State of the Union

Trump Said He Wants Legal Immigrants To Come 'In the Largest Numbers Ever.' Really?

He was off script, and he probably hasn't checked with his ultra-restrictionist White House aide Stephen Miller.



President Donald Trump reiterated his usual calls for crackdowns on illegal immigration and an increase in border security during the State of the Union address last night. But there was a small surprise in the immigration section of his speech: His statement that he wants immigrants to enter the country legally and in "the largest numbers ever."

That would be excellent news. More legal immigration is a far more effective cure for illegal border flows than physical barriers. Why? Because if people can come to the country legally to work, they would have no need to do so illegally, especially since working without proper authorization brings a 17 percent wage penalty.

Sadly, however, there are at least three reasons why one shouldn't get too excited about Trump's statement:

One: He was ad libbing. The official transcript of the speech circulated in advance merely said: "I want people to come into our country, but they have to come in legally." So the POTUS was off-script. Clearly, the phrase hadn't been vetted by Stephen Miller, the ultra-restrictionist White House aide who is the architect of his immigration policy.

Two: Washington Post's Robert Costa reminds us that Trump made similar declarations when he launched his presidential bid in 2015 only to back off when Miller and Steven Bannon called him out. There was a time when the Republican base made a distinction between legal and illegal immigration—favoring the first while opposing the second. Those days are gone. It is not a coincidence that during the government shutdown last January, Trump demanded a 40 percent cut in legal immigration by scrapping the diversity visa program and scaling back family-based immigration in exchange for legalizing Dreamers (folks who have grown up in this country as Americans after being brought here without authorization as minors).

Three: Trump's record to date does not indicate he is any friend of legal immigration. Indeed, he has used every regulatory and administrative tool at his disposal to reduce every single category of legal immigration.

Here is a non-comprehensive list:

  • He has outlawed asylum for those fleeing gang violence. Meanwhile, he has made it difficult for Central American migrants to present themselves at official ports of entry and request asylum by engaging in a practice called metering—meaning forcing them to wait for days and weeks on the other side of the border—while making it a criminal offense if they try and seek asylum between ports of entry.
  • He has nearly wiped out America's refugee program. His administration cut the refugee cap from 110,000 to 45,000 and is not even close to filling even that limit.
  • He couldn't convince Congress to cut back family-based immigration. However, he has used his travel ban for that purpose. He has barred Americans from sponsoring family members from any of the five Muslim countries listed on the ban. In theory, the State Department is supposed to hand waivers from the ban to close family members—spouses and children—on a case-by-case basis. But in the first few months after the ban, it had approved a measly 430 waivers out of 6,555 eligible applicants.
  • He has not even spared high-skilled immigrants who virtually everyone thinks are good for the country, including hard-to-please folks at the National Review such as Reihan Salam. He has smothered the H-1B high-skilled guest worker program in so much red tape as to make it virtually unusable. His administration is issuing more "requests for evidence" from employers sponsoring foreign workers. This means that companies have to submit even more paperwork to prove to the government that they really need the immigrant's services and couldn't find a qualified American to do the job. Worse, even as his administration is requiring employers to jump through more hoops, it is denying more H-1B requests. Nor is it allowing H-1Bs to renew their visas every three years as a matter of routine, which has been the case to date. It is forcing the visa holder and the sponsoring employer to re-file all the paperwork, as if they were applying for the first time. And, in direct contradiction to his lofty declaration in his SOTU that more women working is a good thing, he is on track to scrap work authorization for the spouses of H-1B holders, most of whom tend to be highly qualified. Given that greencard wait times for those from India and China spans decades, without this authorization, they will essentially be frozen out of the labor market permanently and become involuntary housewives, as I noted in this New York Times piece.

As I wrote in a recently in The New York Times, contrary to current mythology, America is a low-immigration nation. America's share of the foreign born ranks 34th among 50 countries with a per capita GDP of $20,000. And if it doesn't admit 2 million immigrants every year—more than twice its current rate—between now and 2050 to offset the country's plummeting birth rates and aging population, it will face a massive economic slowdown in a decade because of a shortage of workers.

