In these days, when slander sells, and innuendo and calumny attract the most attention, we should not be surprised that the major media is awash with suggestions that the president uses profanity, or is somehow mentally unbalanced, or is guilty of a plethora of other peccadillos. The flurry of such stories usually follows some sort of major accomplishment of the administration, and this pattern was evident last week, as it has been repeatedly over the last few weeks, particularly following the successful passage, spearheaded by the president, of the tax reform legislation.
This week, the struggle was over immigration policy, which the president initially turned to his advantage as he arranged for the broadcast of an hour-long policy discussion with Congressional leaders where he presided, very much like the Chairman of a business he once was. He could be seen intelligently conducting the discussion, hearing a variety of views, and making clear his desire to couple a pathway to citizenship for many children brought here in violation of immigration laws through no fault of their own, with funds to build a wall on our Southern border, as well as an end to our Visa Lottery and “Chain Migration” policies. All of these would be steps on the road to substantial immigration reform.
Mr. Trump’s ultimate aim, and that of many Congressional Republicans, was to move toward an immigration system closer to that of Canada and many other countries whereby instead of using a lottery, family connections, or status as a resident of particular foreign countries to determine who is admitted, rather individual expertise or merit would be the only determinant of who could be legally welcomed.
To move to such a system, of course, would not be attractive to many Democrats, who see immigration from particular countries, especially to our South or in Africa, and admission of extended family members of those already here (“chain migration”) as a source of future members of their party. The policy of the Democrats on who should be allowed to immigrate, and their concomitant policy of lax border enforcement has prevailed for many decades, and it is no wonder that Mr. Trump’s attempt to reverse it has met with vigorous resistance.
The continued excoriation of Mr. Trump reveals glaring weaknesses in the arguments of his critics. It’s one of the old saws among debaters that if you can, you argue from principle, but if you can’t argue from principle, you argue practicalities, and, if can’t do that, you belittle or ridicule your opponent.
The immigration policies of Mr. Trump’s opponents have little popular appeal, and so it is easy to understand the temptation, since they can’t argue principle or practicalities, for his enemies in the press and Congress to seek to suggest malevolent motives, feeble-mindedness, or malice on the part of the president. It might not always be clear from the president’s Twitter feed, but on immigration he is standing on both principle and practicalities.
On principle, it simply makes sense to suggest that the country is best served by admitting immigrants who can best contribute to the development of the economy or our culture, and, as a matter of practicality, it is now evident that many of urban centers and other places to which immigrants have been directed, simply do not have the resources to care for immigrants who may not speak English, who may not wish to assimilate to our culture, who may be unwilling or unable to support themselves, or who may seek to engage in unlawful activities. This was part of the platform on which Mr. Trump was elected, and it is no surprise that he seems committed to making this policy law. His ire, then, when Senators Durbin and Graham presented him a plan that did not cleanly end chain migration, did not adequately provide for border security, and, quite possibly allowed immigration from countries where residents would not be prepared for life in this country is understandable, whether or not he greeted that offer with profanity.
It is time, however, to move beyond the media’s habitual personal attacks and debate the merits of our future immigration policies. The Democrats do have a point with their desire to welcome those from downtrodden nations, since the base of Lady Liberty reminds us of our willingness to harbor the “poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We have a responsibility to those already here, however. At this point, when we most likely have many more than ten million undocumented aliens in residence, many of whom are dependent on our welfare resources, we must take care with what we do in the future. Mr. Trump’s plans have much to be said for them, and he deserves a fair hearing, not media smears.
Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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