Theoretically, the Trump administration’s immigration policy is based on two core principles: upholding the rule of law and promoting a “merit-based” system that’s good for the economy.
So why has the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) just proposed to scrap the International Entrepreneur Rule, a late-Obama program intended to lure the world's most promising entrepreneurs to create companies and jobs in America rather than elsewhere?
The department doesn’t dispute the lawfulness of the program, whose economic benefit is obvious. (Full disclosure: One of us worked for a Republican president and supports this initiative, and the other worked in the Obama White House to implement it.) It would create as many as 300,000 jobs for U.S. workers, it’s been requested by economic development promoters throughout the heartland, and it’s so “merit-based” that only an estimated 0.00004 percent of the world’s population would likely be eligible.
Oddly, DHS begins its proposal by saying that it “stands by its previous findings that foreign entrepreneurs make substantial and positive contributions to innovation, economic growth, and job creation in the United States” and that “[f]acilitating investment and innovation in the United States is of great importance to our country’s ability to lead and remain competitive in the global marketplace.”
First, DHS argues that since the program isn’t a true visa (which only Congress could create), it doesn’t create sufficient certainty for the entrepreneurs and investors who would rely on it. But presumably those entrepreneurs and investors would be the best judges of that, and they have clamored for this program to be enacted.
Next, DHS argues that while Congress should create a bona fide “startup visa,” in the meantime entrepreneurs should use other longstanding visa pathways to stay in the United States. Of course, the inaction of Congress and the inadequacy of existing visas are precisely why the International Entrepreneur Rule was developed. And if the Trump administration were sincere in its desire to guide entrepreneurs through existing visa options, perhaps it wouldn’t have taken down just such a website early last year.
The final argument is the one that might show us the Trump administration’s real objective: Even though applicant fees would fund the International Entrepreneur Rule, DHS argues it “will not be able to offset the opportunity costs associated with diverting limited agency resources that are needed to meet the current Administration’s priorities.” These priorities include a number of euphemisms for clamping down on legal immigration (“reviewing other existing immigration programs, developing new proposed regulatory changes, and carrying out initiatives to better deter and detect fraud and abuse”).
Let’s review: The administration didn’t claim that the International Entrepreneur Rule is unlawful, or that it will destroy American jobs. The only motivations that ring true are an unwillingness to expend any effort to increase immigration, however modestly, and a desire to stay focused on the administration’s major goal of reducing immigration.
In pursuit of this latter goal, the Trump administration is not waiting for an act of Congress. (A White House-backed proposal to reduce legal immigration garnered only 39 votes in the Senate earlier this year.) Killing the International Entrepreneur Rule is one relatively small item on an aggressive agenda to deter legal immigrants across the board. Federal agencies have already moved to bar foreign students for potentially innocent infractions, ramp up denials of skilled worker visas, and all but eliminate refugee admissions.
Next up? Preventing gainful employment for up to 100,000 spouses of H-1B workers (predominantly educated Indian women), curtailing post-graduate training for foreign students with science and engineering degrees, and curbing Chinese student visas. Plus a sweeping new policy to deny green cards to immigrants who used nearly any government benefit over the past several years -- or are deemed likely to do so in the future. Departing from a century of precedent, this one regulation could impede millions of immigrants from providing for their U.S. citizen children, block U.S. citizens from sponsoring their parents for green cards and even result in the deportation of lawful permanent residents who have committed no crimes.
For generations, presidents of both parties have welcomed legal immigrants to America’s shores, understanding that our nation’s vitality, growth and heritage depend on newcomers with drive, skills and a willingness to sacrifice for their family’s future. The administration’s efforts to unravel those welcoming policies have only just begun.