Trump's Immigration Pause Won't Outlast Him

Those claiming that the pandemic means Trump's restrictions are here to stay, regardless of the November elections, are being too pessimistic.


Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith, an immigration advocate, let loose his inner pessimist on twitter this week and declared in a long thread that thanks to President Donald Trump and coronavirus, the "pro-immigration cause in America" is "dead" regardless of the outcome of the November election.

This is not because President Donald Trump's anti-immigration message has won over American hearts and minds. Smith actually believes the pro-immigration side has won both intellectually and in the court of public opinion, given that 70 percent of Americans are currently pro-immigration. (Indeed, since Trump assumed office, there has been a seven-point increase in the number of Americans who believe that immigration levels should be increased.)

The trouble, Smith says, is that the anti-immigration minority is prepared to go to any lengths—even "destroy[ing] critical institutions"—to get its way. However, for the remaining 70 percent, the issue does not have the same "salience" and therefore it won't expend as much political capital to stop restrictionists.

And this was before the coronavirus hit. After the economic devastation that the pandemic is wreaking, immigration will naturally stop and the political will to unravel Trump's immigration restrictions will evaporate. "We're in the Immigration Pause world now," Smith declares. (His Bloomberg colleague, Tyler Cowen, the libertarianish George Mason University economist, echoed similar thoughts a week earlier, noting "immigration will largely shutdown" after this pandemic.)

This is exactly the kind of thing that ultra-restrictionists have been pushing for the last several decades. Should open-border libertarians crawl into a cave and assume the fetal position?

Not necessarily.

For starters (and this may come as a surprise to those familiar with Reason's—and my—uncompromising advocacy of immigration), the crucial issue for libertarians isn't immigration itself but unfettered freedom of movement. They are simply pro-choice. That means their interest is in tearing down physical walls and political barriers to human mobility, not ensuring any particular level of immigration. We want natural forces—the combination of "pull" factors in the host country and "push" factors in the home country —to regulate immigration rates, not central planners and bureaucrats. Immigration has always ebbed and flowed with the economy, and if a crashing economy makes America a relatively unattractive destination for immigrants, then so be it. America has had open borders with Puerto Rico since 1917 and there have been times when net immigration from that country has been zero and even negative. Should there be a loss of interest from every country, it'll be a hit to America's self-esteem, but nothing to fret over from the standpoint of libertarian immigration policy (although economic policy is a different matter).

So the crucial issue for libertarians is whether the panoply of restrictions enacted by Trump—many at the behest of his advisor Steven Miller—are here to stay. These restrictions represent a sustained assault on almost every aspect of America's immigration program—humanitarian, economic, and family-based. But they were accomplished through executive and administrative action because Miller's gambit to use the legalization of Dreamers to push Congress to slash and reform the immigration system did not work. Hence, whether these changes stick will depend very much on the outcome of the November elections, contra Smith and Cowen.

If Trump is reelected, all bets are off. Over the last four years, Miller has loaded key positions within the immigration bureaucracy with likeminded people, which means he'll be able to hit the ground running in Trump's second term.

But if Biden wins?

It is true that during times of economic distress, natives are much more prone to see the economy as a zero-sum game. On top of that, Volokh Conspiracy's Ilya Somin noted in a personal exchange that liberals may use the pandemic to push social welfare measures and so might backburner immigration reform—just as President Barack Obama prioritized Obamacare after the financial meltdown instead of this issue.

However, there are also forces pushing in the other direction.

Trump's inhumane immigration policies—snatching kids from moms without any plan to reunite them in the name of zero tolerance, warehousing asylum seekers in crowded and filthy camps in Mexico, deportation raids in Latino communities—have not just triggered widespread public disgust, but increased the "salience" of the issue for liberals and libertarians. Indeed, Democrats have never been more pro-immigration. Moreover, watching Trump push his radical agenda has emboldened and radicalized them. It was unimaginable pre-Trump that the left would push to "abolish ICE." (That kind of thing usually was confined to the Libertarian Party platform). This does not mean that Biden will call off the border cops and let freedom of movement rip the minute he enters the White House, but it does mean the politics of immigration have fundamentally changed among Democrats from when President Barack Obama turned himself into the deporter-in-chief.

