Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP
President Donald Trump speaks about modernizing the immigration system in the Rose Garden of the White House, Thursday, May 16, 2019, in Washington.

President Trump’s latest immigration proposal would be easy to dismiss on political grounds. Congress has failed miserably for years now to schedule so much as a debate on immigration reform, let alone craft a compromise that would bring some order to the nation’s southern border. At this point, with the 2020 presidential race already well underway, the president’s plan has little chance of becoming law.

But it makes a statement about how the United States, a nation composed largely of immigrants, values those who want to enter its borders today, and that makes it important. Unfortunately, the plan is largely misguided.

President Trump would like to increase the number of educated, skilled people who come to the United States. That is a good goal, but it should not be achieved at the expense of families, which would be a consequence of the plan. We have and continue to support immigration reform efforts that put families at the forefront.

The administration says it does not wish to increase the number of green cards it awards annually, a figure now at about 1.1 million. But it hopes to change the composition of recipients from being about 12 percent based on merit (education levels, English proficiency and job offers) to 57 percent. That means fewer green cards would be awarded to the family members of immigrants already here. The family members who do get green cards would be primarily spouses and children, with far fewer going to parents and grown siblings.

In making this proposal, the president relies on a false assumption. As Daniel Griswold, senior research fellow at the conservative Mercatus Center at George Mason University, told NBC News, family based migration already brings in people who are highly educated and skilled. They are, he said, “better educated than the average American.”

Griswold’s research has shown, “It’s a myth that you either let in high-skilled immigrants or we get low-skilled, poorly educated family based immigrants,” he told NBC.

More importantly, people tend to be happier and more productive when surrounded by family, rather than separated by distance and bureaucratic red tape. The United States should promote the family unit in all aspects of American life for a safer, healthier society.

The president’s plan also would impose a civics test on immigrants, similar to what is required for citizenship. This, too, might have the effect of excluding highly skilled workers whose schooling may not have included detailed information about U.S. government.

This proposal seems to ignore the many instances in U.S. history when penniless, uneducated immigrants have risen to great heights in industry and business through hard work. These include such recent luminaries as Jerry Yang, who came here from Taiwan at the age of 8 to live with relatives in San Jose, California, knowing only one English word — “shoe.” He ended up founding Yahoo, accumulating a net worth of well over $1 billion.

They include Andrew Carnegie, who came to the United States at the age of 13 and whose parents were impoverished. His father was a hand loom weaver who was unsuccessful both in Scotland and the United States, but young Carnegie ended up as one of the wealthiest and most generous Americans in history.

Then, as now, the nation’s economy was expanding. People worried about immigrants taking jobs from Americans, but there was plenty to go around, just as today with unemployment at near historic lows.

6 comments on this story

We urge Congress and the president to expand the number of green cards awarded to accommodate both families and more people with education and skills, just as we urge an expansion of the non-immigrant H1B visas that allow companies to hire immigrants with specialized skills.

Most of all, we urge Congress and the president to finally engage in meaningful negotiations to result in an immigration reform bill that secures the border and allows for the orderly influx of people with desires to improve their lives.