If Trump is serious about allowing more legal immigration, he might want to consider a market-based system where immigrants are able to obtain visas in exchange for a fee large enough to offset any negative fiscal impact or negative externalities that they might impose. Immigrants, on balance, are a net positive for the economy as even an immigration skeptic like Harvard University's George Borjas admits. But if immigrants have to pay a fee to address the perception that they impose costs, then so be it. That's still better than simply slamming the door—both for them and the United States.

President Trump likes to win. This would be a win-win.

NEXT: Brickbat: Every Breath You Take

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  1. Call his bluff. Offer Trump his wall and whatever other border security measures will make his base happy and in return demand an increase in the number of legal immigrants. If he doesn't take it, then you can truthfully say he is lying. If he does, you get a good result.

    Trump has been saying he supports increased legal immigration and immigration reform that would be based on skills instead of arbitary national quotas and family connections since the begining. Maybe he is lying. But, the open borers' advocates refusal to take him up on his offer is good evidence they are lying when they say they want anything other than totally open borders and mass migration into the United States.

    1. That. Today I had a conversation which brought this up. It's not so much that there are a huge number of open borders anarchists but that it's more motivated by not wanting Trump to get any credit whatsoever for anything that results in safer, freer, more efficient movement of people or any benefit that it might bring to the economy.

    2. Yup.

      I think Trump would gladly sign off on moving to a more skills based system, and allowing comparable or higher numbers of people to come here overall. The truth that all you deluded fuckers who DO want endless immigration with no standards applied seem to not get, is that it just doesn't benefit anybody who is already here. Or I should say it benefits a very small subset of people, namely those that benefit from rock bottom wages. People cannot support themselves on the wages that middlin' level jobs (not burger flipping) provides anymore, and a big part of that is the flood of competition from uneducated immigrants, both illegal and legal through the diversity lottery and family reunion crap.

      There's a REASON Canada has better results with their immigrants than we do... Because they have higher standards for them. They let in some deadbeats through their asylum program, but those that come in the regular way have far higher standards. Just because we want to let in an Indian brain surgeon, that doesn't mean we need to let in his brother who is a taxi driver.

      1. That said, I have issues with having increased numbers of immigrants period, including skilled ones, because I think one can have too many people to assimilate if it's not metered.

        I feel like something around the number we have now, but entirely skilled workers, would be doable. But a modest drop would be fine too.

        You people give no credence to the importance of actually having a unified polity, which is a fatal flaw in open borders thinking... You can already see the beginning of the cracking of civic nationalism in the USA, and it is EXACTLY because of too many fresh immigrants. These people DO NOT have American views, believe in American ideals, share our culture or values. They are foreigners for fucks sake, this should be obvious. Even European immigrants have shitty socialist views, so it's not JUST about race or whatever.

        This creates massive problems. NOW, their kids MAY end up picking up enough of these things to be workable... Maybe. But if the percentage of foreign born just goes ever up, it maintains the perpetual fight. This is not healthy for social coherence.

        Slow it down, let people assimilate, and those issues will ease. The alternative is probably civil war, so you make the call!

        1. All this talk of "unified polity" seems to assume that everyone in the country would be in agreement if it weren't for all the darned foreigners moving in, but even among third-generation Americans there are major social and political differences. Basically, there isn't a single set of national values.

          1. Ugh. Nobody thinks we'd all be 100% in lock step. That's a nonsense standard, and a strawman as an argument.

            However when you remove a shit ton of the biggest dividing factors, we WOULD be a lot LESS divided. The USA was largely functional and able to hash shit out and actually function as a nation several decades ago. Not so much anymore, and we probably never will be again.

            Basically it's adding fuel to a fire that would otherwise be fairly contained. What moron thought it would be a great idea to mix in the 2 things that are probably most responsible for wars historically, namely race and religion? Who thought that WOULDN'T create massive tensions and problems?

            Only a moronic utopian would think that. And low and behold moronic utopians were, once again, WRONG. And America and Europe will pay dearly for this stupidity.

