The Good, Bad And Pointless Of Trump's Immigration Plan

Admitting newcomers based on their skills is smart; cutting their numbers in half is a mistake.

Tired, poor, huddled
Tired, poor, huddled
Noah Smith


President Donald Trump just endorsed a plan to change the way the U.S. immigration system operates. Half of the plan is very good. The other half is bad and counterproductive.

The plan, known as the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, was developed by Republican senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia. It would do two things. First, it would introduce a merit-based system that would admit immigrants according to their education level, language skills and professional qualifications, similar to what Canada and Australia use. Second, it would cut the total amount of legal immigration in half, reducing immigration based on family reunification to immediate family members only, and ending the lottery system for green-card permanent residence permits.

The first half of this plan — the merit-based system — is a very good idea. I've long advocated for exactly this shift in the way the U.S. screens immigrants.

High-skilled immigration is important for several reasons. First, although low-skilled immigrants — manual laborers, blue-collar workers and the like — create a small but noticeable amount of wage and job competition for native-born Americans, skilled immigrants do the opposite. According to a recent National Academy of Sciences report, which took input from both immigration boosters and detractors, skilled immigrants actually raise the wages of their high-skilled U.S. peers. This probably happens because knowledge industries rely crucially on new ideas — the more smart people we have creating new ideas, the more other smart people can take those ideas and use them for other applications.

The first half of this plan — the merit-based system — is a very good idea.

Also, the NAS report found that although low-skilled immigrants don't have much of an impact on government finances, high-skilled immigrants create a strong positive fiscal boost. The aging U.S. population needs high-earning young people to pay for old people's pensions and retirements, to fund the public services they depend on, and to buy their houses and stocks. Skilled immigrants are the way to pay for native-born Americans to have a comfortable retirement. Finally, skilled immigrants are a bit quicker to integrate into American culture. That means they will enjoy rapid mobility, and won't become a permanent outsider class.

So high-skilled immigrants are pure gravy for a country like the U.S. Canada has been enjoying great success with its points-based immigration program — the RAISE Act would, in this way, represent the adoption of best practice from the U.S."s neighbor to the north.

Counterproductive and pointless

But the RAISE Act also has a dark side — the deep cuts to the total number of legal immigrants allowed into the country every year. This will partially defeat the purpose of the points-based system the act would create. It makes no sense to shift to a skills-based immigration system, but then limit the number of skilled workers who are allowed in.

Senators Cotton and Perdue at the press conference on the RAISE Act Photo: Ron Sachs/ZUMA

Fewer immigrants means less support for the aging native-born U.S. population. It means a greater strain on Social Security and Medicare. It means pensions for city workers and police and firefighters going bankrupt. And it means stagnation of housing prices, because of reduced demand from young high-earning workers. In other words, slashing immigration would hurt the very native-born people that Trump's immigration advisers, like Stephen Miller, claim to want to protect.

Miller, and the RAISE Act's sponsors, probably believe that slashing legal immigration will mostly keep out low-skilled laborers. But they're wrong. They've missed the big shift in U.S. immigration patterns that has happened over the past decade. Low-education workers have almost completely stopped coming into the country, so that more and more of the immigration the U.S. now gets consists of people with degrees.

So the RAISE Act is half-wise reasonable policy.

This means that slashing overall immigration numbers will simply reduce the total number of high-skilled immigrants coming to boost the U.S. economy. It's counterproductive and pointless to increase the percentage of skilled immigrants while reducing the overall number.

This ill-advised move is probably to assuage the anxieties of those Americans who believe that immigrants are displacing them and destroying their native culture. Trump advisers have expressed this fear in the past. But overall, Americans are becoming more positive and welcoming in their attitude toward immigrants. Most of the country doesn't share Miller's trepidation.

So the RAISE Act is half-wise reasonable policy, half-counterproductive fear-based mistake. The plan should be changed by simply dropping the second part and keeping the first. Prudent Republicans, such as Jeb Bush, have suggested doing exactly that. The U.S. would benefit greatly from a shift to skills-based immigration, but the overall number of people coming in shouldn't be reduced.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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