President Donald Trump is set to address immigration during tonight's State of the Union address. His remarks will follow last week's rollout of a White House immigration proposal that would offer a path to citizenship to 1.5 million Dreamers—undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children—while reducing the overall flow of immigrants into the United States and providing $25 billion in new funding for a border wall. It's probable that the president will stick to the same basic outline during tonight's speech.
But what if Trump were somehow to give up on immigration restrictionism? What could he say? What should he? Such a transformation is unlikely, to say the least. But as an exercise in political fantasy, it's more than political comfort food. Imagining such remarks can help us understand not only what has already gone wrong when it comes to immigration, but the policy path that, in a better world, would lie ahead.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, My Fellow Americans:
Everyone says I never admit I am wrong and never apologize.
Well, let me begin my Second State of the Union
address tonight by doing both: You see, I woke up this morning thinking that I am married to an immigrant woman, who almost certainly modeled illegally for a while (she won't fess up lest Attorney General Sessions dispatch an ICE swat team to the White House to take her away) and I employ low-wage foreign labor in my hotels and golf courses.
Yet the policies I have advocated thus far would cutoff access to these workers by other businesses with far slimmer margins than my own over-priced facilities.
This is rank hypocrisy, and I am ashamed that I engaged in it just to exploit the anti-immigrant fervor of my economically ignorant base. Imperiling businesses is no way to MAGA and I apologize for suggesting otherwise. Going forward, my immigration policies will be humane and pro-growth just as the excellent 2013 Reason immigration e-reader suggested. I have read this compilation of Reason's best work cover-to-cover and committed it to memory because, as you all know, I have an incredible brain. And I am also ordering my entire staff to read it.
Speaking of my staff, to demonstrate with deeds that I have had a change of heart, I have decided to fire—effective immediately—both my White House aide Stephen Miller, a nativist stick-in-the-mud who has sabotaged my negotiations with Congress over the fate of Dreamers, and also my Chief of Staff, General John Kelly. He has been a great disappointment.
Instead of bringing out my better angels on this issue, as many had hoped, he has done the opposite. In addition, I am replacing Attorney General Sessions, a xenophobe who has forever been spreading malicious lies about immigrants, with Arizona's Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a decent man who understands the vital role that immigrants have played in making America an economic powerhouse.
Flake will call off Sessions' ICE (Immigration and Custom Enforcement) workplace raids to round up unauthorized workers. Such tactics are more worthy of a police state than the United States. Bill Maher recently said that I may not be Hitler, but ICE is certainly the Gestapo, and he is right about that. ICE's reign of terror must end.
Hardworking foreigners busting their butts to put cheap food on the tables of Americans don't deserve to be deported. They deserve respect. We'd be poorer without them in a million different ways.
Hence, I am going to work with Congress to pass legislation to create a pathway to citizenship for all 11 million of them except actual criminals. These folks, who are entitled to no federal means-tested benefits, have already contributed $100 billion and counting to the Social Security Trust Fund through payroll taxes. Yet they won't collect a dime from it. It is time for us to stop milking them much less separating them from their loved ones.
No doubt Rush Limbaugh and his ilk will scream "amnesty" and rend their clothes that I am "rewarding law breakers" and "undermining the rule of law." All I can say is, bite me! The founder of FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), Harvey Silverglate, has documented that Uncle Sam has criminalized so many victimless activities that literally every American commits three felonies a day. Should we incarcerate them all in the name of the sanctity of the rule of law?
Indeed, amnesty had a long an honorable history in this country until nativists turned it into a dirty word. We have handed amnesty to Confederates who fought against the Unionists and to tax scofflaws. The need for amnesty in the face of widespread non-compliance is a sign of the inefficacy and injustice of a law—that it is out-of-sync with the normal aspirations of a people. It suggests that we need to reform the law because enforcing it would be too costly: monetarily, morally, socially.
