We need to reform legal immigration, too

The appointment of immigration hardliner Jeff Sessions to be attorney general is a strong signal that Donald Trump is serious about tackling the issue that launched his campaign.

When Mr. Trump famously descended the escalator at Trump Tower and announced his candidacy, his signature issue became illegal immigration.  That issue helped propel him to the White House.

He is now set to deliver a coherent set of policies designed to give us real, rather than illusory, border security.  These include, but are not limited to, the construction of physical barriers to entry, the development a system to prevent visa overstays, the enforcement of E-Verify and implementation of other employer sanctions, and the instigation of deportations.  Most of these items can be done as part of his executive authority and do not need the approval of Congress.

Once border enforcement is implemented, however, President Trump needs to use his considerable persuasive skills to convince Congress to enact a new immigration law for the 21st century.  In the long run, reform of the legal immigration system is as urgent a priority for America as the control of illegal immigration.

The last reform of the immigration system took place in 1965 with the passage of the Hart-Cellar Immigration and Nationality Act.  Among other things, the new law gave preference to family reunification over demonstrable skills.

Thus, the 1965 Act made it harder for skilled immigrants to gain entry into the U.S. compared to relatives of recent immigrants (Mexico as opposed to the U.K., for instance).

As a result, the U.S. now has a large number of immigrants who are less skilled and educated than native-born Americans – an irrational policy in the best of times, but one that is increasingly indefensible at a time of decreasing demand for unskilled labor.

We urgently need to adopt a new immigration system, geared for the 21st century, designed to attract immigrants based on their skill levels and ability to assimilate, as opposed to the old system based on family reunification.  An updated system could build in preferences for immigrants with high incomes, high education, high skills, access to investment capital, and fluency in English.

In developing such a system, the U.S. could look north of the border.

According to F.H. Buckley, law professor at George Mason University, “the Canadian system gives preference to immigrants who can be expected to make native Canadians better off. What that means is that Canada admits a lot more people on the basis of economic merit.”

“Canada prefers younger immigrants, people who are educated, people who want to go to places where there are labor shortages, people who are going to start businesses in Canada and hire Canadians,” Buckley says.

Economic criteria are also a pretty good proxy for the virtues of good character[.] ... Not being priests, immigration bureaucrats may not be able to screen people for the cardinal virtues. But if they select immigrants on the basis of education, industry, and entrepreneurship, they’re likely to get a pretty good sort of fellow. They’ll also be picking immigrants more likely to integrate into Canadian society and to adopt its values — which Canadians think is a good thing.

It is a good thing and should serve as a model for the U.S.

Ending the family reunification preference and enacting a 21st-century immigration law that emphasizes skill and merit would make for an immigration law that puts America first.  What a concept!

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