One of the biggest lies told by many opponents of immigration is that they only stand against “illegal” immigration, while they fully support “legal” immigration. This line has been said repeatedly by defenders of President Donald Trump — I have frequently been scolded by readers who are unhappy with my characterization of him as “anti-immigrant.”
But this framing is fundamentally misleading because many Americans will assume that a given immigrant isn’t in the country legally based on racial and economic stereotypes, as suggested by a recent survey from Washington University.
And the Trump administration, like so many other opponents of immigration, has repeatedly made it clear that it hopes to reduce legal immigration to the United States. For example, the administration confirmed Tuesday that it is considering closing down 21 international offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which, as PBS NewsHour reporter Yamiche Alcindor explained, “could slow the processing of family visa applications.”
Vox reporter Dara Lind also pointed out that the new Trump budget released this week would hike fees on immigration application fees in the name of “deficit reduction,” though it would only raise an estimated $500 million over ten years.
“Half a billion dollars a year doesn’t do much to mitigate a projected $900 billion-and-growing deficit, which soared after the federal government passed a tax cut bill in 2017 (and did not reduce spending to meet it),” wrote Lind. “But to immigrants who already have to pay several hundred dollars for an application — and who often have to file multiple applications, to renew their immigration status or become green card holders or citizens — it’s an added burden.”
Of course, Trump already let the mask slip on his antipathy to legal immigration when he backed the “RAISE Act,” which would have cut legal immigration by about 50 percent. And his demagoguery around the Central American immigrant caravans and asylum-seekers continually obscure the fact that asking for asylum is an entirely legal form of immigration — even though Trump and his defenders now like to call it a “loophole.”
But in his 2019 State of the Union, Trump spooked some of his most fervent anti-immigrant supporters when he said, “I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.”
As I said then, though, this was a clear lie. Nothing he’s done as president indicates an effort to increase legal immigration — which would, in theory, be quite easy to do. Trump’s record makes it obvious that he will work to limit even legal immigration — and his administration’s actions continue to bolster that conclusion. But the fact that he cloaks this fact by stoking false fears about immigrant crime and delivering rage-filled rants about “illegal” immigration shows that this isn’t some genuine and reasoned policy view about the costs and benefits of new entrants to the labor force — it’s a reactionary stance built atop anti-immigrant bigotry.