonest.

The negative economic impact of the Administration’s framework.

In exchange for legalizing up to 1.8 million DACA/Dreamers, the Administration’s proposal would:

  • Dramatically reduce family-based immigration: The Administration has already endorsed proposals that are estimated to cut family based immigration by as much as 44 percent. The Administration’s premise is that we have too many immigrants, and that family-based immigrants do not add needed skills and talent to our work force. Centuries of immigration have proven otherwise; family immigrants come with a wide range of education and skill levels, from dishwashers to PhD scientists, and they overwhelmingly work. Current family-based immigrants have higher education levels than native-born U.S. citizens, and are essential to stem our shrinking labor pool as “baby boomers” retire.
  • Substitute our current employment-based immigration system with a “points” system: The framework does not mention this shift, but the White House has repeatedly stated its support for revamping our current employment immigration scheme with a system that would assign points for education levels focused on STEM fields, English proficiency, age, wealth, and extraordinary achievement (such as being a Nobel Laureate or an Olympic medalist), as proposed in the RAISE Act, which the Administration endorsed in 2017. While there is widespread agreement that the U.S.’s current employment-based immigration system needs an overhaul, the RAISE Act is not the solution. It would reduce our overall number of employment-based immigrants, and not be tied to job openings. Not every business needs a person with a doctorate in a STEM field. Moreover, most highly educated, motivated professionals who would not qualify. Use yourself as an example, using this tool.

In addition, the Administration would sacrifice family-based immigration for this new points-based system as if there must be a trade off. It repeatedly, but erroneously, states that this is the same system that Canada uses.   However, the Administration fails to mention that Canada’s points based system is in addition to its family-sponsored, employer-sponsored, and refugee immigration components. Moreover, the Administration would allow only the spouses and under 18 year old children to accompany the points-based immigrants. This would discourage many talented people, who would want their college aged children to be able to accompany them to the U.S., from choosing to immigrate to the U.S.

Finally, by endorsing the RAISE Act, the Administration also supports reducing the overall number of employment based immigrants from current levels. This is indefensible when the nation’s unemployment rate has held steady between 4.1% and 5% for two years, and our labor pool, both nationally and in Maine, is shrinking as the Baby Boom generation retires.

Bottom Line: 

Through the recently released “Framework” document and its support of the RAISE Act, the Administration has shown its hand, bowing to immigration restrictionists who categorize today’s immigrants as somehow fundamentally different from the generations of immigrants who came before us and built this country.   This characterization is false, and harms not only our country’s values, but also our ability to progress. Today’s immigrants, like the centuries of immigrants who came before them, bring energy, renewal, and optimism that the “American Dream” is still alive and well.   Our country, and our economy, needs them.