By Lindsey Mattila (CMC ’17)
Trump’s stances on immigration were a key part of what made him such a popular candidate. His inflammatory comments calling undocumented Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, along with his promise that Mexico would pay for a new southern border wall, captured headlines for months after he made them. Eventually, Trump developed those comments into a ten-point plan focused on improving immigration policy by boosting wages, ensuring jobs are offered to American workers first, and selecting immigrants based on their likelihood of success and ability to be financially self-sufficient. This plan includes actions such as building a wall funded by Mexico along the southern border, ending catch-and-release, ending sanctuary cities and President Obama’s executive orders on immigration, suspending issuance of visas, implementing a bio-metric tracking system of new immigrants, and reforming the legal immigration system to best serve Americans.
Trump rallies support for his policies by fear mongering. He cites statistics meant to portray undocumented immigrants and foreigners in a negative light. He says, for example, that undocumented immigrants have been arrested for homicide 25,000 times and that 380 foreign-born individuals have been convicted in terror cases since the 9/11 attacks. Further, he says America’s current immigration policy costs taxpayers $300 billion a year (though this is misleading; the report states that the cost could range anywhere from $40 billion to $300 billion).
If taking his statistics about the current system as facts, one might think his proposed policies are more fiscally responsible. There are, however, several conflicting predictions on the economic and fiscal impacts of Trump’s immigration plan. It is not clear that Trump’s plan will be cost-saving at all. Certain components of his 10-point plan are expensive. The wall will cost $6 billion, enforcement for the mass detention project will cost $85 billion, and broad expansion of e-verify technology will cost $2.3 billion. These estimates suggest that Trump’s immigration plan is not more affordable than the present policies. Furthermore, these estimates do not include the negative impact deportation will have on local economies. Trump argues that illegal immigration drives down wages and creates a shortage of employment options for Americans but studies show otherwise. Immigrants are not only employees, they are also consumers, and their purchasing power actually creates more jobs in areas they move to. Trump would likely counter this with the objection that immigrants drive down wages. However, there has been little evidence that immigration affects the salaries of native-born workers. It now seems as though his policy will be very costly but it is not clear that it will fulfill his goal of boosting wages for American workers.
His plan to select immigrants on potential is interesting and quite practical. Partisan immigration policies do not agree on much, but they do agree on this proposition. The idea is that immigration screening will allow workers in based on labor demand. For example, the United States has a shortage of STEM employees, and it would be helpful for more immigrants to fill these vacancies, especially since these types of jobs are vital to economic growth. This type of immigration selection is actually very similar to Canada’s approach to immigration. If Trump modified the H-1B Visa to allow more skilled workers into the country, the United States could increase economic growth by $100 billion.
For Trump’s immigration plan to be successful, he will have to prove that, first, his policy is more cost-effective than that of the Obama Administration, and, second, that the economy is better off with fewer undocumented immigrants. Trump’s plan to bring more skilled immigrants into the United States will likely garner bipartisan support since it will meet these two criteria. His plan to use mass deportation as a means of fulfilling his vision of expanding opportunities for Americans, however, is less likely to gain bipartisan support as it will be very costly, and it is not clear whether or not it will be effective.