One hesitates to assume that what the president says one moment won’t be totally contradicted the next. But on the afternoon of Tuesday, Jan. 9, Donald J. Trump made sense on immigration reform — with just a few contradictions. Take a screenshot.
Notably, he used the word “comprehensive” in talking about reform, a poisonous term for many opposed to legalizing the presence of millions here without papers. Proposed comprehensive reforms would also strengthen enforcement of immigration laws to curb future flows of undocumented workers.
Bear in mind that the day before, Trump had called for expelling hundreds of thousands of immigrants from El Salvador and Haiti who hold temporary visas related to wars and natural disasters. And he still kept going on about the wall, for which he now wants to bill American taxpayers $18 billion. Surprise: Mexicans aren’t paying for it.
The wall is not a bad idea because Republicans like it and Democrats don’t. It’s a bad idea because it’s a bad idea. The number of illegal crossings by Mexicans and Central Americans has cratered in recent years — starting under Barack Obama. Two-thirds of people here illegally didn’t sneak across the border but overstayed the time limit on their visas. So the wall wouldn’t really solve the problem.
If Trump wants to waste $18 billion, why not just paint the entire U.S. Navy fleet pink? (And leave a few dollars to fix Terminal 4 at New York’s JFK Airport.) The best place to stop illegal immigration is not the border but America’s employment offices.
Critics of past “reforms” rightly note that amnesty deals legalizing the presence of millions failed to tighten enforcement. Serious reform would require all companies to use E-Verify, a database that establishes a new hire’s right to work in the United States. It was in legislation that the Senate passed in 2013 with bipartisan support but the Republican House killed.
So what can happen now? The “Dreamers,” people brought illegally into the country as children, should get immediate legal status. So-called chain migration, whereby one entrant can bring in large numbers of family members, needs to be pared back. The rest of it can pretty much follow the 2013 proposal for comprehensive reform. As for the wall, perhaps Democrats can agree to some more fencing and call it a wall.
Many Democrats and cheap-labor Republicans ignore that enforced immigration laws are a form of worker protection. Please drop the cheesy claim that immigrants here illegally do the dirty jobs no documented worker would do. Try paying more, and see what happens.
Immigrants are essential to our economy. If there’s truly a shortage of workers to take the manual jobs, then admit more low-skilled immigrants, but legally. At the same time, make it easier to employ educated foreigners with advanced skills.
Consistency has never been Trump’s strong suit, and he himself has not been chaste on the matter of hiring only Americans. Mar-a-Lago and his other properties are a virtual United Nations of imported workers. And he employed undocumented laborers in the building of Trump Tower.
But Trump knows that smearing immigrants and demanding “the most beautiful wall you’ve ever seen” is a no-fail means of drawing howls of joy from some elements of his base. Whether he can “take the heat” from a change of position as he said he can remains to be seen. He does have a proven talent for making the base believe whatever he wants it to believe.
The rest of us can appreciate that for one brief shining moment, Trump talked reasonably on immigration. Perhaps there will be more shining moments. Perhaps not.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at email@example.com.