            I'm a realist. I don't have a problem with other cultures... But realistically a nation without a super majority ethnic group in charge is a ship without a rudder, with the added bonus of there being a perpetual mutiny on board. It just don't work well, ever.

  2. Just go write for the DU. You have not a shred of journalistic integrity (an oxymoron, I know), and are biased beyond belief.

    You really would twist "Trump cures cancer" to "Trump throws thousands of medical workers out of work"

  3. "But if immigrants have to pay a fee to address the perception that they impose costs, then so be it. That's still better than simply slamming the door?both for them and the United States"

    You say perception as if we don't already know immigrants are on average a taxpayer burden, to the tune of billions a year.

    You're also combining the immigrants we want with the immigrants we don't. The immigrants we want are the ones who can afford to come, or could at least generate income above the poverty line, and wouldn't need social services. The one's we don't want are the one's that have no money and couldn't generate income. The problem is that open border people don't want us to be able to pick and choose based on perceived worth. And to them I say they're welcome to host through the visa program

    1. Yup. There's a very easy way to make sure people aren't a burden: Only allow people in with a job offer of saaay $75K a year or higher. They'll be a net tax payer day one, and probably just go up from there.

      Anybody who makes under $50-60K a year is a net burden in the USA, including native born. That is simply how bloated our government is... So why in fucks name should we let in ANYONE EVER who doesn't make more than that? it's just fucking people that pay taxes here.

      These people love to equivocate an Indian brain surgeon with a Somali dish washer or whatever... No sane person would consider those to be the same, but they want us to believe they are. It's such utter nonsense it's unbelievable.

  4. As a Koch / Reason libertarian, I have the perfect plan to let legal immigrants enter our country in the largest numbers ever ? make everyone who shows up at the border a legal immigrant! #AbolishICE and all other agencies of "border enforcement." Station federal employees and translators at the border whose only job is to welcome immigrants into our country and grant them immediate citizenship and voting rights (if they can pass for 18).

    This is the only sensible, humane policy.

    1. LOL!!!! Within a couple of years, the USA would have more people than China & India combined, Genius!

      1. And the best part, they'd mostly be Chinese and Indian!

        Of course, the USA would have to build hundreds of millions of huts in shanty towns to fit all the people, and our GDP per capita would probably fall to under $10K a year... But it would be well worth it to show just how altruistic white people can be, because we surely wouldn't want to seem racist by having objective standards we measure our immigrants by, even if it is a color blind system, as it might bias the system in favor of the competent or something.

    2. "This is the only sensible, humane policy."

      No, this is a completely fucking stupid policy.

      We expected no less from OpenBordersLibertine-arian.

  5. The public support necessary to make massive legal immigration a reality requires secure borders as a prerequisite. One of the best arguments against our present system is that the massive flow of illegals across the border makes our borders more insecure than they would be otherwise.

    Sergio Jose Martinez was deported 20 (twenty) times before he sexually assaulted two women. He'd been convicted for felony burglary before. His story made national news because he was released by Oregon's sanctuary state polices prior to the sexual assaults, and if he'd been reported to ICE by Oregon and deported, those particular sexual assaults never would have happened. Even if he'd been deported though, it was probably only a matter of time. What's the point of deporting convicted felons if we can't keep them out?

    1. Convicted felons find it just as easy to come across the border as those who aren't criminals when they're sneaking across the border at night in the midst of thousands of other illegal aliens who are similarly sneaking in but only to look for honest work. That wouldn't be the case with secure borders and massive legal immigration. The only people sneaking through the deserts at night would be the legitimate bad guys who can't simply use a legal checkpoint.

      The combination of a secure border and massive legal immigration would be the combination that frustrates convicted felons, wanted criminals, cartels, and terrorists the most, but we'll probably never get one without the other. We will probably never get enough of the American people to support massive legal immigration so long as the border remains insecure. The fact is that those who are opposing the wall are probably opposing the necessary prerequisite for massive amounts of legal immigration.

