SAN DIEGO—When Trump declared that he was running for president in June 2015 and revved up his base of mostly white voters by saying that Mexico is “not sending their best” but instead purging those who are “bringing drugs… bringing crime,” I called him a racist.
When Trump extolled the virtues of Operation Wetback, the dreadful 1953 deportation program that removed many U.S.-born Latinos, and called for a “deportation force” in order to remove “bad hombres” and repel an “invasion,” I labeled him a nativist. And when Trump backed off his expressed support for legal immigration and pushed legislation that would have cut in half the number of immigrants who are each year allowed to enter the United States legally by creating a skills-based system—all to prop up U.S. workers, I dubbed him a protectionist.
Now, as Trump pulls up the drawbridge, puts up a “No Vacancy” sign and says he’s signed an executive order that will effectively end all immigration to America, I’m running out of “-ists” to call him though there’s no doubt he’s an opportunist, determined not to let this public health crisis go to waste.
With more than 22 million U.S. workers landing on the unemployment rolls in the four weeks month, people are hurting and looking for relief.
Maybe that helping hand from Washington looks like a stimulus check. Or maybe it looks like a locked door that keeps others out.
“By pausing immigration, we will help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs,” Trump said during Tuesday’s press briefing on the coronavirus. “We must first take care of the American worker.” He added: “It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad.”
To eliminate competition for U.S. workers, Trump says he’ll sign an executive order that would halt, for 60 days, the issuance of green cards to foreign nationals who have worked through the process of entering the United States legally. At the end of those 6o days, Trump said, he might extend the ban depending on what the economy looks like and what the unemployment figures are. You can bet on an extension, and another after that.
His willingness to exploit a public health emergency to please his anti-immigrant base during an election year is shameful. Does anyone really think he’s doing this for the sake of U.S. workers?
Remember, these folks who are being barred from the United States did everything they were told to do. Everything. In applying for green cards, they paid fines, filled out forms, and waited in line—often for years.
This is a betrayal. It’s a broken bargain. Immigration restrictionists—including the MAWA warriors in Trump’s army—have claimed he was cracking down on illegal immigration to defend those who “play by the rules.” The people getting screwed by the new ban played by the rules. Without warning, Trump is changing the rules.
And for what? To spare U.S. workers the nuisance of having to compete with someone who arrived in the country 10 minutes ago? Why? Have we no confidence that the native-born worker would win that competition?
And, you say, a Republican president did this? What happened to the old GOP, that stressed the benefits of competition in everything from public education to the job market? Where did that elephant run off to?
Trump is acting more like a pro-union, Democratic party hack who opposes immigration as a form of protectionism. That never ends well—not for the United States and not for U.S. workers who become soft and complacent once they have a monopoly on the labor supply.
Foreign laborers are the lubricant of the U.S. economy. They keep the wheels turning. Throughout U.S. history, whether those laborers came from Germany, China, Ireland, Italy, or elsewhere, they had three things in common: they had a ferocious work ethic that kept U.S. workers on their toes and made them more productive; they did the crummy and dangerous jobs that natives wouldn’t go anywhere near; and they brought freshness, optimism and vitality to the workforce even though they were often despised for it.
Interestingly, Trump appears to be making a partial concession that there are indeed some jobs that American workers don’t want. In truth, you’ll find those lousy jobs spread across many sectors of the U.S. economy—from those who tar roofs or toil in canneries, to those who work on horse farms and clean the windows of skyscrapers.
But Trump is only willing to give an exemption to one industry: agriculture. Immigrants who seek to work on farmers and ranches, he insists, will not be affected by the coronavirus immigration ban.
Not so fast. It’s obvious that Trump wants to score points with those farmers who support him, and who have done the heroic work of feeding millions of Americans over the last several weeks—with, I might add, a helping hand from armies of undocumented immigrant laborers. But the kind of foreign labor exemption that Trump is talking about would need to take the form of a new guest worker program that would bring in perhaps 200,000 to 400,000 temporary workers each year. We’re not set up for that. And, even if we were, temporary workers have a nasty habit of becoming permanent.
Trump and de facto immigration czar Stephen Miller have never understood the immigration issue, and they still don’t. They think they’re being so smart, and that this is the perfect time to sneak in their xenophobic agenda under the cover of a global pandemic. They’re wrong. Their timing is terrible.
At the very moment that Americans are being told to come together, the White House has returned to that one issue that always tears us apart.