Since our founding over two centuries ago, it has been estimated that the United States has welcomed over 85 million immigrants to its shores. While who exactly the country deems worthy of the title of immigrant has fluctuated with those in power, it’s safe to say that immigrants have always been welcome in America. We’ve all heard the platitudes.
“We’re a nation of immigrants!”
“A beautiful melting pot!”
“We’re shining city on a hill!”
Every American feels a sense of pride when they under these words, but is this really the case anymore?
According to a recently released report by the Cato Institute, “Overall, the second half of FY 2020 saw 92 percent fewer immigrants from abroad than the first half, which was larger than any annual decline in the history of the United States.” The only comparable drops in immigration happened during the Great Depression and during World War II. Additionally, according to Cato, there has been a precipitous drop in the issuance of work visas as well.
Some of this can certainly be attributed to the effects of COVID-19. Traveling and tourism general has cratered globally. People are traveling far less than they were in the beginning of the year. Nevertheless, it would be naive to assume that is the sole reason for this drop. Over the last four years, the Trump administration has systematically worked to close or at least severely limit almost every avenue of legal immigration into the United States, and there hasn’t been enough discussion about how hard it will be to right the ship again once a new president is elected.
The Editorial Board of The New York Times wrote recently about just how effective the Trump has been at limiting immigration. According to NYT, “Between 2016 and 2019, annual net immigration into the United States fell by almost half, to about 600,000 people per year — a level not seen since the 1980s — according to an analysis by William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution…The 2016–19 drop ‘is clearly a result of Trump’s restrictive immigration measures,’ Mr. Frey told the editorial board, ‘including immigrant bans from selected countries, greater limits on refugees, and generating fear among other potential immigrant groups over this administration’s unwelcoming policies.’”
Tessa Stuart, writing for Rolling Stone, highlighting just how many changes the Trump Administration has made to existing immigration policy, writes “the figure that might be the most sobering is the number of immigration-related regulations the Trump administration has succeeded at muscling through in less than four years — so many, in fact, that there isn’t even agreement on it among experts. Estimates range from more than 400 to over 1,000. The sheer volume is so staggering that Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller, the zealous ethnonationalist architect of many of these policies, once promised that it will be a ‘difficult, complex, and time-consuming’ process for the next president to unwind them.”
The effect of all this is both staggering to consider and confounding in purpose. The Trump Administration has kneecapped America’s image abroad by acting callously when it comes to migrants.
The ethical case here is clear. Wanting to build a better life for you and your family isn’t wrong. It’s exceedingly human, and fleeing deadly violence and death isn’t wrong either. Believe it or not, the United States used to be a leader on this front, and because of this, we could push other countries to accept more refugees as well. In 1980, the United States accepted over 200,000 refugees into the country for resettlement. In 2020, that number is less than ten thousand, a number that is especially galling when you think of how much the U.S. has played a role in leveling countries across the globe: Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, the list goes on.
Additionally, the economic case for more immigration is obvious as well. Immigrants, both undocumented and legal, pay sales tax and income tax. They are less likely to commit crimes, more likely to start businesses, and more likely to fill jobs that Americans don’t want.
If the United States wants to continue to lead and stay competitive, much more immigration is needed, not less. We can’t close our doors. The facts are clear. It makes you wonder if there isn’t an alternative reason for Trump’s unabashed anti-immigration rhetoric because if he truly believed in America First, he would increase immigration, not demolish it.