      1. Convicted felons cannot come here legally. They cannot even get a tourist VISA. So, unless you think convicted felons and criminals just don't want to come the US for some unknown reason, illegal immigration necessarily includes criminals that legal immigration does not.

      2. I think the problem with this thinking though is a big one: Self interest.

        The truth is that massive amounts of legal immigration would screw many people already in the USA... And anybody with a brain knows it. Allowing in unlimited people would turn us into a 2nd world nation in a decade or two, and the closer we go to that from where we are now, or a hypothetical zero immigrants, the stronger that effect is.

        You simply cannot have large numbers of NON SELECTIVE immigration into a 1st world country in the world as it exists without lowering the GDP per capita, which is the TRUE measure of prosperity in a country. Overall GDP means nothing, never has and never will.

        So until somebody can convince people to slit their own throats, and lower their own standard of living dramatically... No sane person will be in favor of low skilled immigration. Why should they? Because it's some bullshit "moral" position to have according to the NAP? Who cares? Not most people. I lean pretty libertarian, and I STILL don't give a shit about so called rights for international movement. Because it creates too many practical problems. The shit status quo is better than open borders, as fucked as it is.

        So come up with the argument that convinces people to destroy their own lives, THEN maybe we can have massive amounts of legal immigration.

  6. Shikha at 11pm last night:


    Oh, I know... I'll just lie some more.

    'Trump's record to date does not indicate he is any friend of legal immigration. Indeed, he has used every regulatory and administrative tool at his disposal to reduce every single category of legal immigration.'"

    1. Never mind the ACTUAL LAW he tried to get passed in congress that would have made our system more skills based and allowed in just as many or more legal immigrants...

      1. What actual law would that be? The RAISE Act, which Trump endorsed and promoted, would have cut legal immigration in half.
        S.1720 - RAISE Act

        1. That's actually not necessarily so... It would have allowed more skilled people to apply, and we wouldn't have had so many random relatives with no skills... But there were no caps being lowered on SKILLS based immigration as I understand it.

          So it was basically estimates of "Oh noes, if we don't let in Juan's half illiterate brother, the total numbers will drop!" When in reality it might just mean we end up with more European/Asian immigrants with degrees actually being allowed in.

          As far as I understand it anyway.

          1. Either way, fine by me. Half as many, but all actually skilled, would be a great improvement.

          2. The RAISE Act capped points-based green cards at 140,000 per year, lowered the refugee cap, and eliminated all family-based immigration except for minor children and spouses. The explicit goal was to cut legal immigration in half, so, no, it would not have "allowed in just as many or more legal immigrants.". Regardless of whether you believe this is good policy, it is certainly evidence for the proposition that Trump is no " friend of legal immigration".

  7. I mean I know that's confusing for people who do not know the difference between illegal immigration and legal immigration

  8. 1. To be clear, the "largest numbers ever" is the status quo. That's what we have happening right now.

    2. Trump has repeatedly stated that he believes very high levels of economic growth and industrial expansion are possible and desirable, and result in a very large labor demand which requires more immigration. He sees these conditions as achievable through the types of policies he favors on deregulation, tax, trade, etc.

    3. The proposals to end chain migration and lottery visas would have reduced immigration, yes. But Trump has also supported expanding more meritocratic and economic bases for immigration, such as work visas. In Trump's expressed view, these proposals were always more about moving to a merit-based system -- the "who" and "how" of immigration, rather than the "how many."

    4. It would be nice if immigration maximalists like those at Reason, and Gillespie stating that this line of Trump's was "comforting", would come out and say how much immigration they would like to see. Open borders and billions, or what? Until they do this -- and until they admit that flooding labor supply through mass immigration can and has been economically devastating to certain Americans, straining on public resources, divisive for the culture and society and having a segregational effect on our communities -- until then, they appear as untrustworthy and suspicious.


    1. 2/2

      5. First, the demand for unskilled labor has dropped off at certain points, wage growth and certain sectors have been sluggish for decades, and the effect of high immigration levels throughout this has been a massive redistribution of wealth from poorer Americans to richer Americans. Second, assimilation has slowed to a crawl, and the Democrats are on the verge of completing a years-long scheme to engineer a new demographic and permanent electoral majority through immigration.

