During Tuesday night’s address to Congress, President Donald Trump proposed adopting a merit-based immigration system to bring millions of jobs back to the United States and raise American incomes, claiming that incoming immigrants “strain” public resources and depress wages.
But in order to make his case, Trump cited a report that draws the opposite conclusion, and finds that “immigrant workers have little to no negative effects on the wages or overall employment levels of native-born workers.”
Speaking to a bipartisan group of lawmakers, Trump said that he would bring back millions of jobs by imposing a merit-based immigration system, similar to the models employed by Canada and Australia.
“It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially,” Trump said in his speech. “Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon. According to the National Academy of Sciences, our current immigration system costs America’s taxpayers many billions of dollars a year.”
“Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, will have many benefits: it will save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages, and help struggling families—including immigrant families—enter the middle class,” he added.
There’s one problem with the conclusion that Trump drew from the September 2016 National Academy of Sciences study. Had he actually read it, he would have known that the same study concluded that immigration is a boon to the economy and has little impact on the employment status and wages of native-born workers.
What’s more, Trump’s proposal is also factually wrong about the kind of immigrants that can legally stay in the country. For over 100 years, U.S. immigration law has made it clear that immigrants cannot be impoverished when they enter the country. Being a public charge is grounds for “inadmissibility and deportation”; people who become public charges are inadmissible to the United States and ineligible to become legal permanent residents, according to a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) fact sheet. U.S. citizens who want to sponsor immigrants must have stable earnings more than 125 percent of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services poverty guidelines.
Most disturbing though, Trump’s proposal echoes calls by senior administration officials — namely Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and adviser Stephen Miller — for a policy of “economic nationalism” to restructure free trade agreements with other countries. According to Bannon, economic nationalism would improve America’s standing in the world because it involves bilateral trading relationships that would bring “high value added, manufacturing jobs, back to the United States of America.”
It’s true that the United States has lost five million factory jobs since 2000 and it doesn’t help that trade claimed manufacturing jobs — especially after China became a member of the World Trade Organization in 2001. But a June 2015 Ball State University report found that only 13.4 percent — or roughly 750,000 — jobs were lost to “direct imports and import substitution,” or trade. The report also found that “almost 88 percent of job losses” came from automation or other factors that “can be attributable to productivity growth, and the long-term changes to manufacturing employment are mostly linked to the productivity of American factories.”