This was evident during the Democratic primaries given that former Rep. Beto O' Rourke (D–Texas), of El Paso, explicitly ran on a campaign to tear down Trump's wall. His rival, former mayor of San Antonio and Obama's HUD Secretary Julian Castro, went a step further and demanded the decriminalization of border crossings, forcing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) subsequently to embrace that position too. Even Sen. Bernie Sanders (D–Vt.) dialed backed his long-standing opposition to right-wing Koch-backed open borders as bad for American workers. Instead, he issued purple condemnations of Trump's cruel policies and started issuing his usual bromides about stopping the exploitation of foreign workers by heartless employers. All of this forced Biden, the frictionless political weathervane, to apologize for the Obama administration's deportation policies and pledge to develop a more humane plan. It's not plausible that liberals will pull a complete switcheroo because of the coronavirus crisis.

Indeed, even if Biden doesn't fully live up to all the expectations of liberal activists, there are some baseline expectations that he will ignore at his political peril.

Like these:

  • He will have to reinstate some kind of legal status for Dreamers—even if the Supreme Court upholds the Trump administration's efforts to scrap DACA (Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals)—if not their parents.
  • The "Muslim" travel ban will end even if some coronavirus-related travel restrictions remain.
  • Trump cut America's refugee quota from 110,000 under Obama to 18,000, and he isn't even meeting that number because of the impossible vetting standards he has implemented. Those will end and the program will be restored. Ditto for asylum. Trump's Remain in Mexico policy that pays Mexico to warehouse Central American migrants while their asylum claims are heard in America is a scandal and will end.
  • Trump's public charge rule will be rolled back. The rule would deny green cards to legal immigrants or in other ways prevent them from upgrading their immigration status if they are below an income threshold and likely to collect public benefits.
  • With respect to employment-based immigration, it is telling that even in the 60-day immigration pause that Trump imposed in the wake of the pandemic exempted H-2A visas that American agriculture needs to hire migrant workers. Why? Because without this labor the country's food supply chains would come to a grinding halt. And if Trump realizes that America needs these folks, there is no way that Biden won't. This is especially the case if his post-pandemic welfare push creates even greater disincentives for Americans to take on backbreaking, low-paying jobs. So America can't afford to turn away low-skilled workers.
  • One of the weirdest things about the Trump administration has been its animus against high-skilled H-1B immigrants. Miller has left no stone unturned to assault this program. This is the exact opposite of the consensus in the conservative policy establishment—which generally opposes low-skilled immigration because of its alleged deleterious fiscal impact but supports high-skilled immigration because it helps keep America's global technological edge and has a positive fiscal impact. Given this conservative consensus and the massive demand from Democrats' Silicon Valley backers for foreign techies, there is no way that a Biden presidency does not give high priority to unraveling all the red tape Miller has dispensed.

All this means that it is not unreasonable to expect that a Biden victory will mean an end to Trump's immigration pause, virus or no virus. Whether Biden is able to meaningfully pull down the barriers and advance the cause of forcefully liberalizing immigration is a different issue. But there is every reason to hope that he will at least restore the status quo ante.

To be sure, restrictionists will fight back. But they will lose political traction the day Biden enters the White House and ascends the bully pulpit. The country is already appalled by much of what this administration has done. Trump was unusually zealous in using his megaphone to advance his restrictionist agenda and yet he swayed only his flock, not many other Americans. If Biden is only half as zealous in exposing the havoc wrought by Trump's inhumane policies, he'll be able to undo a good chunk of the damage.

NEXT: Much of the FBI's Treatment of Mike Flynn Was Business as Usual, and That’s the Scandal

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  1. “To be sure, restrictionists will fight back. But they will lose political traction the day Biden enters the White House and ascends the bully pulpit.”

    You’re making an assumption here that is very unlikely to be true. Can you spot it?

    1. 1. Biden will beat Drumpf.
      2. President Biden will implement the Koch / Reason open borders agenda.

      Those are FACTS.

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    2. You can never truly be sure in an indeterminate world?

