🔒 Bloomberg editorial: Trump’s immigration overhaul is a crisis waiting to happen

In a gripping analysis, The Bloomberg editorial board paints a chilling picture of America’s immigration future under Donald Trump’s envisioned reforms. With migrant encounters soaring and 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the US, Trump’s proposed mass deportation strategy echoes Eisenhower’s failed 1954 program. Despite exorbitant costs and adverse impacts on the economy and native workers, Trump’s plan persists, threatening the fabric of legal immigration and national prosperity. As Biden grapples with this critical issue, the spectre of Trump’s policies looms large, signalling potential catastrophe ahead.

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By The Editors

If you think America’s immigration system is broken now, wait until Donald Trump fixes it. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Immigration may be the decisive issue of the 2024 election. Voters consistently cite it as the country’s most pressing problem. Migrant encounters at the border reached an all-time high in December, while cities across the US have scrambled to process and house a surge of undocumented arrivals. Perhaps 11 million unauthorized immigrants were in the country in 2022, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Many more have entered since.

Trump says he’ll simply deport them all. In contrast to some of the more effective policies he pursued in this first term, he now cites a military-style program started by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954, which the government says resulted in the return of about 1.1 million unauthorized migrants to Mexico. (Some scholars put the number far lower.) That precedent is in fact telling, though not in the way Trump thinks: It was cruel, chaotic and achieved nothing of lasting value. Unlawful border-crossing soon resumed, and it hasn’t stopped since. 

Trump’s reprise won’t fare any better. The idea, his advisers say, is to use the National Guard and local law enforcement to help conduct nationwide raids, detain migrants in “vast holding facilities” and eventually deport them en masse, in what one aide dubs “the most spectacular migration crackdown.” Recall that Trump made similar promises in his first term but was undone by the legal and logistical challenges involved. The problem has not grown simpler in the meantime.

Even if they were competently executed, such policies would be very costly. One study found that arresting and deporting all 11 million undocumented migrants would cost hundreds of billions of dollars, take about 20 years and reduce real gross domestic product by roughly $2 trillion. Studies of previous deportation efforts suggest that they would also do significant harm to native-born workers: One analysis found that for every 1 million deportations, about 88,000 Americans would lose their jobs. As with the disastrous family-separation policy of Trump’s first term, this plan is likely to be gratuitously harmful to children, about 4.4 million of whom are US citizens living with an undocumented parent.

On legal immigration, the story is much the same. A Heritage Foundation plan — widely considered a blueprint for a second Trump term — includes an array of dubious gimmicks intended to impede new entrants and make life harder for those already here. It would effectively gut visa programs for temporary workers, for instance, by directing the Department of Homeland Security to not update its list of eligible countries. It would tweak rules for H-1B visas in a way that would make it all but impossible for recent foreign-born graduates to qualify. It would prevent agencies from devoting staff time to paperwork for programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Across myriad programs, it would raise fees, add red tape, create intentional backlogs and otherwise gum up the works of essential services.

To go down this road is to privilege an ideological fixation over the national good. America’s ability to attract legal immigrants is one of its greatest strengths. By one measure, immigrants are responsible for more than a third of aggregate US innovation in recent decades. They’re much more productive than migrants to other countries. They produce patents and win Nobel Prizes at rates out of all proportion to their numbers. Yet a president bent on destroying this salutary system — with enough enablers to see the plan through — would have nearly limitless tools to do so.

To be clear: Immigration is perhaps President Joe Biden’s signature failure. This week, he took modest steps to address the issue, belatedly acknowledging voters’ concerns. Had he acted more promptly, he might’ve forestalled a crisis and reduced the likelihood of losing the election. As things stand, that latter possibility looks all too likely — which means that Trump’s new plans, in all their ineptitude, may soon become reality.

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© 2024 Bloomberg L.P.