If you visit Donald Trump’s campaign website in search of the presidential candidate’s positions on the issues, you will find just one issue to choose from: immigration reform. Indeed, Trump has made his immigration proposal the centerpiece of his campaign. Unfortunately, his goal seems to be to provoke, not persuade, and to incite, not inform.
In addition to ending birthright citizenship, Trump’s immigration plan consists of rounding up and deporting unauthorized immigrants, constructing a reinforced wall along the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border, and imposing onerous regulations on employers and workers. The plan also calls for increasing costs and red tape associated with work visas, while eliminating some visas altogether.
Trump’s proposal is unworkable, hugely expensive, and harmful to American employers and workers. Given that much of Trump’s wealth was accumulated in sectors that rely heavily upon foreign-born workers, one would expect him to have a greater appreciation for immigration’s role in our economy.
And considering Trump’s status as a business titan, it’s remarkable how few business leaders have spoken up in support of his immigration plan. But the lack of business support should not be surprising, based on my conversations with some of Minnesota’s top business leaders.
After all, immigrants are a vital part of the American economy and our national identity, and their role in American business cannot be overstated. Immigrants create more than one-quarter of all new businesses, and 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children, including Minnesota companies like Hormel Foods and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.
Trump’s plan would:
• Be bad for businesses and workers: The candidate would require employers to “hire American workers first” before foreign-born workers with visas and would impose wage mandates on employers who hire workers with H-1B visas. In doing so, he propagates the myth that foreign-born workers are taking jobs from American workers.
Studies have shown that temporary foreign workers, both skilled and less-skilled, actually boost employment for American workers. An analysis by the American Enterprise Institute and Partnership for a New American Economy found that “adding 100 H-1B workers results in an additional 183 jobs among U.S. natives.” Furthermore, their analysis “yields no evidence that foreign-born workers, taken in the aggregate, hurt U.S. employment.” In other words, this is a complementary workforce, not a competing workforce.
• Exacerbate the skills gap: A globally competitive economy requires globally competitive talent. Highly skilled foreign-born workers strengthen our economy by helping to fill the “skills gap,” especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). More than half of those graduating from American universities with doctoral degrees in many STEM fields are foreign-born students. We should be focused on how to keep them in the U.S., not how to get rid of them.
• Be costly for taxpayers: It is ironic that Trump has gained a foothold on the right with his immigration plan, because what he is proposing is truly the antithesis of limited government.
Earlier this year, the conservative-leaning American Action Forum (AAF) estimated the 20-year cost of comprehensive deportation and continuing enforcement at $420 billion to $620 billion. As noted by AAF: “In order to remove all undocumented immigrants, each immigrant would have to be apprehended, detained, legally processed, and transported to his or her home country.” This would remove 11 million workers from the labor force, a 6.4 percent reduction, and it would reduce real GDP by 5.7 percent.
After this mass deportation, a President Trump would allow for some families to return, telling CNN: “We’re going to try and bring them back rapidly, the good ones.” Seriously.
When I served as Minnesota’s commissioner of public safety, I led the fight to put visa expiration dates on driver’s licenses, so I understand the very real challenges posed by illegal immigration. However, a plan that would round up and deport millions of unauthorized immigrants to their native countries — as opposed to figuring out how to have them establish legal residency here — is absurd.
Trump’s proposed border wall (which, with his trademark bravado, he said would be named “the Great Wall of Trump”) would also come with steep costs — tens of billions of dollars for the 2,000-mile wall, according to experts. But “don’t worry,” says Trump. “Mexico will pay for it.” That seems about as likely as Trump visiting the swine barn at the Minnesota State Fair.
Trump’s stridency and anti-immigration rhetoric have generated controversy and have made him the center of attention — presumably, his goal. But provocative rhetoric is no substitute for serious policy. On substance, Trump’s proposal ignores the economic and cultural benefits of robust immigration, inhibits our ability to compete for global talent, and discourages companies from locating and growing in the U.S. In the ultimate irony, Trump’s plan to protect American workers may very well end up costing them their jobs.
Charlie Weaver is executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership.