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Why Cutting Legal Immigration Hurts All American Workers

Aug. 8, 2017
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Photo Credit: Scott Billings (Flickr CC)

The outrageously unqualified Republican “non-politician” who won the presidency has created so much political chaos it’s easy to forget all the buttoned-down, professional Republican politicians who embarrassed themselves during their party’s presidential primary by promising to be just as bad—or even worse. It all came rushing back when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker joined Donald Trump at the White House to proclaim a fantastic “once-in-a-century” jobs bonanza for Wisconsin that only required $3 billion in Wisconsin taxpayer subsidies and believing the political promises of Trump and Walker.

But there was another more immediate consequence of the warm reunion between the president and Walker, an opponent Trump once bragged about beating “like a little boy.” A week after their reconciliation, Trump announced his support for one of the worst ideas Walker came up with during his short-lived presidential campaign. With Trump playing to the racist, lowest common denominator among Republican voters by attacking undocumented Mexican immigrants as murderers and rapists, Walker vowed to out-Trump Trump. He promised not only to crack down on illegal immigration, but to attack legal immigration, as well.

In fact, Trump was a real piker for only promising to build a multi-billion-dollar wall between the U.S. and Mexico; Walker said we should consider the possibility of walling off Canada, as well. This was toward the end of Walker’s presidential run and ridicule was growing. Cutting legal immigration was too much, even for Trump (on the campaign trail, Trump said he wanted to encourage legal immigration and strongly opposed cutting the number of legal immigrants).

 

Trump Distracts by Attacking Legal Immigrants

That was then, and this is now. The week after Walker dropped by the White House, Trump announced he wanted to slash the number of legal immigrants admitted to the U.S. every year in half from a million to half a million. Sure, it could just be coincidence.

Trump was going through a rough patch. The U.S. Senate had just shattered Trump’s dreams of destroying health care for 22 million people. Firings were piling up bodies outside the White House. Worst of all, a special prosecutor was continuing to investigate collusion between the Trump campaign (including family members) and the Russian government to subvert the U.S. presidential election—just because it was against the law.

A surefire way for Trump to lift his spirits when he’s down is to stir up more anti-immigrant and anti-transgender hatred and then fly off to West Virginia to bask in the tumultuous cheers of delirious supporters with faces like clenched fists.

But it turned out to be exactly the wrong time for any president who wanted economic growth to suddenly propose gutting legal immigration. The truth about America’s aging workforce has finally caught up with the ignorant, anti-immigrant bigotry Trump rode to his unexpected election.

Nearly 1,500 economists across the political spectrum—Republican, Democratic and independent, including six Nobel laureates—had just explained to Trump in a letter why there was “near universal agreement” among economists that cutting legal immigration would sabotage the economy and likely lead to another recession. That’s why many conservative Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, immediately responded negatively that Trump’s proposal to whack legal immigration would be economically disastrous because current levels of immigration were necessary to replace the enormous numbers of aging baby boomers now retiring at a rate of 10,000 every day.

Jeremy Robbins, executive director of New American Economy, a pro-immigration, pro-growth economic advocacy coalition, provided the compelling facts to politicians in a Washington Post op-ed. With U.S. birth rates at an all-time low and low unemployment in an economic recovery, just half of native-born Americans are of prime working age (25 to 64), while 72% of all immigrants are. Immigrants fill employment shortages in both higher and lower ends of the economy. They’re twice as likely as native-born Americans to be physicians, surgeons and home health aides.

Despite accounting for just 14% of the population, immigrants are nearly 30% of all new entrepreneurs creating American businesses that employ 6 million workers. One in every 10 Americans who works at a private company works for an immigrant. Cutting legal immigration wouldn’t create more jobs for native-born Americans, as Trump and Walker have claimed, Robbins said. It would do just the opposite. “Drastic cuts to legal immigration levels would hurt economic growth and result in fewer jobs for Americans,” Robbins wrote.

“Limiting immigration to the U.S. is a grave mistake,” seconded Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics and an advisor to Mitt Romney’s 2012 Republican presidential campaign. “The only way to meaningfully increase U.S. economic growth on a sustained basis anytime soon is to increase immigration.”

Maybe Trump should have grabbed onto Walker’s other dumb idea instead and started talking about building another beautiful wall to stop all those marauding hordes of Canadian rapists.

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