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How can Trump lead a country he doesn't understand?

Ruben Navarrette Jr. on

SAN DIEGO -- I'm usually a gracious host. But did I ever tell you about the time that I threw someone out of my house?

This was about 15 years ago, when I was living in North Texas and working for The Dallas Morning News. As a Mexican-American whose grandfather came from what President Trump would call a "shithole" country, it might surprise you to hear that the person who got escorted out the door was a well-educated and highly skilled Mexican elitist.

Or maybe it won't surprise you, if you know anything about how the U.S. immigration system works.

Trump doesn't. Based on comments attributed to him about his preferred type of immigrants, there are at least three things the president doesn't understand about America and its magical place in the world:

-- What Trump considers "shithole countries" can produce some of the most loyal and productive immigrants and refugees, in much the same way that those who flee totalitarian regimes treasure freedom or those who escape countries that sponsor terrorism are committed to ending it. We learned this lesson during the Cold War with Eastern Europeans and Cubans. Many newcomers implicitly reject their home country when they swap it for this one.

-- The whole purpose of America is not to skim the cream of the immigrant pool but to take in desperate people from countries that are poor, corrupt and dysfunctional. Not just out of compassion, but also in our own self-interest. Ours is the ultimate land of second chances, where people come when their own nations neglect, abuse, oppress and underserve them. And they often succeed here because they know what else is out there.

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-- Those who have a good thing going in their home countries (like, say, people from Norway) are probably not interested in putting in the effort to migrate to a country where nothing is guaranteed and success usually comes at a cost of blood, sweat and tears. That's fine. We have enough entitled and arrogant elitists who are homegrown, so we don't have to import more from foreign countries.

It's disgraceful that Trump is so brazen about wanting to take in fewer immigrants from places like Haiti or El Salvador. It's disappointing that he wants to exclude the dark-skinned and the downtrodden to make room for the light-skinned and prosperous. It's dumb that Trump wants to end what Republicans call "chain migration" and what the rest of us know as "family reunification." And it's disturbing that he likes the idea of a merit system that favors educated and skilled immigrants -- the kind of system that would have rejected the Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants of the 20th century.

Test scores and degrees are overrated. Give me the hungry, the hustling and the hardworking. Besides, immigration should be driven by labor needs; if we require nurses, we shouldn't bring in nuclear physicists just because we can.

Which raises the question: How can Trump be expected to lead America if he doesn't understand America?

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