    3. “If Trump is reelected, all bets are off.”

      I am *so* looking forward to Shikha’s first article after #Trumpslide2020.

      I wonder. Will Reason still keep Invasion USA as their “core value” after Trump wins again, and crushes their dream?

      You never know. It’s not like they seem particularly interested in being relevant to what happens in the world.

  2. Those claiming that the pandemic means Trump’s restrictions are here to stay, regardless of the November elections, are being too pessimistic.

    Is Shikha half empty or half full of shit?

  3. Anyone who reads Reason knows that more Americans than ever agree with the statement “Immigration is a good thing.” That clearly proves Charles Koch’s open borders agenda has gone mainstream. Indeed, the Democratic Party has embraced unlimited, unrestricted immigration more rapidly than even I predicted.

    Once Biden becomes President, our borders will be permanently opened. Which any competent Koch-funded economist will tell you is exactly what a country should do when its unemployment rate skyrockets in a matter of weeks.


    1. From an economic perspective, more immigration is better. If we are willing to sacrifice our own citizens in order to bring the economy back up again, then the least we can do is to loosen our immigration rules to help the economy.

      1. The funny thing is, I bet you’re someone who rails against The Corporations and the 1%.
        Am I wrong?

  4. Trump said immigration is bad so immigration is bad. Anyone who disagrees is an anarchist who voted for Hillary.

    1. Still broken.

    2. Another example of the astute, remotely libertarian things you constantly say.

    3. This crude strawman portrait of the other side of the argument perfectly demonstrates Sarcasmic’s inability to understand what he’s denouncing.

      1. So… a standard leftist?

      2. And he repeats it over and over like Squirrel and his Monty Python diarrhea. It’s really sad. He could do better.

    4. The Left still can’t Meme.

  5. All immigration. All the time.

  6. Wow. That’s your source? Do you really think that Gallup data ( supports “70 percent of Americans are currently pro-immigration (Indeed, since Trump assumed office, there has been a seven-point increase in the number of Americans who believe that immigration levels should be increased.)”?

    The most recent date (which is over a year old) on that link shows that 35% want immigration DECREASED. That’s not 70% “pro-immigration”.

    Sure, the last date before Trump’s election (June 2016) said that 38% wanted to decrease immigration versus 35% on the most recent date (January 2019) but this ignores two important aspects of the poll:
    1) The margin of error isn’t stated but, statistically, there may be no difference in 35% and 38%.
    2) Given the dates of the data points below the graph, “since Trump assumed office” is a highly selective point in time. In June 2018, the decrease immigration value was 29%. Therefore it’s just as accurate to say “since the Democrats regained control of the House, anti-immigration has increased by 6%”.

    Come on. You can do better than this.

    1. “Come on. You can do better than this.”

      Can she, though?

      I think there’s been one or two articles of hers in the last few years that haven’t been facepalmingly bad, but there aren’t many. It’s the same message, over and over.

      1. That’s a fair point. In real life I’m an academic so maybe I was trying to play the “encouraging educator” role. I try to not bash people too harshly, but I would never accept that link from a student as support for that statement.

        1. You make good points, but I just can’t resist noting the humor in the statement: “In real life I’m an academic”

          1. 🙂 Nice catch. Do any of us think that Hit&Run comments are the real world? We argue about degrees of libertarianism. The real world doesn’t even know what a libertarian is.

      2. Yup, it’s all she’s got, this and screaming about Modi.
        And because it’s all she’s got, everything has to be squeezed through it. That’s why, when borders worldwide started closing due to the pandemic, she was writing that the solution to coronavirus was to fast-track immigration.

  7. Trump commands meat-packing plants to be OPEN!

    Trump commands ALL illegal sub-humans and non-Americans to GO AWAY AND STAY AWAY!

    Meat-packing plants are largely staffed by illegal sub-humans… Which get raided by ICE for political shows to please the troglodyte base… So they can’t find workers now…

    The SOLUTION here will be to DRAFT AND ENSLAVE good-jobs-for-good-Americans to work in the meat-packing plants! Haters of illegal sub-humans… Please do NOT come bitching to the rest of us, when you get Shanghaied into slave-working at the meat-packing plants!

