President Donald Trump’s emerging immigration policies received some much-needed clarity – and realism – last week, and though far from definitive, the outline he provided in his address to Congress and during a private meeting with television news anchors is a path the nation has needed for far too long.
And it certainly is more helpful than some of his campaign rhetoric on the issue.
While his critics have harped continually on alleged “mass deportation” plans – which Trump has denied – the word out of Washington last week was about potential compromises that would be a reasonable blueprint for immigration reform that his predecessor avoided even when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.
And while many in the news media have been borderline hysterical in reporting deportations under Trump, it is far below the more than 2.5 million deportations under President Obama.
Trump’s apparent outline for an overhaul of a broken system is based on several reasonable principles, starting with border security. That, by the way, was key in the Senate “Gang of Eight” compromise floated in the Senate a few years ago.
It also focuses, appropriately, on deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records – especially those who already have outstanding deportation orders – and the end of the catch-and-release system where those apprehended were simply told to show up for a deportation hearing that many then skipped.
For those reasons, Trump is proposing more Border Patrol agents.
There is also discussion of giving law-abiding undocumented immigrants an opportunity to obtain legal status short of citizenship that would allow them to work and hopefully come and go across the border without hindrance. Many, in fact, want to work and not become citizens. It is an idea with merit.
And there would be a path to citizenship for the so-called “dreamers” who were already exempted from Trump’s stepped-up enforcement orders.
Trump still insists on the flawed idea of a “great wall along our southern border” to cut off the flow of illicit drugs and block the path of illegal border-crossers. A physical barrier would help in some areas, but we need to be smarter and more tech savvy.
It is hard to disagree with Trump’s pledge to take on the Mexican drug cartels whose products are wreaking so much havoc in this country, and it makes much more sense to focus on “gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens.”
That doesn’t include most of the undocumented immigrants in this country.
The proposals won’t make extremists on either side happy. One group essentially wants something between open borders and total amnesty; the other the roundup and deportation of anyone who is here in violation of our immigration laws. But to his credit, Trump delivered a civil speech in his first appearance before Congress on Tuesday, and he appears to be taking a more thoughtful approach to immigration than his earlier words and actions would indicate.
And perhaps that’s all part of the “art of the deal.”
Trump would do well to work with Mexico – rather than try to embarrass the country by claiming it will pay for the wall, something Mexico has said categorically it will not do. There is no upside to empowering the leftist opponents of the current Mexican government.
Trump also says, correctly, that we need to revise our immigration policy to focus on America’s needs and with an eye toward allowing those here who are not going to be a burden on U.S. taxpayers. In fact, that was one of the historic tests at Ellis Island.
With 90 million Americans out of the workforce, we don’t need an influx of unskilled labor to further depress wages. And there’s no denying that the United States has, and will continue, to benefit from the many students, scientists, doctors, workers, artists and others who seek a better life in our country.
In his annual letter to shareholders, billionaire investor Warren Buffett noted the importance of immigrants to this nation’s financial wellbeing. “Americans have combined human ingenuity, a market system, a tide of talented and ambitious immigrants, and the rule of law to deliver abundance beyond any dreams of our forefathers,” he wrote.
Trump’s developing immigration policy needs to ensure that the world’s brightest and most promising have smooth access to our universities and businesses, that the honest, hard work of Americans and immigrants here alike is recognized, that true criminals are dealt with accordingly, and that America’s borders mean something.
Of course, the devil is always in the details, and the Trump administration has yet to produce its blueprint for reformation of the system. But Tuesday’s news provided some hope the new administration is working on a plan to follow up on its change in tone with corresponding actions.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.