Truth vs. Trump on Immigration

WASHINGTON, DC – Webster’s Dictionary defines “emergency” as “a sudden, urgent, usually unexpected occurrence requiring immediate action.” By that standard, US President Donald Trump’s claim that the United States faces an immigration emergency is simply not credible. Immigrants have been coming to the US since its inception, and since 2007 their net numbers have actually been falling. Because this issue is so often framed in a misleading way, it is important to get the facts straight.

To be sure, the current system is broken. There are three major concerns: the US needs to improve how it treats immigrants, it needs better ways to curb illegal immigration, and it needs to reform the visa system in order to increase benefits and reduce costs.

The Trump administration’s increasingly inhumane treatment of migrants will not fix the system. On the contrary, it has become a source of national shame. Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was unconscionable. Some 800,000 people who were brought to the US as children (at age seven, on average) are now threatened with the prospect of being forced to return to countries they hardly know.

No less abhorrent has been the treatment of Central Americans applying for asylum at the US-Mexico border. Children have been separated from their parents, and the wait times for migrants locked in squalid conditions have grown ever longer. There is a severe shortage of qualified immigration judges, yet rather than allocating money to hire more, the administration is channeling resources to the construction of a border wall.

In addition to overwhelmed immigration courts, there are shockingly long delays for the issuance of green cards. Immigrants who initiated the green-card process in January 1998 were not notified of their eligibility until October 2018. The average wait time for green-card holders applying for citizenship is five years and eight months. Moreover, while a significant share of visas currently goes to family members of US citizens, everyone would benefit more if a higher share went to workers, particularly skilled ones, who contribute disproportionately more to productivity growth than do those with a high-school education or less.

By ANNE O. KRUEGER for PROJECT SYBDICATE
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