Trump’s Immigration Folly? A Dissent [and a reply]

Experience has taught me that it is rarely a good idea to disagree with Paul, but on the merits of Donald Trump’s new set of immigration reforms, I do largely disagree. I wrote here that I think Trump’s new immigration proposals are generally sensible, although they don’t go far enough. More about that last point another time. For now, let’s take Paul’s criticisms in turn.

Paul agrees that “birthright” citizenship is a mistake, but thinks our chances of ending it are slim to nonexistent. He could be right. But polls indicate that a huge majority of Americans want to get rid of the “anchor baby” rule, and we can infer from their dissent in the Hamdi case that at least two Supreme Court justices agree. Congress could pass a law defining citizenship in a manner that gives effect to the “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” clause of the 14th Amendment. The law would be challenged on constitutional grounds and the case would make its way to the Supreme Court. That would give the court an opportunity to reconsider its poorly thought out decision that anyone born here, regardless of the circumstances, is required to be a citizen by the 14th Amendment. How likely is that strategy to succeed? I don’t know, but I think it is worth a try.

Paul finds Trump’s proposal to deport all illegals en masse to be foolish, especially since he has said that he wants to let the “good” ones back in. Here we encounter Trump’s lack of consistency. He spouts off on immigration, as on other topics, in spontaneous fashion, and often contradicts himself. Just a week or two ago he casually came out for amnesty, or at least seemed to. As I read Trump’s current proposals, he doesn’t try to distinguish between “good” and “bad” illegals (other than by insisting that the ones who are convicted of crimes be sent back to their home countries). Nor does he specifically call for mass deportation.

As I understand Trump’s current approach, the idea is that if the E-verify system is consistently applied by employers and if employers are prosecuted when they hire illegal aliens, most illegal aliens will self-deport. This, as I recall, was also Mitt Romney’s approach, and I think it is correct. There is no need for a round-up, and 100% of illegal immigrants wouldn’t leave. But a large majority of them would. Trump’s written plan doesn’t include any provision for letting the “good” illegal immigrants back into the country.

Paul thinks that forcing millions of illegals to leave the United States would be inhumane. Here, I am simply more hard-hearted than he is. Anyone who entered the country illegally assumed the risk that one day, he or she would be deported. Or that the United States would eventually get its act together and enforce the law that makes it a crime to hire illegal immigrants.

I think it is important to remember that the people we are talking about are not refugees or stateless wanderers. They are citizens of countries; just not of the United States. I don’t see any good reason why a citizen of Mexico or Costa Rica has a right to live forever, illegally, in the United States.

Paul worries that illegal immigrants are essential to the agricultural industry, especially in California. There is no doubt that by virtue of sheer numbers, illegals have come to play a major role in agriculture and other industries. But there is no such thing as a job Americans won’t do. The only question is the price. If they offer enough money, I’ll go pick fruit in California. Illegals are a convenience to businesses because they generally work for low wages. But this is one reason for the decline of the working class that we have seen unfold over a period of decades. Without illegal labor, we would all pay more for our fruits, vegetables and other food.* But that, I think, is a cost worth bearing.

Finally, Paul argues that it would be expensive to identify, deport and (if this is still part of Trump’s plan) re-process the “good” illegals. But illegal immigrants impose huge costs on the communities in which they live. Schools, police departments and welfare systems are all stretched thin wherever they live in large numbers. I think a mass exodus of illegal aliens would effect a net savings to government at all levels. I note that Trump shrewdly proposes to pay for a tripling of ICE personnel “by accepting the recommendation of the Inspector General for Tax Administration and eliminating tax credit payments to illegal immigrants.”

Having said all of that, I would be open to some compromise, especially with regard to illegals who have resided here for a long time. I suspect that Trump might be, too. For example, an amnesty might be declared for those who can demonstrate that they have lived continuously in the U.S. for more than 15 or 20 years.

My concerns about Trump’s proposals are different from Paul’s. I think they don’t go far enough with regard to reforming our legal immigration system. Further, I don’t trust that Trump really believes in them. He has been wildly inconsistent, and his history as a Democrat doesn’t engender much confidence. I wonder whether he has seized on the immigration issue merely out of opportunism, so that, were he actually elected, he might discard it as blithely as he says he has discarded his various liberal views.

But then, the Trump campaign isn’t about actually being elected president. It is about thumbing one’s nose at the Republican “establishment.”

*This is a bit of a digression, hence the footnote. There is an alternative to higher food prices; that is, importing more foods. There may be crops where, if the farmer has to pay the going rate for American workers, the crop is no longer cost-competitive. That situation is obviously hard on the farmer if he is unable to adjust by switching to different crops. But where there is a choice between importing fruits and vegetables that are grown in other countries with cheap labor, and importing millions of illegal immigrants to grow them here, it is much better to import the fruits and vegetables.

PAUL REPLIES: Disagreeing with John is no picnic either. But I still believe that deporting millions of illegal aliens only to allow the good ones to return is folly. And this is what Trump, during his Sunday interview with Chuck Todd about his proposal, says he wants to do.

Even if the deportation were permanent, it would be inhumane, I believe, to yank children out of their schools and communities and send them to what is, in effect, a foreign country. They did not assume the risk of deportation when their parents took them across the border.

Their parents did, so it isn’t necessarily inhumane to send them back. But if they are being sent back pointlessly (i.e., only to return), the deportation becomes inhumane or, at minimum, foolish. Why not decide whether the immigrants in question are “good” (or “outstanding” or whatever Trump’s standard de jour is) while they are still here? Why not just assume that those who have been in this country for a certain period of time without getting into trouble are “good.”

As for the economics, I’m not sure what price growers would have to pay to induce unemployed youths from around the country to migrate to, say, the San Joaquin Valley to pick fruit. However, I strongly suspect, as John seems to, that the wages required would push the price of fruit to levels at which growers couldn’t compete with foreign suppliers.

The hardship produced wouldn’t be confined to growers. Among the adverse consequences would be the loss of jobs for the legal agricultural workforce, estimated in California to be around one-half to two-thirds of the total. Non-agricultural workers in the affected regions would also suffer considerably.

Trump, in all likelihood, wouldn’t want this to happen (I don’t see him supporting the export of American jobs, having built his political brand on denouncing this phenomenon). He’d probably strive to readmit the formerly illegal immigrant fruit pickers as fast as possible. But not without huge disruption for growers, workers, and their families.