For more than a decade, Congress has refused to deal with a broken immigration system. Year after year, members of Congress complain that our immigration laws are outdated, are poorly enforced and no longer serve our needs as a nation. But despite repeated efforts to pass bills to fix the problem, nothing happens. Although illegal immigration to the U.S. has been very low over the past few years — down to a level not seen since the early 1970s — it has shot up again in the past few months as the U.S. economy has gone into high gear. We currently have more open jobs than workers willing and able to do them, which is why we are seeing a flood of new migrants trying to cross the border. So what are the Trump administration and Congress doing to solve the problem? All the wrong things.
The administration's entire focus has been on eliminating illegal immigration and limiting legal immigration. Unable to get his "big, beautiful wall" and make Mexico pay for it, President Donald Trump has instead turned his attention to removing as many immigrants who came here illegally — and even some who came here legally — as he can. First he announced that he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gave temporary protection from deportation and permission to work to those whose parents brought them here illegally as children and who are currently in school, working or in the military. Although the courts have put on hold Trump's plans to remove the protections and ultimately deport DACA recipients en masse, Congress has failed to act, so their status remains precarious. The administration has also announced it will remove temporary protected status to some Haitians, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans and Sudanese who are here because of natural disasters or war, so they, too, will be subject to deportation. In all, we are talking about well over a million people.
Next week, the House of Representatives is scheduled to take up competing bills to address part of the problem. The exact details of the legislation are still being worked out, but nothing that has been suggested would actually deal with the big issue, and the bill favored by anti-immigration hard-liners would make the crisis worse. To be clear, DACA recipients need to know they can continue to live, work, study and serve in the military. Anything short of a path to full permanent residence and ultimately citizenship would harm not just DACA recipients but the country. These young people are our future. We live in an aging society with a low birthrate and a native-born population that increasingly is dropping out of the workforce. But the trade-off for legal status and a path to citizenship for DACA recipients cannot be major cuts to legal immigration.
The White House has signaled that the president will sign a bill that includes a DACA fix, more money for border security and the wall, measures to make it harder to hire illegal workers, and reduced legal immigration from so-called chain migration. But none of those measures would address the need for immigrant labor, and the latter two would exacerbate the problem. The president particularly dislikes the diversity visa program — one put in place to ensure that some countries — such as India, China, Mexico and the Philippines — don't end up taking the lion's share of the permanent resident visas available under our current system, which favors relatives of those already here. And he wants to cut out certain categories of relatives who get preference under the current system, adult children and siblings of U.S. residents and citizens. But that is a simplistic solution to the bigger problem, which is the question of whether we should give greater emphasis to our labor needs when deciding who may immigrate to the U.S.
But the very last thing we should be doing is trying to remove those already here who are working, paying taxes, buying homes and starting businesses, including DACA recipients and those who have received temporary protected status in the past. It hurts not just them but all of us. We could lose neighbors, friends, employees and employers, people who would leave behind hollowed-out communities, empty houses and businesses that relied on them as customers.
Linda Chavez is chair of the Center for Equal Opportunity and a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center. To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.