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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 6:47 pm | Fair 55º


Joe Guzzardi: Donald Trump’s Speech Revealing for What It Left Out on Immigration

President Donald Trump’s rousing address to a joint session of Congress reinforced his image as a leader who will put Americans’ interests first, and it offered a much-needed helping hand to the nation’s vulnerable workers.

As expected, Trump talked about immigration. For the first time in decades, however, a sitting president linked high immigration levels to American job loss and stagnant wages. He said the outdated legal immigration system has hurt employed and unemployed Americans.

Every year for at least the last two decades, an average of 1 million employment-authorized legal immigrants come to the United States — a minimum of 20 million new workers have been added to the labor force in the last 20 years. Trump wants merit-based immigration similar to that in Australia and Canada.

According to the Homeland Security Department, in 2015 from the more than 1 million legal immigrants who arrived, two-thirds entered on family-preference and not skill-based visas. Trump cited the National Academy of Sciences, which found that admitting lower-skilled immigrants through chain migration costs taxpayers “many billions of dollars a year,” and depresses wages for the poorest workers.

Flooding the labor pool with the unskilled has, for example, dramatically affected those with only a high school education. Census Bureau research showed that in 2000, 66 percent of high school grads were employed; by 2015, the total had dropped to 53 percent. In short, immigration creates more job competition for less-skilled, less-educated Americans.

For immigration advocates, Trump’s speech disappointed. In the hours leading up to his address, he met with news anchors who came away with the impression that his administration might be open to comprehensive immigration reform, code talk for amnesty.

But Trump’s actual remarks were sufficiently vague — “real and positive immigration reform is possible” — that hopes were dashed.

Instead, Trump reiterated his determination to deport criminal aliens, protect the interior from “lawless chaos” and move ahead on the border wall. Family members whose loved ones were murdered by illegal immigrants applauded his speech. His base expects him to keep his September campaign pledge that for those who entered the United States illegally, citizenship or permanent residency will be impossible.

Trump scored points on infrastructure construction, beefing up the military and tax reform, as well as repealing and replacing Obamacare.

But on three immigration-related subjects, he remained disappointingly silent. First, he’s apparently reneged on his campaign promise to stop issuing new work permits to President Barack Obama’s deferred action for childhood arrivals, and has continued to approve thousands of renewals. The DACAs compete with Americans for jobs.

Second, instead of a wall, Trump should urge Congress to pass mandatory E-Verify, which would ensure that only citizens and legal immigrants could hold jobs. The Pew Research Center estimates that 7 million illegal immigrants are employed in nonfarm jobs.

Third, Trump should also encourage Congress to review birthright citizenship. A law must be passed that citizenship cannot be conferred at birth unless at least one parent is a citizen or a legal resident. Currently, any mother who gives birth, even if she has only been in the United States for a few hours, will have delivered a citizen child who will reap citizenship’s benefits throughout his lifetime.

My grade for Trump’s speech: A for what he said; F, for what he omitted.

— Joe Guzzardi is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) who now lives in Pittsburgh. He can be reached at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter: @joeguzzardi19. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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