That would certainly be the case if I doubled down on my current immigration enforcement regime. In order to be effective, this regime will need to go after employers that hire undocumented workers, landlords who rent to them, use anti-harboring laws to go after humanitarian workers administering first aid (some of which my administration has shamefully started doing). In short, it will require a massive police state that would devour the rights and liberties not just of foreigners, but also ordinary Americans.
Also, trying to stop the future flow of undocumented aliens by throwing $25 billion to build the "big, beautiful wall" on the Southern border would be colossally wasteful and unwise, I have realized. It won't allow us to "control" the border as restrictionists claim. It would create an even bigger black market in labor that would only enrich human coyotes.
A far better option than a regime of labor prohibitionism would be to give these hardworking laborers legal avenues to work and live in the United States. How? By creating a new and improved version of the guest worker barcero program with Mexico that we scrapped in 1965, thanks to labor union pressure.
That program, which was not perfect, at least allowed Mexican laborers to easily and cheaply acquire work visas to come and go with the seasons. Taking away that option without offering usable substitutes while simultaneously cracking down on the border made it difficult for these workers to go back and forth. So once they managed to sneak in, they stayed put and brought their families here too or found American mates. What was a cyclical population turned into a permanent underclass.
President Ronald Reagan blundered mightily when he failed to combine his amnesty with a guest worker program. This sowed the seeds of our current predicament over undocumented aliens that is eating away at America's soul and truncating its humanity. I will not repeat that mistake.
But even as we create a new guest worker program for low skilled migrants not just from Mexico but all of Latin America, we have to improve the H-1B program for foreign tech workers. Without these techies there would be no Silicon Valley and no IT industry. Foreigners are involved in the founding of literally half of all IT startups in this country valued at billion of dollars. Each H-1B supports four native jobs. I lied when I claimed that foreign workers threaten native wages and jobs.
And while I'm fessing up, let me also admit that the immigration reforms I've been demanding in exchange for legalizing Dreamers would not make our immigration system more "merit based." They would simply take away the ability of Americans to legally sponsor their parents, adult children and siblings, not make it easier for us to admit high-skilled worker. In fact, the ransom I want to extract in exchange for Dreamers would cut legal immigration by 40 percent. It's nativism dressed up as immigration liberalism. It would make America's immigration system more "merit-based" just as Obamacare made it possible for you "keep your health plan, if you liked it."
In order to truly liberalize our immigration system, the first thing we need to do is cut the red tape. I can't call myself the great deregulator while setting Department of Labor inspectors loose on companies that hire foreign workers. Currently, any company that wants to sponsor a foreign techie for an H-1B visa needs to first prove to the DOL that it could not find qualified Americans to do the job. And then if it hires too many H-1Bs—becomes "H-1B dependent" in bureaucratic parlance—all hell can break loose. The company has to be prepared to justify to labor inspectors the discharge of any American worker 90 days before or after hiring an H-1B. A company that is found to be willfully violating the law can be barred for three years from hiring foreign workers and slapped with serious fines.
This is nothing more than affirmative action for natives meant to shield them from competition. Such protectionism has never made any country great. Ever.
So I entreat Congress to scrap the ridiculously low 85,000 annual H-1B cap and let high-tech companies hire however many workers they need from wherever they want. This won't cost American jobs it will protect them. As Steve Jobs told President Obama, another great liar, that the reason he employed 700,000 workers in China was that he could not find 30,000 engineers in the United States.
That is madness. We need markets to decide the mix of our labor pool, not Beltway bureaucrats. Talk about draining the swamp.
All of the policies I have outlined so far will make America's immigration system more pro-growth. To make it more humane, I am going to end my assaults on America's refugee program and withdraw my Muslim travel ban (yes, that is what it is, even though I have thrown in countries like North Korea to cover my ass in court). Our policies in the Middle East are at least partly responsible for destabilizing the region and creating the current mess. So it is only right we do our part to bring as many people to safety as we possibly can.
Immigrants have made America great and will do so again. Letting them in would be the best way to MAGA. It's time to reaffirm our commitment to who we are: A land of immigrants.