Although President-Elect Trump focused much of his discussion of immigration on the arrest and deportation of undocumented immigrants, he has also spoken about reducing the number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States. The call for a reduction in the number of legal immigrants is contained in the Republican Platform which says that “it is indefensible to continue offering lawful permanent residence to more than one million foreign nationals every year.”
In Trump’s immigration policy speech two months ago, he said that he wanted to “to keep immigration levels, measured by population share, within historic norms.” On its face, this is a vague statement. What are the “historic norms” of immigration?
For most of American history, there were no restrictions on the number of immigrants allowed to come here. Numerical restrictions on immigration are a 20th Century invention never envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Is Trump proposing to return to the “historic norm” of our first 130 years of national existence? I don’t think so.
“Return to historic norms” of immigration is a frequently used phrase among immigration restrictionists calling for the imposition of a large scale reduction in the number of legal immigrants coming into the United States. Most who use this phrase call for a return to the laws put in place during the Ku Klux Klan’s ascendancy in 1924 that restricted immigration to less than 200,000 people per year. Although this regime was only in place from 1924 until 1965, less than a fifth of the time the United States existed, for political reasons they refer to what was, in fact, a radically restrictionist period as the “norm.”
Any reduction in the number of people allowed to legally immigrate will lengthen the already long waits for families to be reunited. For example, a permanent resident seeking to bring his wife to the United States has to wait almost two years now because of the existing limits on the number of people allowed to immigrate. If the number of visas is cut in half, that wait will immediately grow to four years.
It is unclear what the incoming president wants to do to cut the number of people coming in legally. He has not said much more on this beyond calling for a reduction in the number of immigrants arriving here.
Unlike some other immigration changes Trump wants to make, this cannot be done unilaterally by him. The number of people allowed to enter each year is set by law, which means that it can only be changed by passing a new law. With both houses of Congress under the control of his party, Trump will have an inviting field for cutting legal immigration.