Most of the recent debate about immigration has focused on illegal immigrants. Now it turns out that we’re arguing about legal immigration too.
Everyone has heard about the Dreamers — the undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them to the United States as children. Just a few months ago, President Donald Trump conspicuously didn’t renew Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program created under the Obama administration that granted this group of people work permits and protected them from deportation.
Our problem is even more complicated. According to Trump, we also need to reform the way people get to this country legally. But instead of opening up the question of legal immigration, Congress should take Trump’s immigration reform plan and cut it in half.
In his State of the Union address last month, Trump provided a four-part plan to solve the problem and to move toward what he calls “merit-based” immigration. 1) Create a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers. According to Trump, this covers almost three times as many people as Obama’s DACA program did. 2) Build the infamous wall, or in other words, “secure the border.” 3) Revoke the Green Card Lottery, also known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. 4) Get rid of chain migration.
The Green Card Lottery is what it sounds like: a program that grants Green Cards at random. The DV Program issues up to 50,000 Green Cards annually to applicants from countries with low numbers of immigrants in the United States.
Chain migration, the second program at stake, refers to the process by which immigrants residing in the U.S. are able to sponsor their family members to join them in America. According to Trump’s State of the Union address, “The fourth and final pillar [of our plan] protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration. Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.”
At this point in the speech, there was audible dissent, rather than the customary punctuation of applause — probably because Trump’s claim isn’t strictly true.
Currently, sponsorships include parents, spouses, siblings, and both minor and adult children. This is hardly “virtually unlimited” relatives, as it doesn’t extend to aunts, uncles, or grandparents, much less actually distant relatives. Trump’s plan would limit sponsorships to spouses and children.
Why are we trying to keep these people out? Of course we want good people. Of course we want hard-workers over terrorists and nuclear families over gangs. Merit-based immigration sounds great. But when it comes to legal immigration to the United States, Trump’s plan abolishes old institutions without creating anything new. It simply reduces the number of immigrants allowed to come to our country legally.
Congress should enact the first two steps of Trump’s plan. It should protect the Dreamers and secure the border. The point, as Trump himself stated, is compromise: No one gets everything they want. But by implementing the first two parts of Trump’s plan, we address the problem that should be most pressing to us: illegal immigration.
This isn’t just about Trump. This is about the Republican party. At the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend, liberal journalist Rick Unger spoke on an immigration panel. He claimed that, having spent seven years living in Mexico, he believed that Mexicans have more in common with Republicans than with Democrats. He continued, to protracted booing, “If the Republicans open their arms to these people, the Democrats aren’t going to do so well. And it’s interesting to hear your reaction. Why are you rejecting voters?”
Rick Unger has a point. Republicans should consider that they might have something in common with Mexican immigrants.
It is easy to see how Trump’s reluctance to allow immigrants into our country, legally or otherwise, quickly brands him a racist — whether he is or not. His priority is protecting the interests of American citizens, and that is admirable. By shifting its attention to illegal immigration, Congress could balance the president’s restrictionism while continuing to prioritize the interests of U.S. citizens.
We should take pride in being a country that people come to with their hopes and dreams. We should take pride in being seen as a place of opportunity and refuge.
America was built on immigrants — flawed, idealistic, dangerous, hardworking immigrants. Immigration is our heritage; it is only fitting that it also be our legacy.
Ellen Sweet is a senior studying English.