Anti-Immigration Groups See Trump’s Calls for More Legal Immigrants as a Betrayal

Michael D. Shear, New York Times, March 8, 2019

For months, President Trump has been railing about the urgent need for a wall to protect against what he calls “an invasion” of illegal immigrants flooding across the southwestern border. But he has also been delivering another message: “We need workers,” he told a group of activists recently.

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“I want people to come into our country, in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally,” Mr. Trump ad-libbed last month during his State of the Union address.

Comments like those from the president have ignited furious criticism from his hard-line, anti-immigrant supporters who accuse him of caving to demands for cheap foreign labor from corporations, establishment Republicans and big donors while abandoning his election promise to protect his working-class supporters from the effects of globalism.

“This is clearly a betrayal of what immigration hawks hoped the Trump administration would be for,” said Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates cutting legal immigration by more than half. {snip}

Breitbart News, a conservative website that promotes anti-immigrant messaging, published on Thursday the latest in a series of articles attacking Mr. Trump for catering to big business at the expense of the Americans who put him in the Oval Office. “Trump Requests ‘More’ Foreign Workers as Southern Border Gets Overrun,” the site blared on its home page.

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Corporations and influential corporate conservatives such as Charles G. Koch and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have long urged the president to help them recruit the talent they need by expanding the number of workers who can enter the United States from other countries.

That has become more urgent as the economy has improved and as declining unemployment has made it harder for companies to find workers. To assuage their concerns, Mr. Trump has increasingly tailored his immigration talking points to cater to the needs of business executives like those who attended a business round table on Wednesday at the White House.

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But that message runs counter to the hard-line immigration image that Mr. Trump has carefully nurtured — most recently by shutting the government down for 35 days in a failed attempt to pressure Congress to fund a wall on the Mexican border.

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It is unclear whether Mr. Trump will follow through on his recent, pro-business messaging. Many of the president’s aides — including Stephen Miller, his top immigration adviser in the White House — agree with the hard-line activists about the need to lower legal immigration.

In 2017, Mr. Trump endorsed the Raise Act, a Republican Senate bill that would reduce legal immigration by as much as 50 percent. And the administration is currently considering a proposal to cut immigration by denying work authorizations, known as H-4 permits, to almost 100,000 spouses of immigrants who are brought in by companies to work legally in the United States.

But even so, some of the nation’s most hard-line anti-immigration activists have become increasingly nervous that Mr. Trump might waver on their primary concern — the need to shrink the number of immigrants who enter the United States each year, currently 1.1 million.

They argue that tight labor markets make it exactly the wrong time to allow more foreign workers to compete with Americans. Chris Chmielenski, the deputy director of NumbersUSA, which lobbies for lower legal immigration, said companies should be pressured to hire more Americans instead.

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Last week, in an effort to communicate that message directly to Mr. Trump, NumbersUSA began airing an ad on Fox News Channel in the hopes that the president would get the message that his supporters do not want to let in more than one million immigrants each year.

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Mr. Krikorian, of the Center for Immigration Studies, said that companies that no longer have access to foreign workers would have no choice but to turn to Americans who are still struggling to find work: people with disabilities, teenagers, older people and even former convicts.

He also said that modest increases in wages for workers would evaporate if companies were allowed to simply tap an unlimited pool of lower-paid workers from other countries.

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