The only change in the direction of immigration restriction that would go immediately into effect is the end of the diversity visa lottery. Yet even this move will not reduce America’s total immigration intake: The 50,000 to 100,000 slots at issue would be reallocated to speed the entry of the 4 million relatives in the sponsorship queue.
In other words, if Trump’s proposal were accepted, his first term would feature the biggest immigration amnesty since 1986; no near-term reduction in numbers; and the tilt of the whole system even further in favor of family reunification. He would trade all that for money for his boondoggle border wall. He did not even ask for more workplace enforcement. (Business lobbies do not like effective enforcement, and therefore neither do most congressional Republicans.)
No president has moved this far, this fast, toward his opponents’ position on a domestic-policy matter since Bill Clinton seized welfare reform from Republicans in the middle 1990s. Yet unlike Clinton—who made welfare reform the centerpiece of his devastatingly effective 1996 State of the Union address—Trump’s rhetorical effort at persuasion almost certainly failed.
We’ll know better when the poll results begin to appear later today, but I’ll step out onto the limb here and predict that Trump will not shift immigration waverers into his column. I’ll predict that—despite all his concessions—he will not even succeed in making himself look moderate and the Democrats extreme on this issue.
Trump cannot reason, and his writers will not and do not. In arguing against chain migration, Trump made the following point.
The fourth and final pillar protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration. Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives. Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children.
Many who heard these words must have wondered: What is the president talking about? How does it protect the nuclear family to curtail the sponsorship of cousins?
Yet the president has a case! As the system has clogged under weight of numbers, the waiting time for spouses of U.S. citizens has stretched. A successful application regularly takes more than a year. The spouses of resident aliens cannot get a green card at all. There really is a tradeoff here, with costs that many Americans will care about—but Trump did not explain that tradeoff, and so likely failed to persuade even those who stood most directly to benefit from his plan.
Trump’s proposal maneuvers Democrats into an extremist position. Democrats shut down the U.S. government earlier this month over two issues: children’s health insurance and protection of the unlawful immigrants they call “Dreamers.” Once the government shut, the Republicans instantly conceded on the first—leaving Democrats in the awkward position of denying services to citizens on behalf of the illegal entrants.