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Trump's latest medieval idea: a scheme to keep out legal immigrants

Ruben Navarrette Jr. on

SAN DIEGO -- By unveiling on the same day a pair of divisive and incendiary policy initiatives, the Trump administration made clear that it opposes affirmative action for some Americans but supports it for others.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department frown on preferential treatment in college admissions because they seem to believe in the fairy tale of so-called reverse discrimination. They're concerned that white males are being systematically disenfranchised and kept out of America's institutions of higher learning solely because of their skin color.

As someone who spent some time in the Ivy League and has spoken on many college campuses since then, I'm pleased to report that this is not the case. In fact, white males are in ample supply on elite campuses, as they are in prestigious and well-paying white-collar jobs. They're doing just fine.

The administration is obviously a proponent of merit, and it objects to the idea of acting affirmatively to give a leg up to those who might have trouble competing head to head because the playing field is uneven.

But when the subject turns to immigration, Team Trump reverses course. It advocates taking affirmative action to give a helping hand to working-class Americans who feel they can't compete directly with low-skilled immigrants because the playing field is uneven. The convenient solution is to keep out the immigrants, even if they follow the rules and come legally.

By the way, these blue-collar workers may be outgunned, but they still have their pride. And it won't let them admit that the reason they often come up short in this contest isn't just because immigrants will often work for lower wages but also because foreign laborers often outwork them, pure and simple.

In an attempt to show some love to the beleaguered American worker, President Trump voiced full-throated support for a medieval piece of restrictionist Senate legislation. The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act would cut in half the number of green cards from 1 million per year to about 500,000 over the next decade, and it would create a new point system that puts a premium on skills, education and English-speaking ability -- making getting into the United States almost as difficult as getting into an elite college.

Remember when we checked the SAT scores of German, Italian, Irish and Jewish immigrants before letting them enter the country in the last couple of centuries? Yeah, me neither. Because that never happened.

The bill's co-sponsors, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, are Republicans but they sound like Democrats. They seem to have bought into the idea that the world owes U.S. workers a living, and that tinkering with immigration is the way to deliver.

Cotton, who has two degrees from Harvard but is no wiser for it, insists that U.S. immigration policy has two purposes: improve the lives of American workers, and promote economic growth. According to Cotton, the current system -- where green cards are allotted based on country of origin, skills, family reunification and other factors -- does neither.

He's dead wrong. Today's immigrants make Americans better by forcing them to work harder and hustle more, even if the native-born laborers sometimes resent it. And anyone who thinks that immigrants don't fuel economic growth needs to spend just one day in farm country, where I grew up. It's simple math. Immigrants earn wages and pump money into local businesses, while making money for companies that earn profits and pay taxes. All that contributes to economic growth.

Do I really have to explain all this to a couple of senators from Arkansas and Georgia, states whose poultry industry and peach orchards couldn't survive without immigrant labor -- much of it illegal?

It's odd that Trump now seems to fancy the idea of keeping out legal immigrants. He used to say that his proposed border wall would have a "big, very beautiful door because we want the legals to come back into the country." And, in May 2017, he told The Economist magazine that he didn't want to reduce legal immigration because "we want people coming in legally." In other words, the president was in favor of legal immigration before he was against it.

The RAISE Act is a ghastly idea. It's unfair, unworkable, and -- worst of all -- profoundly un-American. This country has its share of problems. Legal immigration isn't one of them.

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Ruben Navarrette's email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

(c) 2017, The Washington Post Writers Group

 

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