Trump draws a new hard line
He urged cuts to legal immigrants in anticipated speech
WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s immigration speech generated intense speculation about whether he would soften his hard line on illegal immigration, but instead, the real change came with his unexpected, full-throated advocacy of a long-term cutback on legal immigrants.
Trump had previously flirted with the idea of cutting legal immigration, but Wednesday’s speech in Phoenix marked his first public embrace of the full restrictionist position.
Trump broke sharply from the Republican Party’s long-standing positions and adopted the most openly nativist platform of any major party presidential candidate in decades.
If Trump is elected, the shift he advocates would greatly reduce immigration overall and move the U.S. from an immigration philosophy of allowing strivers from around the world to take advantage of American opportunities to one focused on bringing in people who already have money and job skills.
That viewpoint is deeply divisive within the GOP — another example of the stress that Trump’s campaign has put on the party.
“This kind of emphasis on dealing with legal immigration in this way is not something a major nominee has done in the last 60 years,” said Roy Beck, the head of NumbersUSA, an advocacy group for immigration restriction that helped lead opposition to a bipartisan immigration overhaul in 2013. “It was great.”
After four decades of high levels of immigration, Trump said, the country Donald Trump, seen Thursday in Cincinnati, Ohio, called Wednesday for immigration levels “within historic norms.” needs to “control future immigration” to “ensure assimilation.”
The goal should be “to keep immigration levels, measured by population share, within historic norms,” he said. Groups that call for a return to “historic norms” often point to the 1960s and 1970s, when the foreign-born share of the U.S. population fell to about one in 20, rather than one in eight as it is today.
Trump’s call was a major victory for advocates of immigration restriction, led by Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, an influential adviser who traveled to Mexico and Phoenix with Trump on Wednesday and whose former staff members have shaped Trump’s positions.
Sessions has long fought to cut overall immigration levels, arguing that high rates of immigration depress wages for American workers.
The U.S. admits about one million legal immigrants a year, and the foreign-born share of the population is now at the highest point since the early 1920s.
Getting back anywhere close to the levels of the ’60s and ’70s would require cutting immigration to a trickle and keeping it restricted for decades. Congress would have to pass new laws for that to happen, although a President Trump could take some steps to reduce legal immigration using his own authority, noted former immigration commissioner Doris Meissner.
Sessions and his allies have called, for example, for ending the visa lottery that allows about 50,000 people a year to immigrate and has been a major way for people to come to the U.S. from Africa and Asia. Advocates for greater restriction have also called for eliminating legal provisions that allow naturalized citizens to bring their parents and adult siblings to the U.S.
In addition to the cuts in legal immigration, Trump pledged to build a wall along the border with Mexico, aggressively step up efforts to detain and deport immigrants convicted of crimes, complete a longplanned effort to accurately track entry and exit visas, greatly expand the size of the Border Patrol and the immigration service and cut off federal money to cities and other local governments that fail to cooperate with federal enforcement efforts.
Those moves would come with a hefty price tag. Most of those steps would cost $40 billion or more over five years, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated. That doesn’t include the cost of the wall, which Trump has said would cost $8 billion, but which outside groups have said could be triple that price.
Under his plan, the U.S. would move away from the current immigration system, which emphasizes family unification, and allocate fewer visas, based on a person’s ability to contribute to the U.S. economy.
Business groups allied with the GOP, such as the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the high-tech industry, have called for giving out more visas to people with high economic potential, but they’ve generally advocated doing that in addition to family unification, rather than in place of it.
Because the overall numbers would be lower under Trump’s plan, “we would be an older, increasingly whiter” country and “one that’s not going to be able to be supported as well,” said William Frey, a leading demographer based at the Brookings Institution. “The only way we’re going to have continued growth in our younger population and our labor force is continued immigration” to offset the aging of the nation’s native-born white population.