On Wednesday, President Trump announced his support of Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue’s (R-Ga.) bill to reform the U.S. immigration system to a skill-based preference. It will likely ignite a firestorm in Congress, but it’s an important bill that Republicans and Democrats should rally behind.
The U.S.’s current immigration system dates back to Lyndon Johnson’s administration, which placed family reunification as the most important criteria to being able to come to the U.S. Most immigrants do not come because they provide a skill set that the economy needs and are on average 44-years old, making it more difficult for them to go back to school.
According to the liberal Migration Policy Institute, the U.S. took in 2.75 million immigrants in 2014 and 2015, equivalent to adding the entire population of Nevada to the country every two years. A majority of the U.S.’s immigrant population, 52 percent, have, at most, a high school diploma and the gap of college-educated native-born Americans and immigrants has been growing since 1990.
As supply and demand dictates, the increase in the low-skilled immigrant population has caused a decrease in wages among the working-class. Harvard professor George Borjas has written extensively on this issue, stating in an October 2016 Politico article that a typical high school dropout’s wages have decreased by $800 to $1,500 because of mass low-skilled immigration.
That, of course, doesn’t mean that all immigrants are bad and that the U.S. shouldn’t accept any immigrants at all. However, we should look for immigrants who are more likely to compete against PhDs, and not low-skilled Americans who are already losing their jobs to robots.
Prioritizing innovators and educated immigrants over people with some remote connection to the U.S. would still bring the best and brightest to create new companies, find cures to diseases, and achieve the American dream without increasing competition to our nation’s most vulnerable.
This is exactly what Trump campaigned on and what the American people desire. A 2015 Pew Research poll found 49 percent of Americans wanted immigration reduced, which is Trump’s plan, while only 15 percent want it increased. Even establishment Republicans should want to appease these voters, hoping they vote rank-and-file in 2018 and fall back in line, preventing another Tea Party or 2016 insurgency year.
Trump’s biggest obstacle to passing his agenda is going to be Democrats. Eight of them would have to vote for the legislation in order to get anything passed.
If Republicans coalesce around Trump’s signature plan to reform legal immigration and put the working-class first, then they might be able to win over some Democrats by offering permanent green cards to DREAMers. This would provide coverage to “Red State Democrats” like Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jon Tester (Mont.), or Joe Donnelly (Ind.).
Democrats can tell their base that they fought for illegal immigrants who were brought here as children and withstand any wrath from Trump’s base by saying they fought for a pro-working class agenda. It’s a win-win.