Not surprisingly, over-the-top and often erroneous reactions to President Trump’s executive order tightening refugee admissions are flooding the web today. So I thought it’d be useful to repost what I wrote about extreme vetting last summer when then-candidate Trump first floated the idea. Here is the article I wrote for Politico. And here’s a short excerpt that helps put the president’s actions in context:
Immigrant vetting, and even extreme immigrant vetting, has a very long tradition in American history. Since before the founding even, U.S. policies about whom the country chooses to welcome and reject have changed in response to changing conditions.
Some people have asked me what I thought of the actions against illegal immigration that President Trump announced yesterday. As far as I can tell, he did exactly what he promised he was going to do, so there were few surprises in terms of what was going to happen.
But along the way, the President did something else that really struck me: he forced a much-needed late-course correction in the media narrative. Practically every story about illegal immigration in the MSM tells of immigrants who overcome incredible hardships and make an amazing contribution to American life (how many times have we read about the illegal children who end up going to Ivy League colleges), or they describe the suffering that immigrant families endure when immigration enforcement breaks up the family unit.
These stories are real, and are definitely part of what we should be considering when we think about illegal immigration. But there are other stories to be told, stories that don’t fit in with the narrative. Some illegal immigrants commit crimes, and natives have been harmed; some drive cars under the influence and natives sometimes end up getting hurt; and some native families have suffered a great personal loss, a different type of family separation due to (the lack of) immigration enforcement. For the most part, the MSM has made sure that these stories are hidden away, never to be acknowledged or discussed in polite discussions of illegal immigration. I’ve seldom learned about these cases from CNN, the Washington Post, or the New York Times.
President Trump specifically emphasized that other side of illegal immigration yesterday. Not only did he personally call out some of those families that have suffered irreparable harm from illegal immigration, but it seems that there will now be a weekly report of criminal acts by illegal immigrants. Needless to say, that listing would never have been prepared under the old regime. Regardless of where one stands on illegal immigration, it is hard to argue against the fact that more information about the issue is far better than the one-sided-stories the MSM has been feeding us for years.
There’s been a lot of criticism from free-market types since President-elect Trump announced the Carrier deal, which will keep around 1,000 jobs in
Ohio Indiana (see the Larry Summers take here). Some of that criticism is warranted–in an ideal world, it would indeed be ideal to let the market decide who the winners and losers are. But there is also a lot of hypocrisy in many of the over-the-top reactions.
As an obvious example, I don’t recall much hand-wringing about the excessive labor market manipulation built into the comprehensive immigration reform legislation that President Obama and Senators Schumer, Rubio, et al, tried to ram through Congress a few years ago. So I thought it’d be fun to illustrate just how visible the invisible hand became in that context.
This screenshot is from bill S.744, describing job categories to be covered by a proposed “agricultural worker program.”
And this screenshot is the section of the bill stating what the salary must be for such jobs–down to the penny and year by year.
It seems to me that if the objective is simply to criticize government intervention in the labor market, the comprehensive immigration reform legislation would have provided ample opportunities. Do we really need Stalinist five-year plans stating precisely what the wage rate must be in particular occupations?
Which brings me to a related question: Who paid whom to get those hourly wage rates written into law?
It’s not often that I have much to say about these types of high-level government appointments. Typically, all I know is what I read in the papers. But this is one case where I do have some valuable private information.
I have met and “talked shop” with Senator Sessions a few times in the past. Those conversations always struck me as unusual. Unlike some other influential people in the immigration arena whom I have talked to, where I quickly began to suspect that their grasp of the nitty-gritty details was somewhat foggy, it was obvious that Senator Sessions was knowledgeable with and understood precisely what was going on in the immigration field.
Regardless of how one views his policy vision, there’s one thing we know for sure: The man at the helm of the Justice Department in the Trump administration, in charge of enforcing the immigration statutes, will be someone who has spent years studying the nooks and crannies of this obscure (and often incomprehensible) set of rules and regulations, who understands precisely how the immigration system is put together and is used (and misused) in the real world, and who strongly believes that the laws should be enforced. As I argued in an earlier blog post that provided some (unsolicited) advice to President-elect Trump, it seems to me that “enforcement first”–and specifically greatly slowing down the inflow of illegal immigrants–is a necessary first step if we are to have a sensible discussion about how to reform immigration policy. There isn’t a better qualified person in Washington to handle this job and to inform President-elect Trump about the various options.
On top of that, the senator is a very nice and approachable man, both in a professional and social setting. I always came away thinking that this must be what the “Southern gentleman” type is all about.
