You thought I was just being grumpy for the last year when I said Jared Kushner had been handed the keys to immigration, didn’t you? Welp, no need to wonder anymore. Now it’s official.
Kushner drew from his wealth of experience in crafting immigration policy to design a plan that would “bring Republicans together,” meaning the hard-liners would have a few bones thrown their way while the RINOs get pretty much everything they want. And most importantly, the Chamber of Commerce is well taken care of. God knows we can’t allow labor costs to rise, not when there are plenty of cheap guest workers ready for import.
My withering sarcasm aside, there are good parts to the proposal; commonsense things that would have been done long ago had we a Congress who cared about the country. Even the more business-centered reforms involve things that immigration hawks can get behind. In this piece I’ll try to take an objective look at what the proposal entails while giving a sober view of the political side of the house.
Let’s dig in.
The legislation would provide physical barriers —a wall is not specified— along with updated technology to help border patrol screen those who come through the legal ports of entry and locate those who attempt to cross illegally.
It would also streamline and expedite the asylum process, although the specifics are still unclear. That’s a problem because the asylum process is one of the primary weaknesses at our border currently, and one of the biggest drivers of the illegal invasion we’re experiencing. If they get nothing else right, it needs to be this.
Kushner’s presentation did say the plan would enable “prompt removal of illegal border crossers” and eliminate “magnets for illegal migration.” But again, details were not given.
Finally, the plan seeks to raise fees required for certain permits and transactions at the border, which would in turn be used to fund future border upgrades. I would file this under the “stuff pretty much everyone can get behind” category.
Let’s start with the bad stuff.
Overall, the total number of green cards issued each year — roughly 1.1 million — will remain unchanged. This doesn’t sit well with immigration hawks because the number has been far too high for years, and the only reason it’s been allowed to remain so is the influx of cheap labor from around the globe. Between the steady stream of illegals coming from the south and the million legal workers who are brought in each year, it’s not really difficult to figure out why wages for Americans have been mostly stagnant for the last few decades. That’s not to mention the large number of workers who overstay their visas (and never intended to return home in the first place).
Additionally, short-term visas such as H-1Bs and seasonal worker visas won’t be touched. This is a big deal for the tech companies who pass on Americans with STEM degrees in favor of importing cheaper tech workers from places like India, Bangladesh, etc. But it’s an even bigger deal for those American tech workers who are under-employed at Home Depot so Google can save a couple bucks an hour on labor.
Our immigration system serves big business, not the American people. It takes a strong leader to disrupt that status quo. President Kushner doesn’t fit the bill.
Now for the good stuff.
Our current legal immigration system is a complete mess. As things stand, only 12% of green cards are employment and skill-based visas. The new plan would increase that to 57%. To do this, the number of immigrants coming in via “chain migration” would be cut in half, with spouses and children taking priority. The idiotic diversity lottery would also be abolished.
Foreigners with extraordinary talents, professional or specialized workers and exceptional students would be the target for the new high-skill visa process.
After passing a civics tests, visa applicants would be awarded points based on their age, English proficiency, educational attainment, whether they had an offer of employment in the U.S. and how much that job would pay. A legal immigration system based on what benefits the country — what a concept!
So, in summation, we’re getting the same number of immigrants and big business will still take priority, but at least we’ll be applying a little more logic to the acceptance process.
The Wild Card
Jared isn’t the only game in town with immigration reform. After spending a career calling immigration hawks disgusting racists, Sen. Lindsey Graham has found his inner American and decided to lead the charge on implementing things that could actually work.
Graham recently unveiled a proposal of his own, specifically targeting the broken asylum and detention laws that serve as a magnet to all of Mexico and Central America.
His legislation would change the system in three substantial ways: It would require migrants seeking asylum to apply at a consulate or embassy in their home country or in Mexico, instead of at the southern border; it would increase the amount of time that migrant children could stay in custody from 20 days to 100 days; and make it easier for officials to deport unaccompanied minors to Central America. The measure also calls for 500 new immigration judges to chip away at the massive immigration court backlog.
These reforms are the best thing I’ve heard come out of Washington in quite a while. They actually seek to address a problem at its roots and reverse trends. Given that Kushner’s plan lacks crucial details in the very areas Graham seeks to address, it could be a very shrewd move to incorporate his legislation into the larger White House plan. It would likely increase overall support on the Hill.
Let’s cut to the chase. This has about as good a chance of becoming legislation as I do of becoming Stacy Abrams’ running mate. Trump and Kushner aren’t stupid; they knew the political outlook before ever introducing this.
More than anything, today’s presentation was about putting Dems on the hook for refusing to work with Republicans on moderate immigration reform. Many of the things in the proposal are supported by a majority of Americans, though your average Joe doesn’t deep-dive into things like underutilized STEM workers. They hear things like “merit-based immigration” and think, “That makes sense.” Because it does.
Alas, Dems would sooner jump into a shark tank than work with the Trump administration on immigration reform at the beginning of an election cycle. No one wants to be the ‘traitor.’ It’s a sad commentary on where we are as a country, but an accurate one nonetheless.
Republicans would do well to merge the Kushner and Graham plans (God it hurt to type that) and shop it hard to the American public. While there is a not-insignificant chunk of the Dem base that will not accept any compromise whatsoever, the majority of Americans favor tightening immigration laws.
This could serve as a terrific wedge issue against Democrats. Force the Dems in red or purple states to take a position on things like asylum reform and merit-based acceptance. Both those issues play well with independents. Or as we political nerds call them: the folks who decide elections.
I see what the Trump administration is doing here. Let’s hope they do it well.