By: Tomas Penfold Perez
The most troubling interpretation of President Donald J. Trump’s executive order signed on Jan. 25 is not the 14 billion USD proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but instead Washington’s misunderstanding of the importance of immigration to national security and the economy. While in this age of protectionism many cry for a more secure southern border, there are in fact more bonafide and cheaper policy alternatives that would benefit the United States more so than a 2,000 mile long wall.
While addressing his 4,000 supporters at a campaign event in Phoenix, Arizona on July 11, 2015, Trump stated that “they [Mexicans] are taking our jobs. They are taking our manufacturing jobs. They’re taking our money.” Although it is difficult to denounce American voters for supporting Donald Trump, it is imperative to note that they have been lied to.
The narrative among Donald Trump supporters is encompassed around the idea that immigrants have a negative impact on the economy. They profess that the arrival of illegal immigrants lowers their wages, takes jobs away from American citizens all while not paying any taxes. This, a popular misunderstanding that should have been addressed by the media long ago, should be scrutinized as a myth rather than a fact.
It has been proven that there is hardly any support for the view that the inflow of immigrants has reduced jobs or American wages. Francine D. Blau, an economics professor at Cornell University who led the group that produced a 550-page immigration report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, noted that they “found little to no negative effects on overall wages and employment of native-born workers in the longer term.”
Furthermore, immigration has an unparalleled long-term benefit for the native-borns that is hardly discussed. By boosting demand for local consumer goods and earnings, immigrants push native-borns into higher-paying occupations (since 2007, the annual wage gain due to immigration for the U.S. native workers was roughly $30 billion per year) while raising the pace of productivity growth. Aside from being among the most innovative and entrepreneurial classes in the United States, “the prospects for long-run economic growth in the United States would be considerably dimmed without the contributions of high-skilled immigrants.” Immigration does not deprive the country of economic growth, it expands it.
It is apparent that these facts do not resonate with President Trump. Having garnered unprecedented support from white, working-class Americans, he has perpetuated a message of hatred regarding Mexican immigration. His proposal to invest billions in constructing a wall along the southern border—especially now during the slowest pattern of a migration from Mexico in recent history—is not only contradictory but also concerning.
Studies suggest that more Mexican immigrants have returned home since the end of the Great Recession due to the slow recovery of the U.S. economy. Additionally, the increased enforcement is rather counterintuitive. Increased border enforcement from past administrations had already brought down the rate of undocumented immigrants due to the heavier risks and costs of travel.
America’s immigration problem does not lie in its southern border, but in the country’s immigration court system within the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).
The EOIR is responsible for adjudicating immigration cases in the United States. Its chief function is to conduct proceedings to determine the removability of individuals in the United States. Would it not be in the country’s best interest to invest in an immigration department that is currently underfunded, unprepared and overwhelmed? Rather than investing 14 billion USD in a wall, would it not be more economic and intelligent to reform the immigration court system? Congress should allocate $150 million to fund additional immigration courts, judges and personnel.
The immigration court system is currently managing the largest caseload it has ever seen; over 492,000 immigration removal cases are now pending, more than double the figure between 2010 and 2016. Furthermore, immigration court backlogs have increased a whooping 163% from 2003-2015.
Although Donald Trump is not wrong to claim that the U.S. immigration system is in utter chaos, he and the rest of his administration fail to see the underlying problem. Eradicating migration from Mexico will not affect the thousands of migrants that are entitled to have a credible asylum claim heard under international law. U.S. and international law mandates that the U.S. must grant all migrants seeking entry the ability to claim asylum if they have a credible fear of harm in their country. With increasing gang violence in neighboring Latin America and a refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East, the number of people seeking asylum in the United States will only multiply.
If national security and immigration reform are the core pillars of the Trump presidency, his administration must adhere to research and policy proposals which will benefit Americans across the country.
Tomas Penfold Perez is a communications consultant for the EastWest Institute. He is a Fordham University graduate who majored in International Political Economy and Communications & Media Industries.