    1. Hey mom, Sqrls never took its meds again.

      1. How original! Who writes your comedy lines, your shit-laden unflushed commode?

        1. Writing about your dinner again, my poo-eating chum?

          1. Yes, my witty intellect DOES eat YOUR non-existent “wit” for friggin’ LUNCH, every time!

  8. I know all the rabid animals here will attack me, but it is necessary to point out that no serious Democrat is calling for “open boarders”. They do want to let more in, and provide a path for most of those here without documentation to stay, but that is a far cry from “open boarders”. Go look at their statements and you will not find “open boarders”, that term is a straw-man argument that the right made up.

    1. True,but where is legislation in the House? . Is it strawman to note Dems have a majority and can pass bills demonstrating their exalted views on immigration?

      1. Here are some for example:
        H.R. 6: The American Dream and Promise Act (passed House)
        H.R. 2214: National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants (NO BAN) Act
        H.R. 5327, S. 2603: Resolving Extended Limbo for Immigrant Employees and Families (RELIEF) Act
        S. 1494: Secure and Protect Act of 2019

        1. Good response. The real question is where is the Senate, and Senator McConnell on addressing immigration. When Biden is President he will sign the Dreamers bill into law. So will McConnell allow it to pass the Senate.

    2. The word is ‘border’. BORDER

      Not ‘boarder’

    3. None of the Democrats are serious, and there are a lot of them calling for open borders.

      1. Dems are either calling for de jure or de facto Open Borders.

        They’re all for illegal sanctuary city policies that induce illegals to invade the US with promises of government handouts.

        Inducement and encouragement of illegal aliens is a crime.
        8 U.S. Code § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv)
        encourages or induces an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such coming to, entry, or residence is or will be in violation of law;

    4. Maybe you commies don’t say “open borders” out loud, but you’re well known for not admitting what your ultimate goals are, and your media allies cover for you, if you let it slip.
      If you did admit your goal of a Soviet Amerika, you’d never get elected to a single office higher than, maybe, dog catcher.

  9. At the rate things are going this is going to be the last place people want to come to.

    1. What everything being so terrible and unfair.

  10. By the time lockdown ends, many brick and mortar businesses would be dead. Freelance work is already dead is a few states.

    Most immigrants do not work in meat packing plants and farms. Right now tons of blue and white collar immigrants are shut out of jobs because their governors are playing out their “if we can save even one life” fantasy. That Vietnamese hair stylist in that once county with no deaths? Yeah, she’s not working.

    Why do we need to admit MORE immigrants at this point? Because they’re going to magically build the economy when states are running out of revenue to sustain safety nets? When disposable income and investments will likely dry up? When some apartments may start to close because many people aren’t paying rent?

    1. It sounds like you have all the answers. You already know what will happen (or would, if immigration restrictions were eliminated). Can you tell us all about your Five-Year Plan? I’m sure it’s brilliant!

    2. I don’t really get the logic either. There’s a price floor on labor, where do we think unskilled immigrant labor rates when considering there’s a legal minimum you can pay?

      Skilled immigrant labor we already get. So…what’s the change exactly?

      1. “There’s a price floor on labor”

        That’s the magic of “undocumented immigrants”, there is no price floor.
        Childcare, maid service and lawncare for a fraction of the regular price.
        They don’t like it? Get another who won’t complain.

        Save big money and be woke, just like Shikha.

        1. All aboard the Shikha slave train!

        2. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. People like Dalmia don’t seem to understand what the bulk of ‘immigration’ is in the United States.

          If all those ‘illegal’ immigrants could legally work here, and had to be paid minimum wage, their competitive advantage disappears and you’re still left with illegal immigration.

          It’s an obvious tack-on problem to the wage floor, not a problem with immigration per say. Even Americans do this. How many people do you know out in the country that do side jobs the government never finds out about?

          Why else to people think machines are taking over? It’s because legal American labor priced themselves out of the market. Now they want to raise the floor higher and have no clue how hard they’re punching themselves in the face.

