Excerpted from a longer piece by WSJ’s Editorial Board
For years immigration restrictionists have claimed that they love immigrants and merely oppose illegal entry. Apparently that was a bait and switch. President Trump’s first big restrictionist bill proposes to cut legal immigration by as much as half to 500,000 people or so a year.
The President on Wednesday endorsed legislation that aims to restrict “chain” family immigration and replace employer-sponsored green cards with a point-based system.
Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia have introduced legislation that would eliminate the green-card preferences for parents, adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens, which in effect would reduce legal immigration by 40%. Foreigners could also apply for up to 140,000 green cards via a government admissions process that awards points based on education, language ability, age, educational attainment and job skills.
There’s a case for basing immigration more on skills than extended family tie [but] the problem is that the bill’s main purpose seems to be to slash the immigration rolls.
Any point system is arbitrary and reflects the biases of politicians—namely, Messrs. Cotton and Perdue—rather than the needs of employers.
Mr. Trump and the restrictionists argue the legislation will reduce the welfare rolls while protecting U.S. workers from competition. But that’s another misdirection play. Legal residents who aren’t citizens don’t qualify for most entitlement programs, and their labor participation rate is higher than that of U.S. citizens.
As for the argument that “low-skilled” immigrants are displacing U.S. workers, what economy are they living in? The U.S. jobless rate in July fell again to 4.3%, and employers in a myriad of industries including construction, agriculture and hospitality are facing a severe labor shortage.
One bizarre counterclaim is that there must not be a labor shortage because wages aren’t rising fast enough. But they are rising—2.5% in the last year. And every economist knows that employers can only raise wages as fast as productivity and profitability allow. If the cost of labor rises too much for a specific job, employers will simply cease providing the service or move production overseas. That means fewer jobs for Americans too.
The larger irony is that by restricting legal immigration Mr. Trump would increase the incentive for more foreigners to cross the border illegally or overstay their visas. The solution, as ever, is a legal immigration system that is generous with visas and flexible enough to meet the demands of a growing U.S. economy. If the White House is serious about passing something in Congress, it needs to recognize that reality.