      These two factors, the economic factor and the cultural factor, together present an overwhelming case that reducing immigration levels is in the best interest of the average American (not necessarily the best interest of the world at large, or of the national GDP, but of the average of American). This isn't about racism or being "anti-immigrant" -- it's about the particular facts and circumstances -- which can change.

      It's possible, even if it seems incredibly unlikely, that these circumstances could be reversed. A phenomenal American renaissance and cultural revival of some sort, which is hard to imagine, could bring assimilation roaring back. And very high levels of long term growth and prosperity, of the sort Trump has repeatedly claimed is possible, could increase labor demand such that high levels of immigration are justified.

      1. P.S. When I call for the immigration maximalists such as those at Reason to come out and say how much immigration they would like to see, I am particularly interested in what sort of framework and criteria they would use for answering this question from time to time as circumstances change. There is just a massive void on this issue where there should be thoughtful deliberation, because all of the established powers refuse to even acknowledge the topic. More suspicious and untrustworthy behavior.

        1. All very well said, ML

        2. Yup.

          The problem is that purist libertarian open borders types see immigration as a good unto itself... So do progressives, because for them it is a form of self flagellation...

          But for most sane people, they're looking at it from the perspective of self interest. Anybody who denies that immigration has fucked up good numbers of peoples lives is a fool, or a liar. It has also destroyed politics in this country. Had we had saaay half the immigration that we actually did have over the last couple decades, we would be cruising along with a LOT more harmonious society today.

          People with brains realize this... They then ask themselves if putting up with all this identity politics bullshit, tax burdens put on THEIR shoulders by low wage immigrants, etc is worth it JUST so we can pat ourselves on the back...

          My personal answer is "Hell no, it's not worth it." Smaller numbers of skilled immigrants? Sure. I'm down for brain surgeons. But letting assholes from fucked up cultures in just for the feelz of it all, what good does it actually do for me? Or most people? None.

  9. I guess he should have never reduced the amount of countries on the recalcitrant list, because he is supposed to be opposed to legal immigration or something.

  10. Please Reason tell me how this study is wrong. Illegal immigrants commit less crime. Oh wait, you mix in legal immigrants to get your less crime stat. Carry on.

    Stupid link - washingtontimes Feb 5


    "Nearly 3 percent of illegal immigrants in Arizona end up in state prison or jail during the course of a year ? four times the rate of U.S. citizens and legal residents, according to a study that uses federal reimbursements for prisons and jails to try to calculate one of the most important yet elusive statistics in the immigration debate.

    In New Jersey, illegal immigrants are incarcerated five times more often, and rates on the West Coast are triple that of legal residents and citizens, according to the study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform."

    1. +1,000,000

    2. Not to mention this simple fact:

      In the 1960s Hispanics were about 2% of the US population. Now it's around 16%. Almost all of that increase is people who are illegal themselves, or the children of illegals that were born here.

      Hispanics are responsible for ~35% of murders according to the FBI... So how exactly is it that it is possible they're "less criminal" than native born? Less criminal than native born blacks perhaps, but that's the only ethnic group that commits crimes at higher rates than Hispanics.

      The whole argument is utter bullshit. I'm part Mexican myself, but the fact is that most illegal immigrants from Latin America are like letting in ONLY immigrants from the trailer park. The middle/upper class from those countries doesn't come in illegally, so we're getting basically the bottom of the barrel, and just like if one were looking at nothing but the poorest native born whites and blacks, they have a LOT of issues.

    3. The FAIR report is pretty dumb.

      "For Arizona, analysts used 10,300 confirmed or suspected illegal immigrants for which the federal government reimbursed the state and counties in 2016. They subtracted that from an overall prison and jail population to get a non-illegal-immigrant population of 46,700.

      Each of those numbers was stacked up against total populations. FAIR estimates that Arizona has an illegal immigrant population of 365,950 and non-illegal-immigrant population of 6.7 million. Incarceration rates were 2.815 percent for illegal immigrants and 0.702 percent for all others."