          1. Something I wonder:
            Shika is an immigrant.
            Shika has no skills.
            What the fuck does Shika add to the economy?

            1. Links to news articles that back up her facts and logic… These are some of the things that Shika adds, around here! Which are scarce as hen’s teeth, when we see the “contributions” here from Trumpistas! Such as links to zerohedge! Communist authoritarian Putin-Puke Zerohedge, that is!


              Is Zero Hedge a Russian Trojan Horse?
              The father of the founder of the conspiratorial site filed a criminal complaint against me in Bulgaria. Then things got weird.

              1. Wait I thought left libertarians liked know like Beria, Trotsky, Bela Kun, and the guys who ran the Munich Soviet…funny how the left libs were in love with the USSR until..

                Cultural Marxists and open border advocates are pretty much the same folks..destroying American liberty

    3. “Why do we need to admit MORE immigrants at this point? ”

      Because the American working class doesn’t yet have their heads held deep enough in the septic tank to suit the ruling class.

  11. “Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith, an immigration advocate, let loose his inner pessimist on twitter this week”

    Shikha and ENB, basing entire articles on other journalists whiny tweets that appear in their feeds.

    Quality journalisming.

    I wish I could base my research for the day on stuff that just shows up on my phone.

  12. And another thing. Shreeky says it is Trump’s Inhumane Immigration policy, but it’s the Obama ADMINISTRATIONS deportation policies.

    Fuck you bitch. Their policies were no different. And no Biden cannot just walk shit back. If he does, he’s going to get the crap beaten out of him in the polls. Few people in this country believe in open borders and the kind of immigration system you propose.

  13. Nothing has done more to diminish the quality of life for the United States middle class through higher housing (land) costs, greater competition for jobs, lower wages, higher taxes to pay for greater poverty, mortgage fraud, medicare fraud, tax fraud, identity theft, other crime, higher taxes to pay for indigent healthcare (hospital closings), higher taxes for cost of public schools, price of college, degradation of the military, depletion of resources, paving of farms,burden on the taxpayer and overall congestion since 1965 than the increase in population (Hart-Celler) and change in its nature (more poor, according to the Public Policy Institute of California)

    1. And that’s why the ruling class loves immigration so.

  14. hundreds of thousands of illiterate, dirt poor, non-english speaking
    people. Now why wouldn’t that be good for our country?

  15. By the title I knew who the author was i refuse to read such rubbish
    Reason id really in the toilet with tds these days

  16. “We want natural forces—the combination of “pull” factors in the host country and “push” factors in the home country —to regulate immigration rates, not central planners and bureaucrats.”

    This lady don’t live in the real world. Who the hell do you think creates the push and pull factors? Politicians!

    1. We let in millions of communist and socialist from Russia in 100 years ago and they slammed the New Deal and Wars down our throats (oh and engaged in cultural marxism and globalism) don’t get it..liberty trumps open borders…

  17. Because Big Business demands cheap labor.

    1. So will you allow the immigrants at meat processing plants and cleaning offices to organize into unions. Then they can bargain for better wages with big business.

  18. I don’t think immigration will be the same after President Trump. He has really poisoned the well over immigration restrictions. He went after immigration in such a broad and inhuman manner that there is going to be a natural swing to more tolerance for immigrants. I think it will be a long time before restriction become popular again. When Trump is gone there will be a opportunity for Republicans to get there head on straight and look for recruits in the Latino and Hispanic communities. These communities are often conservative, family oriented, and hard working. Republicans have been deny themselves these new members in the pursuit of a few old white men.

  19. Kiss the bill of rights goodbye if you allow open borders. The folks coming in are from “big papa” vote for papa and he or she provides for you but its only through your connections with the elites who run things can you ever make any headway. The countries are corrupt sort of like very liberal states where it is a all about who you know and no one is honest because if you were you would never get ahead. And when the “immigrants” vote to deep six the second amendment you will be in shock. Nation states matter…they protect the liberty of the citizens..borders are needed. Man we let the eastern european and russian socialists/bolesheviks in 100 years ago and they have launched an attack on our institutions, values, and even our non-interventionist foreign policy..

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