In a press-conference confrontation earlier this week that has now gone viral, CNN reporter Jim Acosta, the child of Cuban immigrants, accused Stephen Miller, advisor to President Donald Trump, of defending an immigration-reform bill that violated the sacred words printed at the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor …” Miller responded feebly that the poem had been added after the statue had been installed. He would have spoken to a deeper truth, however, if he had said that immigration policy is not designed to shelter the world’s “huddled masses” but to make America great. (I’ll leave off the “again.”)
The legislation that Miller was defending is, itself, indefensible. The bill, introduced by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), and loudly trumpeted by our trumpet-in-chief, would reduce immigration by half over the next decade despite overwhelming evidence that immigration boosts economic growth. It would cut the number of refugees the United States takes annually from 85,000 to 50,000, a pitiful figure at a time when Europe is besieged by refugees from Middle Eastern wars. The bill is a sop to the xenophobes who constitute a significant part of Trump’s base; it should come as no surprise that white nationalists like Richard Spencer have affixed their seal of approval.
Nevertheless, the reaction to the bill reveals a kind of existential confusion among pro-immigration liberals. Immigration policy is not governed by compassion for the world’s downtrodden. That’s refugee policy. Refugees have a moral claim on the states from which they seek asylum. Immigrants do not. States take them in as a matter of national self-interest, not compassion or international law. Mark Silverman, an immigration advocate, took up Jim Acosta’s theme by observing sardonically, “Maybe they should change the inscription on the Statue of Liberty to, ‘give me your computer engineers and your high-paid professionals yearning to increase their rate of return.’” I hope they don’t, if only because the line doesn’t scan as well as the Emma Lazarus poem. But it wouldn’t be as grotesque as he seems to think.
Current law allows American citizens to bring in spouses, unmarried minor children, and parents; a more limited number of visas are available for adult children and siblings, as well as for the spouses and unmarried children of legal permanent residents. Almost two-thirds of immigrants are admitted through…