      So, in other words: they compared the annual incarceration of illegals to the average daily incarceration of non-illegals. Not the brightest bulbs in the drawer, are they?


      Study finds high rates of prison, jail for illegals
      SCAAP Data Suggest Illegal Aliens Commit Crime at a Much Higher Rate Than Citizens and Lawful Immigrants
      How many people are locked up in Arizona and where?

  11. I would gladly trade a wall for an immigration system that actually conformed to reality and embraced individual's right to movement and association.

    1. Fuck that.

      International freedom of movement with no limits is suicide for any 1st world country. Period. End of discussion. Educated and productive people are a rarity in the world, and only by being selective in who you allow in can you maintain a 1st world nation with high levels of immigration.

      It is one of the few exceptions I make to libertarian principles, because I would rather have a 1st world country than be able to pat myself on the back for allowing in peasants from 3rd world toilets to destroy my nation.

      Maybe in 100 years when other countries have come up more it will be doable... But not today.

    2. "Freedom of movement" in this context means "freedom to rob and pillage Western nations by joining their welfare rolls en masse."

  12. I am not a fan of immigration but for different reasons.
    Our country is based on the belief that God gave unalienable rights to human beings. But wait. What God and how did they know that God gave unalienable rights to human beings? Short answers: it was the God of the Bible and Christianity and the Bible. Without Christianity, you don't have unalienable rights. And without unalienable rights, you don't have the United States of America, at least the one our Founders fought a war in order to be able to create.
    Now we haven't been teaching this to our children, because the courts have called this kind of talk religious. The Founders called it a fact. And we certainly haven't been teaching this to the millions of people who have been coming here over the years. So now when all these people start voting, getting elected, and making laws, they will do it without the knowledge or belief in unalienable rights, and we will lose our country just as if we had been taken over by a foreign power. I could say a lot more about this, but this is not the place. See my articles on my blog

    1. This is all true. Now, some will point out that there are people who believe in liberty and inalienable rights even though they're not Christians specifically. That's also true.

      But the point is, the world outside of the U.S. does not generally share American values. Most of them don't believe in liberty and inalienable rights. There are millions out there who do, but they're in the minority, and we're not paying any attention to which ones we're bringing into the country.

      The Constitution, by itself, is just a worthless scrap of paper. Your rights are only as good as the will of the People to preserve them by whatever means are necessary -- preferably, through their elected representatives and a democratic process.

  13. "'As I wrote in a recently in The New York Times, contrary to current mythology, America is a low-immigration nation."

    Largest foreign born population in the world, by multiples.

  14. Go back to Indian Shitma.

    Seriously. You have the nerve in MY country, where I have had ancestors living here for thousands of years on my native side... And since before the revolutionary war for some parts of my honky side... And DEMAND that I allow in shit tons of people with no pre-reqs?

    Fuck you.

    My family shed blood for this country. We settled the wild west when it was wilderness. We have a town named after us thanks to the blood sweat and tears of one of my ancestors who damn near died heading out west. We worked in the steel mills that literally and figuratively built this country.

    You just showed up and had it good day one, off of the work I have done, and what my ancestors have done.

    And you think you have the RIGHT to DEMAND that I get no say in who should come into this land? Sorry, that's bullshit.

    Especially in our heavily socialized system, where I am a net tax payer, and anybody we let in that doesn't make at least $50-60K a year will be a drain on the system. They'll also vote against my interests, and bitch about the culture that founded this country, and demand I change to suit THEM.

    Sorry, but no.

    I don't have a problem with skilled immigrants, which means on paper even a useless wanker like you probably would have made the cut, but you do NOT get to demand that I let in people that will burden me and my family, just because you want to feelz good about letting in illiterate peasants from the 3rd world.

  15. Article is based on the current flawed immigration system which wouldn't be used to bring in more by default.

    Use logic and reason....reason magazine.

  16. Shikha, please stop proposing that immigrants purchase the right to be free.

    What price is appropriate for freedom? Do we all owe a monetary debt for being allowed to live in America?

    I don't.

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