The Wall Street Journal asks if Congress Can Reach a Grand Immigration Bargain

Published on July 18th, 2017

In his Independence Day Wall Street Journal column, the Brooking Institute’s William A. Galston raised important questions about where U.S. immigration policy might be headed. Galston asked, among other questions, whether in light of President Donald Trump’s election, Democrats might soften their support of higher, family reunification, chain migration and shift toward more skill-based immigration as other nations have done. Post-election polling showed that restricting immigration and reducing employment-based non-immigrant visas was a winning platform for candidate Trump’s campaign.

Titled "Our Walled-Off Immigration Debate," Galston’s column identified the immigration hurdles the Democrats face in 2018 and beyond. Pollster Stanley Greenberg concluded that candidates “can only succeed if people believe you want to manage immigration,” an impression that Hillary Clinton didn’t convey to voters who perceived her and other Democrats as favoring open borders and putting immigrants’ needs ahead of American citizens. 

In the Trump administration, can Congress agree on immigration?

Galston went on to list the many arguments against increased immigration that Democrats have consistently shied away from even though respected social scientists have written extensively about them: depressed American wages, the fiscal burden of providing immigrants social services and immigrants’ slow assimilation. In its 2015 report, the National Academies of Sciences found that today’s immigrant-headed households are disproportionately dependent on food stamps and Medicaid, and slower to learn English than earlier immigrants. 

During the early days of his presidential campaign, Galston notes, Senator Bernie Sanders pointed out that low-skilled immigration hurts American workers. But when Democratic officials attacked him for mentioning the relationship, Sanders quickly retreated.

Importantly, Galston quotes "two liberal internationalists" who wrote in Foreign Affairs Magazine that “It’s not bigotry to calibrate immigration levels to the ability of immigrants’ ability to assimilate and to society’s ability to adjust.” Irresponsible, unfounded and false charges of racism, xenophobia and worse are routinely directed at organizations like CAPS that strive for sustainable immigration totals. To that end, Galston’s column fell short because it didn’t include the dramatic effect immigration has on increased population growth. Immigration and births to immigrants is, according to the Census Bureau, the primary driver of population increases. 

Galston speculates, perhaps too optimistically, that if immigration could shift away from low-skilled to skilled, and if immigrants could assimilate more swiftly, then a grand Congressional bargain – amnesty – might be within reach.

Those are two big ifs. History has repeatedly proven that little if anything is more toxic in Congress than amnesty. Still, Galston offers important insights into the immigration-related obstacles that must be overcome before any progress can be expected on new legislation.

A recently introduced Senate bill would shift immigration priorities away from family-based to skilled and also eventually cut overall immigration roughly in half and therefore slow population growth. Go to the CAPS Action Alert page here to urge your Senators to support the RAISE Act. 

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