The American people face a broad range of challenges these days, some of which can genuinely be considered crises. An opioid-fueled overdose epidemic, for instance, that killed some 70,000 people in each of the last two years. Soaring healthcare costs and an insufficient safety net to keep those who fall ill from also falling into bankruptcy. Massive federal debt from ill-conceived tax cuts. Ongoing wars.
Not included on that list are illegal immigration and border security. Do we have problems on those fronts? Definitely. Are they crises? Not even close. Yet that is how the president sought to portray them Tuesday during his State of the Union speech.
The president’s dark view of asylum-seekers and migrants who are in the country illegally isn’t new, of course. He built his political house on a foundation of bigotry and fear. And on Tuesday he added a few more bricks to it. “The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security and financial well‑being of all Americans,” the president said. “We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens.” Oh, please. “Lawless state?” Nearly 17,000 agents are assigned to the border, augmented by the president’s deployment of more than 4,000 soldiers. Crime is generally down in border cities — as it is for much of the nation — and estimates of how many people are entering the country illegally are down, also. The crisis is in Trump’s head.
Yes, the president paid lip service to legal immigration in his speech. “Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways,” Trump said. “I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.” Yet despite this pablum, his policies push in the opposite direction. He has slashed the number of refugees allowed in to a record low of 30,000 (down from a cap of 110,000 in 2017), and broadly throttled back the flow of legal immigrants. People from predominately Muslim countries have borne most of the impact, a disturbing throwback to the nation’s history of denying entry to people based not on their individual attributes, but out of broad prejudice.
Few would argue that the immigration system is fine the way it is. Immigration law is confusing and byzantine. We need a sober debate over what our overarching goals should be, and a streamlined bureaucratic process for getting us there. Should we issue fewer family reunification visas and increase merit-based admissions? What are the optimal levels of immigration to feed the economy and offset our declining birth rate? What steps can be taken, including border security measures, to discourage illegal immigration and encourage people to follow a rational set of rules? Let’s debate these issues and others to forge compromises framed with the best interests of the nation’s future in mind, and without the hyperbole that portrays immigration as some sort of existential threat to American culture.