The Trump administration’s recent announcement of its comprehensive immigration policy objectives was met with the predictable championing by its advocates and denunciation by its opponents. Lost in the news cycle and punditry analysis, however, is this undeniable fact: the Trump proposals, if enacted, would represent a sea change from immigration policy direction over the last several decades. That change would result in clear benefits for our country and its lawful citizens.
The proposals were broken down into three general categories: border security, interior enforcement and a merit-based immigration system. Despite emotional pleas from open borders advocates that a border wall is mean-spirited and against the principles of America, there is an abundance of evidence from around the world that border walls are highly effective. America would greatly benefit from a significant reduction in illegal aliens, drugs and guns that routinely pass through our southern border.
Another popular talking point by wall opponents is that its price tag would be excessive. Estimates on the actual cost of the wall vary. While the Trump administration has suggested that the cost would be in the $12-15 billion range, higher-end estimates are above $20 billion. To the average American living on a budget, that sounds like an astronomical amount of money, especially considering the many problems in our society in need of remedy. Even considering the higher estimate, and assuming the cost will go up once construction begins — as large, federally-funded projects inevitably do — that amount needs to be put into perspective. The newest aircraft carrier in the Navy fleet, the USS Gerald R. Ford, cost $12.8 billion. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that The Affordable Care Act will cost $1.34 trillion over the next decade, and in 2016 cost $110 billion. That’s one year.
Now consider the cost of illegal immigration, which is generally calculated at $116 billion annually. When put into that context, the price tag for a wall doesn’t seem that excessive after all, especially considering the long-term benefits that a permanent barrier would provide.
While porous borders is a big part of the problem, so too are lax, conflicting and ineffective policies with regard to interior enforcement. Chief among these are local and state sanctuary policies. In defiance of the supremacy clause of the Constitution’s Article VI, these jurisdictions are harboring illegal aliens and the results in some cases have been tragic. While the story of Kate Steinle was widely reported, there have been too many other innocent lives lost because illegal aliens took advantage of sanctuary cities despite multiple deportations. This needs to end.
While illegal immigration is regarded by many as a matter of national sovereignty and the rule of law, it also is detrimental to those who are unemployed and seeking work. Companies that hire illegal aliens usually pay them below minimum wage or a wage that is exploitative for the work being done. This serves to drive down wages for people who have been struggling for years without raises while seeing their cost of living rise. It also decreases job opportunities for millions of people who have been unemployed or underemployed. Contrary to popular talking points, Americans are certainly willing to do a wide range for work if it is available and at a reasonable wage. Policies that promote illegal immigration deny opportunities to Americans and lower their paychecks. The administration supports the use of E-Verify to protect American workers as well as other measures to stop employment discrimination against legal workers.
For too long, the American immigration system has prioritized the needs of immigrants over what is best for the country. The administration proposals seek to reverse that order. Entry into the United States — and all the freedom and opportunities that come with it — is a privilege, not a right. America should exercise its right to select immigrants based on the value they bring to the country, not just family connections. In that pursuit, the proposals call for limiting family-based green cards to include spouses and minor children.
Immigration unquestionably has a role in the future of America. That role includes offering a refuge for legitimate asylum seekers and to give an opportunity for a better life to those who have the skills, work ethic, and desire to assimilate that make us stronger as a nation. When done to excess and without coherent strategy, immigration is a drain on our society and a catalyst for increased crime, drug traffic and unemployment. When administered shrewdly and at proper levels, it can be an asset to our economic strength and give us a competitive edge over other nations. These administration proposals seek the latter course, and it is one that should be pursued for the good of all Americans and future generations.
Brian Lonergan is director of communications at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of mass migration.