The Deportation Party?

header-hoover-institution-fellows1-1WSJ, Editorial Board

Trump proposes to stop even most legal immigration.

BN-JW903_edp081_M_20150817183434Republican critics of U.S. immigration policy have long claimed that they welcome legal immigrants. That claim is going to be tested now that Donald Trump has unveiled a policy outline that would deport millions and sharply restrict all immigration. Mr. Trump is bidding to make the GOP the deportation party.

The presidential candidate released his outline on Sunday to great applause from the GOP’s anti-immigration wing. The six pages lack policy specifics, but we’ll try to parse them because the Trump outline would be the most radical crackdown on immigration since the 1920s.

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At least in 2012 Mitt Romney was only in favor of “self deportation.” Mr. Trump wants to triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to police the U.S.-Mexican border, track down undocumented employees and visa overstays, and raid workplaces. Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if his plan applies to all illegals, including kids, Mr. Trump said “they have to go.”

Are his police going to search from door to door to arrest 11 million people? How else will they be rounded up?

Mr. Trump says he would keep families together, which would at least spare the scenes of tearful mothers hauled away from their crying children. But Republicans may want to think twice before becoming the party responsible for piling onto buses entire families who are stitched into the fabric of communities. This is not a good political look.

Republicans may also want to ask whether Mr. Trump’s proposals fit with free-market principles. Mr. Trump insists that Mexico will “pay for” the wall he wants to build on the southern U.S. border, but even he seems to realize no sovereign state would do this.

So his fallback is to levy higher fines and fees on individual Mexicans, and he also wants to “impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages” sent to Mexico from the U.S. That was an estimated $22 billion in 2013, but how is Mr. Trump going to find out which remittances were from illegals? In any case remittances almost certainly reduce the flow of illegal immigration because they reduce poverty in Central America. Migration from Mexico slowed after Mexicans became richer thanks in part to Nafta and remittances.

Mr. Trump’s flight from economic sense includes increasing the prevailing wage regulations for temporary legal H-1B visas—that is, he’ll instruct private businesses how to compensate their workers. So will we now have a Republican version of the Davis-Bacon Act for immigrant employees?

For a man who has succeeded in business Mr. Trump seems to know little about labor markets. Thousands of U.S. employers depend on the flow of temporary seasonal workers. Mr. Trump seems to think that if those workers aren’t allowed to enter the U.S. employers will simply raise wages. But the Journal reported last week that crops across the West are rotting in the fields for lack of farmhands, despite offers of $17 an hour with benefits for U.S. workers.

A Guatemalan picking strawberries in Washington state doesn’t mean a native-born worker has lost a job. The increasingly integrated North American markets are not zero sum, and the most likely result of the U.S. immigration standstill is moving factories, businesses and farms overseas where labor is cheaper. Or some services will simply vanish in the U.S. as too costly to sustain.

If reducing illegal immigration is the objective, then Republicans should favor flexible guest-worker programs that make it easier for foreign-workers of all skill levels to enter and work in the U.S. The more such opportunities there are, the less incentive there is to come illegally.

LIfe 2x 3Then again, Mr. Trump’s proposals betray that his real goal is to sharply reduce even legal immigration. For no apparent reason he would end automatic birthright citizenship for children born on American soil. This would require editing the Fourteenth Amendment.

He also calls for “a pause” in all immigration, for an unspecified period. This is the language of the zero-population growth left and the nativist right, and it is masked in rhetoric about falling American wages. “The influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keep unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans—including immigrants themselves—to earn a middle class wage,” as the Trump paper puts it.

But American wages are not flagging due to immigrants. They are flat because of slow growth and bad economic policies. Immigration is essential to faster growth because it offsets an otherwise aging workforce, brings in new human capital and ideas, and raises the GDP of all workers. Even insular Japan has figured out that it will need guest workers in the future to grow fast enough to finance its aging population.

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The good news in all of this is that Mr. Trump’s radicalism may finally smoke out a real immigration debate within the GOP. Many restrictionists have claimed only to oppose immigrants who break the law in coming to the U.S. Now we’ll see how many join Mr. Trump in calling for mass deportation and walling off America to all newcomers.

The last time Republicans tried this, in the 1920s, they alienated immigrant groups like the Irish and Italians for decades until Ronald Reagan won them back. If they want to lose in 2016, they’ll follow Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant siren.

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