The Trump administration has repeatedly claimed that it is supportive of immigrants coming to the United States – so long as they do so legally. New analysis from the Cato Institute, however, shows that the White House has cracked down on legal immigration too. Not only are behind-the- scenes changes having an impact on those coming to the country legally, but in the long term they will deal an economic blow as the U.S. broadly benefits from immigration.
Drawing on data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Cato’s David Bier shows that legal immigrants are more likely to be denied everything from travel documents, to work permits and green cards. For fiscal year 2018, which began October 2017, this was not a small change – denial rates jumped 37 percent from 2016.
In 2016, applications for services across the board were denied at a rate of 8.3 percent. In 2018, that jumped to 11.3 percent. As Bier points out, that’s the highest rate on record.
The impact of that change, however, is perhaps better understood by which immigrants were denied. For example, those currently in the United States with a temporary status were denied documents needed to travel abroad, while not losing their status in the U.S., at a rate of 18.1 percent – up from just 7.2 percent. That means immigrants with pending green card applications who have jumped through all the necessary legal hoops might be forced to choose between visiting family members abroad and keeping their job or residence in the U.S.
For those seeking I-129 nonimmigrant worker petitions, more commonly known as foreign temporary workers, the denial rate jumped from 16.8 percent in fiscal year 2016 to 22.6 percent in 2018. That means that both H-2A agricultural visas and H-1B visas for highly skilled workers were more likely to be denied. Compared with 2016 it also became more difficult to obtain family visas and even those for the fiancees hoping to join their American partner and to obtain a nationalization or citizenship hearing.
If Trump is serious about cracking down on illegal immigration, that must be paired with a simpler, faster process for legal immigration. Failing to do so punishes those trying to follow the rules while incentivizing illegal immigration – the very thing Trump claims to want to stop.
Instead, the Trump administration has added complex sections to applications making forms much longer with the goal, it seems, of finding errors to legitimize denials. The Trump administration has also issued executive orders, and is considering others, that have made legal immigration much more difficult. Already ” Buy American, Hire American” and another order championing ” extreme vetting” have added layers of complexity the an already difficult process.
It’s worth noting that neither of those initiatives came from Congress, but from the White House. Congress has not changed the laws governing legal immigration.
The result, born out by the numbers, has been fewer immigrants who are able to legally come the the U.S. and those that do make it, the process is harder to navigate. For a country that benefits from immigration for economic growth, that’s bad news. Already fewer people are even applying for legal status or even traveling to the United States.
Research on the impact of immigration shows that immigration spurs innovation, boosts economic productivity, and, overall, helps government budgets while having little impact on wages of American workers in the long term. For the country, immigration is a win-win scenario.
Trump acknowledges as much in his talk of supporting legal immigration (remember the “big beautiful door” he promised in his border wall?), but the numbers show that’s just talk.
Instead of letting the White House run roughshod over immigration, legal and illegal, Congress must make clear that immigration is a vital component of the success and growth of the U.S. economy – with legal immigration as a clear priority. In doing so Republicans, shouldn’t stand by and let their Democratic counterparts take all the credit for championing numbers over rhetoric.
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