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U.S. Immigration Policy Hurts the Economy: Opinion

18 Jun

By David McCann, CFO Magazine

Regardless of daily news headlines, there should still be a place in this world for common sense.

Even some conservative-leaning organizations are critical of the import tariffs the Trump Administration has levied on a number of the United States’ closest allies.

But it’s not my purpose here to write about tariffs. On this day immigration is the hot topic, marked by separate articles from the current president’s least-favored news outlets: CNN, NBC, and The New York Times.

Immigration has, of course, been at or near the top of the Trump Administration’s agenda since the beginning. In short, the administration wants less of it. A lot less.

This is a business publication, and so in this space I’d prefer to leave aside the key issues addressed in today’s articles — like the growing specter of families being ripped apart at border crossings, and the potential for negative political fallout for the administration because of its strong positions on immigration.

Unfortunately, when it comes to immigration, these days business, politics, and social engineering are boiling together in the same stew.

In late May, the Trump Administration finally succeeded in killing the International Entrepreneur Rule, a program created by the Obama Administration shortly before the former president left office. (The new administration had immediately quashed the program, but was forced by court order to implement it in December 2017 after failing to adhere to administrative procedures law.)

The program allowed immigrants to apply for “parole status” to enter the United States and stay for up to five years if they created a company and new jobs, provided they met thresholds for company growth and development.

Rescinding the program lacks any sort of common sense. This article is labeled as “Opinion,” but I’m comfortable making that assertion as fact.

I’m far from the only one with raised eyebrows. As a Bloomberg editorial today notes, “the Trump administration’s immigration policy is based on two core principles: upholding the rule of law and promoting a ‘merit-based’ system that’s good for the economy.”

As the Bloomberg piece also states, even the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the U.S. immigration apparatus and issued the order rescinding the program, doesn’t dispute its lawfulness.

Furthermore, there’s loads of evidence — to put it mildly — that foreign entrepreneurs launching businesses in the United States have been a huge economic boon for the country.

Among several organizations that consistently put forth arguments for decreasing immigration into the United States, the Center for Immigration Studies is particularly outspoken. According to its executive director, Mark Krikorian, “parole” immigration was not designed for the purpose the International Entrepreneur Rule supports.

“It’s been abused,” Krikorian told me yesterday. “It was created for the [president] to let people into the country who have no other legitimate grounds for being here. But it was intended for specific emergency purposes, like the appendix of somebody who lives near the border bursts and they have to be rushed into the United States.”

The Obama program, he continued, “used the parole power as a pretext for letting people into the country outside the law. There’s no statute that allows this.”

Krikorian also charged that the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program — which Congress did authorize and allows immigration for those who make a $500,000 investment in a new enterprise that creates 10 jobs — is “a Mickey Mouse thing where you only have to pay half a million dollars to get green cards for your entire family, and the government doesn’t even get to keep the money.”

EB-5, he claimed, is “just a sham for real estate developers to get Chinese money at a lower interest rate than they’d get from American lenders.”

Further, Krikorian argued that the prevalence of U.S. businesses launched by foreign entrepreneurs is frequently exaggerated.

“A lot of them are simply foreign-born residents of the United States who ended up becoming entrepreneurs,” he said. “[Google co-founder] Sergey Brin is a great example. He came in as a child, with his family, as a Soviet Jewish refugee. But if he’s an example of a reason to have a particular immigration policy, then frankly a rapist who came in is an argument against immigration.”

In America, of course, everyone is allowed their opinions. So, to balance the scales, I contacted an equally ardent spokesperson for the other side of the issue: Charles Foster, a longtime immigration attorney who served as a senior policy adviser to President George W. Bush.

Foster was incensed about the death of the International Entrepreneur Rule, but just as much about the Trump administration’s overall positions on immigration at a time when U.S. companies are facing severe worker shortages.

“Most Americans don’t accept or understand that we have an extremely restrictive legal immigration system,” he said. “When people say, ‘We’re against legal immigration but we want people to come in legally,’ that’s like telling people on welfare to just get into Harvard and get an MBA.”

The Trump Administration, “which regularly brags about being against illegal immigration,” said Foster, “has actually been far more effective with its all-out assault on legal immigration.”

In addition to pulling the plug on the International Entrepreneur Rule, he noted, President Trump has regularly called for reducing legal immigration by 50%. The president supports the RAISE Act, a Republican-sponsored Senate bill seeking to accomplish that. He famously barred nationals from a number of primarily Muslim countries from entering the country. And he’s drastically scaled back the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

Trump has also encouraged extreme vetting of immigrants seeking to qualify for legal entry, alleging that they take jobs from U.S. workers.

Since 1965, Foster pointed out, there have only been four bases to qualify for immigration into the United States: through family, through employment, by investing, and as refugees or for political asylum.

“The Trump Administration has attacked every one of those,” Foster charged. “Family? Those people don’t have job skills. Employment? They’re stealing jobs from U.S. workers, even though unemployment is now at a historically low rate. Investors? People should not be able to buy their way into America. And refugees? God forbid. They should stay in their own countries.”

But among all the positions the president has taken on legal immigration, killing the program for foreign entrepreneurs makes the least sense.

“If you look at who is in U.S. graduate schools in the [science, technology, engineering, and math] fields, it’s mostly foreign nationals,” said Foster. “If they can’t stay here, they’re going to take their technical and entrepreneurial skills to Canada, Australia, or back to their home countries.

“The entrepreneur rule would have given greater flexibility to would-be entrepreneurs who had capital support from investors for starting up companies. Cutting it off has nothing to do with what’s good for America or the American economy.”

Amid all the heated, conflicting positions Americans hold with respect to immigration, that much, at least, should not be a matter for debate.