(Opinion) The WH Argument for Legal Immigration Restrictions is Incoherent and Unamerican

On Wednesday, the Trump administration revealed a new immigration policy that seems to go against everything that America stands for. The RAISE act is ironically named, as Trump’s administration looks to pass the effort of educating and improving the lives of immigrants to their nations of origin, instead demanding they already be of value to the United States before they even arrive. With extra requirements, such as fluency in English and a preference for immigrants that already possess degrees, it demands that other nations raise and educate their population and then, and only then, will the administration allow them in the country. The fact that the proposed bill almost halves green cards issued per year means even fewer of those than before will even be allowed entry.

The administration claims that their approach to illegal immigration, including plans for Trump’s wall, are unrelated to this new focus on curtailing legal immigration. However, reducing the amount of legal immigrants accepted each year, while placing steeper requirements on green card seekers, paints a stark picture when held alongside the rhetoric and outlandish promises the Trump administration has made since his campaign began. Repeatedly the President has shown hostility to immigrants, claiming them as the source of a large number of problems plaguing American families. It is clear to me that the RAISE act is another effort to attack those seen as ‘inferior’ and ‘undeserving’ of the America that so many want to believe in.

During a press briefing about the bill, senior White House advisor Stephen Miller seemed to take personal offense to a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta. Acosta’s question involved the poem added to the Statue of Liberty, asking if this clear attempt at stifling immigration was at odds with the message conveyed by the iconic landmark. What followed was a convoluted, incomprehensible defense that did nothing to actually answer the original question asked.

Somehow Stephen Miller thought attacking the ideas embodied by the renowned statue was a good idea. He managed a half-hearted defense by rhetorically asking if years of previous lower caps on immigration in previous years were a violation of the same principles. This defense misses the point. The reasons for this reduction are themselves a violation of “The New Colossus.” “Give me your well-fed, self-sustaining, educated peoples, but maybe just a few of them” is not the ideal embodied by that poem and the icon on which it resides. These new requirements are the very goals immigrants come to America to achieve, and it is our duty as a nation capable of providing that opportunity to do so. Not just as Americans, but as human beings.

Miller’s next defense was that those words weren’t even on the original statue, telling Acosta “The poem you are referring to, was not part of the original Statue of Liberty. It was added later.” Shockingly, this holds no water. The amendments weren’t in the original Constitution, either. Hell, this entire bill is words they are trying to add later. The time they were transcribed means nothing. Those words are present on the statue’s podium because that is the ideal we strive to achieve–a beacon that attracts and uplifts. This was a mealy mouthed attempt at a “Well, technically” defense that falls apart, much like everything else Miller spouted during the briefing. The idea that “The New Colossus” is not representative of traditional America is either a shocking display of ignorance, or a willful denial of this nation’s history. Miller’s flippant dismissal of the poem as a late addition was a woeful misrepresentation of the facts. The poem, written by American poet Emma Lazarus, was penned in an effort to raise money for construction of the podium the great statue would rest upon. It was the first entry read at an auction aimed at attaining that goal. The poem was added to the Statue of Liberty in 1903, a mere seven years after the statue’s dedication. It is still present, 114 years later. I think it is safe to say it is part and parcel of the image and idea of Liberty lighting the way to New York Harbor, no matter the time frame.

As the argument continued, it didn’t take long for the barbs to come out. Acosta was incredulous in tone, but Miller immediately went on the defensive. His responses were not an attempt to explain their position, but rather to belittle the reporter. There was not even a veneer of hesitation or remorse. He scarcely allowed time for a question to be asked. This was not a press briefing. He approached it like a battle, never letting his ‘opponent’ get in a word, like a child that talks over their sibling instead of waiting their turn to speak. When Acosta exaggerated his questioning of the English language requirements, asking if this meant America would only accept immigrants from Great Britain and Australia, Miller used this to launch into a tirade against Acosta, feigning indignation. He came just short of accusing Acosta of being the real racist.

Miller stated the foreign born population in our country has quadrupled since 1970. Turns out he was actually telling the truth here, though he did fail to mention that this boom still only accounted for 13% of the population in 2013. But to his point; so what? Immigrants have been a part of the fabric of the United States since the 17th century. The vast majority of Americans are obviously descended from people who originate somewhere else. Miller speaks as if those immigrant populations have no value to the U.S.The overarching idea seems to be that the flow of those born in countries other than the United States needs to be mitigated. What about children of naturalized citizens? President Trump’s father was a first generation immigrant. Does that mean the president, a second generation immigrant, is still too ‘foreign’? Is there a “must be in the United States for this many generations to be American” metric they ask everyone to measure up to? Two of the president’s marriages were to naturalized citizens: his first wife, Ivana, and his third and current wife, Melania. Would the RAISE act have allowed them into the country? None of these questions were asked, but I’m willing to bet that if they had been, the goal posts would be crossing a border illegally somewhere.

Miller then made an effort to put words into Jim Acosta’s mouth so he could attack them by claiming that Acosta advocated for completely unregulated immigration. It is the opposite extreme of the spectrum from Miller’s own position, allowing him to ridicule without actually addressing any questions or points. Substantive argument had no place in this briefing. Miller proclaimed that those hurt the most by unchecked immigration  are “immigrant workers, and minority workers, and African-American workers, and Hispanic workers.” He made a point to single out black families as suffering from an influx of immigrants into the country. Apparently the overwhelming concern for minority families and communities is that there are too many minorities. But how will the RAISE act help “unemployed African-Americans in this country, and unemployed workers of all backgrounds” get jobs? This is not explained at any length. Does the administration mean the proposed stricter immigration requirements will leave the less desirable jobs available for struggling American minorities? None of this press briefing was on point, there was no coherent message. At best, Miller spent his time fighting with journalists and throwing whatever slimey justification he could at the wall and hoping something stuck.

Finally, Miller pivoted to assure us that these new regulations would be good for immigrants. Of course, the insistence that this requirement ensures immigrants are able to support themselves financially misses a brutal fact: wages have lagged so far behind cost of living increases that– oh, wait, it makes sure employers can pay a living wage? Great, Mr. Miller: what’s that wage look like? Are you saying the administration supports an increase of the minimum wage? Because that is what is needed for a living wage. That is what ‘supporting themselves financially’ looks like. The statement was not explained further in the slightest during the exchange. Curiously enough, these assurances are at odds with Miller attacking a reporter just minutes earlier for being “cosmopolitan,” a word which simply means free from nationalist prejudice. This administration cannot credibly claim to be acting out of compassion for minority workers while also making an insult of being fair-minded and open to all cultures

America is supposed to be better than this. An immigrant is not a pro/con list. They are not assets to be evaluated and exploited. America is supposed to be compassionate and passionate in its acceptance of all. ‘We’re protecting Americans by keeping these less valuable people out’ is not in line with that. Nor is ‘You must be a highly educated, immediately productive member of society before we will put any effort into you.’ We are the nation that produced some of the greatest thinkers, scholars, artists, athletes, generals, inventors, and pioneers of the last century. And we did so on waves of immigration. Now the administration wants to build us a dam.