More than a few people have asked me in the past few days what advice, if any, I would give to President-elect Trump about immigration. Here are some more-or-less random thoughts that touch on a few of the policy issues that have to be confronted:
Enforcement First. The first step must be immediate action to greatly reduce the inflow of illegal immigrants. Illegal immigration has had a deeply corrosive impact on the immigration debate; it has paralyzed any rational discussion of how we should proceed along all other aspects of immigration reform. The open borders approach that allowed the entry of millions of illegal immigrants makes legal immigration policy “a travesty of a mockery of a sham.” Why bother waiting years abroad for that green card in the mail—such as the 23-year wait that some Filipino visa applicants are now enduring—when one can accomplish much of the same goal by running across the border or overstaying a tourist visa? I am not sure that a wall—despite its signal that we are finally getting serious about illegal immigration—will do the job; many of the illegal immigrants do not enter through the southern border. But I am willing to bet that the mandated adoption of an electronic system (such as E-Verify) that would force all employers to certify the visa status of all hires, along with very large fines and criminal penalties for law-breaking employers, would go a long way towards stemming the flow.
Benign Neglect. What to do about the 11+ million undocumented immigrants already living in the country? I think the wisest answer is: For the most part, ignore them! I find it very heartening that we do not have the stomach for such large-scale deportations. Most of those immigrants have led peaceful and uneventful lives in our country and became part of our communities. Their sudden removal would certainly not represent the America that many of us envision. I am also old enough to remember Daniel Patrick Moynihan being vilified for using the phrase “benign neglect” to discuss policy options regarding black economic progress in the late 1960s. Maybe it’s time to resurrect those words in the context of illegal immigration. Sometimes inaction is the best action. Most of the illegal immigrants already here will eventually qualify (if they haven’t qualified already) for visas through the family preference system. If the “enforcement first” step of stemming the illegal flow is successful, there can perhaps be eventual agreement on legislation that would accelerate the process of granting family preference visas to the existing undocumented population.
Continue reading “Some Advice for President-Elect Trump”
The globalists have for far too long ignored that globalization, whether due to an increase in imports or an increase in immigration, has inevitably harmed some people in the industrialized countries. Angus Deaton has written an important essay that emphasizes the problem with what he calls “cosmopolitan prioritarianism,” which he defines as “an ethical rule that says we should think of everyone in the world in the same way, no matter where they live.”
The globalization that has rescued so many in poor countries has harmed some people in rich countries…Like many in academia and in the development industry, I am among globalization’s greatest beneficiaries – those who are able to sell our services in markets that are larger and richer than our parents could have dreamed of.
Globalization is less splendid for those who not only don’t reap its benefits, but suffer from its impact. We have long known that less-educated and lower-income Americans, for example, have seen little economic gain for four decades, and that the bottom end of the US labor market can be a brutal environment.
Citizenship comes with a set of rights and responsibilities that we do not share with those in other countries…We can think about these rights and obligations as a kind of mutual insurance contract: We refuse to tolerate certain kinds of inequality for our fellow citizens, and each of us has a responsibility to help – and a right to expect help – in the face of collective threats…When citizens believe that the elite care more about those across the ocean than those across the train tracks, insurance has broken down, we divide into factions, and those who are left behind become angry and disillusioned with a politics that no longer serves them.
This is precisely one of the key themes in We Wanted Workers. My recent exchange in Reason Magazine with Shikha Dalmia addresses this very question. At the end of the exchange, I leave no doubt as to which side I am on:
Espousing any specific immigration policy is nothing but a declaration that group x is preferred to group y. It is easy to avoid clarifying who you are rooting for by trying to reframe the debate in terms of amorphous philosophical ideals about mobility rights and the like. But this is where we go our separate ways. When push comes to shove, I will side with policies that improve the well being of the American worker.
This sounds like big news to me. I’ve always found libertarians to be the most unpersuadable people when it comes to immigration; their religious-like attachment to open borders seems totally impervious to facts. So it was a bit of a shock to come across this news article describing Charles Murray’s change of heart when it comes to low-skill immigration:
Charles Murray announced his support for a moratorium on low-skilled immigration…“I want to shut down low-skilled immigration for awhile,” Murray said, explaining it was the only way to find out if it would actually help native low-skilled workers…”I have had to undergo a great deal of re-thinking…The thing that has gotten to me over the course of this year… has been the idea, the very simple idea, that the citizens of a nation owe something to each other that is over and above our general obligations to our fellow human beings. That there is a sense that we should take care of our own, our own in this case being Americans.”
Doesn’t this sound an awful lot like the responsible nationalism now advocated by Larry Summers:
A new approach has to begin from the idea that the basic responsibility of government is to maximize the welfare of citizens, not to pursue some abstract concept of the global good. Closely related to this is the idea that people want to feel that they are shaping the societies in which they live.
Who would have thought it would take the rise of Donald Trump for these very wise men to see the obvious?