Lost in the flamboyant rhetoric on immigration, Donald Trump has offered a handful of ideas that even some of his harshest critics say are worth further discussion.
The New York business tycoon again shook up the presidential campaign this week when he dropped a policy proposal that would deny citizenship to U.S.-born children of parents here illegally and would require Mexico to pay for a state-of-the-art border wall.
“Unworkable,” “silly” and “bizarre.” Those are some adjectives that have been used to describe his six-page proposal.
But among the details are a handful of proposals, while still controversial, that have stopped opponents from completely writing off the reality TV star.
It pains me to say, but that’s like the one thing that is a legitimate proposal in there.
Daniel Costa of the Economic Policy Institute, on Trump’s suggestion to increase the minimum wage for foreign workers
Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, described much of Trump’s proposal as “horrible stuff.” But he said Trump’s suggestion to increase the minimum wage for foreign workers is something that could and should be done.
“It pains me to say, but that’s like the one thing that is a legitimate proposal in there that is workable and people on both sides have hope for,” Costa said.
Trump’s idea is designed to prompt companies to hire more American workers by making highly skilled foreign nationals with special H-1B visas more expensive. Trump also wants a requirement that companies hire Americans first. Similar ideas have been proposed by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also has supported such measures.
Not all agree. Todd Schulte, president of the tech advocacy group FWD.us, said that the government should instead be increasing the number of H-1B visas so that tech companies can get workers they need.
“The idea we should radically restrict pathways for highly skilled immigrants to come and stay here is – again – just wrong,” he said in a statement.
But Ron Hira, a Howard University public policy professor, cited recent layoffs of information technology workers at Disney and Southern California Edison as examples of how companies are using the temporary visas to place immigrants in technology jobs in the United States.
“If an employer can pay lower wages, wouldn’t they? The answer is ‘yes,’” Hira said. “Businesses are not philanthropic. They will not pay more than they have to. And paying lower wages to H-1Bs is extraordinarily easy.”
But Trump’s H-1B proposal is just one experts say is worth a closer look. Others include:
– Adopting a national worker-verification program that would blunt the lure of working in America.
– Implementing an entry-exit system to address those who overstayed their visas.
– Combating welfare abuse by requiring those entering the country to prove they can pay for housing and health care.
– Boosting the number of immigration agents. There are fewer immigration agents enforcing immigration laws than police officers in certain big cities.
It’s not to say these ideas don’t come with a certain level of controversy. Almost anything Trump does or says these days is likely to attract criticism.
Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, likes the welfare protections and entry-exit system ideas. But he described the idea of expanding the worker verification program, known as E-Verify, as problematic. He called the program inaccurate and intrusive. And he questioned whether it was worth the cost of the proposed tripling of the number of immigration agents, citing studies that found enforcement beyond the border was not a successful deterrent for illegal immigration.
“It’s not insane,” Nowrasteh said. “That’s a reasonable thing on the table. It’s not going to be laughed out of the room. Not like a moratorium on all green cards. . . . Since the Great Depression and World War II, there has never been such an extreme law that blocks all immigrants.”
Yet even some of Trump’s more aggressive proposals, such as calling for an end to birthright citizenship, has raised questions about whether the government should do more to stop people who are coming to the United States for the sole purpose of acquiring citizenship for their children.
It’s not insane. That’s a reasonable thing on the table. It’s not going to be laughed out of the room.
Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute, on Trump’s idea of expanding the E-Verify worker verification program
Several of Trump’s Republican rivals, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, have echoed his call to end birthright citizenship.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said in a radio interview Wednesday that he believes birthright citizenship is protected by the 14th Amendment, but he called for stepped-up enforcement to see that the provision is not misused.
“If there’s fraud or if there’s abuse, if pregnant women are coming in to have babies, simply because they can do it, then there ought to be greater enforcement,” Bush told “Bill Bennett’s Morning in America” show. “Greater enforcement so you don’t have these, you know, anchor babies as they are described coming.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who once championed an immigration overhaul, said that he wouldn’t back repealing the 14th Amendment protections. But he did say he was “open to doing things that prevent people who deliberately come to the U.S. for purposes of taking advantage of the 14th Amendment.”
The use of the term “anchor baby” was immediately seized upon by Democrats, who called it derogatory.
“During a summer when Trump’s dangerous anti-immigrant rhetoric divided the nation, it has united the GOP with a simple, brutal and shameless message to immigrants, especially to Latinos: You are not welcome here,” said the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.
Neil Ruiz, a senior policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, said Trump has tapped into a protectionist sentiment on immigration.
He understood Trump’s point of raising wages so that American workers can benefit from the jobs given to foreign workers. But Ruiz noted that some tech companies have struggled to find workers with the right skill sets. Google and Facebook have complained of the difficult of finding workers because of visa limits.
Ruiz pointed to a Brookings study he co-authored that showed how H-1B visa holders are making more money than their local counterparts.
“I think we can all agree with Trump that the U.S. immigration system is broken and we need to fix it,” he said. “We may differ from him on how to go about fixing it.”
Lesley Clark of the Washington Bureau and McClatchy special correspondent Reem Wasay contributed to this report.