It’s Time for an Immigration Enchilada

It’s Time for an Immigration Enchilada

Opinión

The second pillar — $25 billion for a border wall — is obviously offensive to Mexico, but the country’s lame-duck president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has been much more adamant in his opposition to paying for the wall than to its actual construction. Mr. Peña Nieto either doesn’t believe it will ever see the light of day or lacks the backbone to oppose it. But Mr. Trump’s wall is something Mexico can simultaneously reject and live with, particularly if it will take years to build and if it merely complements segments of fences erected by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama.

Mr. Trump’s third pillar is the most insulting for many Americans, since it eliminates the family reunification principle for accepting legal immigrants from abroad. Intended to deter “chain migration,” it would replace the family criterion with a merit-based system. In the future, only spouses and underage offspring (as opposed to parents and siblings today) of American citizens would be allowed permanent residence, and eventually citizenship. The net effect would be to “whiten” immigration and limit the share of Mexicans.

Since the largest group of foreigners applying for family reunification is by far Mexican (three times as many as Chinese citizens, for example), this would reduce the number of applicants from Mexico who get green cards. Nearly 200,000 Mexicans got green cards in fiscal year 2016; halving that number through a lengthy and tedious procedure that frustrates many Mexicans would not be as bad as shutting down the whole program.

The last pillar would suppress the lottery system that grants a small number of immigrant visas to applicants from underrepresented nations, mainly African. Again, this would surely “whiten” immigration and is thus a despicable proposal, but it does not affect Mexico. There is no lottery system for Mexicans.

So, viewed somewhat cynically from the perspective of strict Mexican national interests, the four-pillar plan has inconveniences for Mexico but also many advantages. That it is racist as well as unworthy of the American immigration ideal and inflames the worst demons in American society is another matter. As Mr. Trump says, countries have to look out for their own interests.

To make this plan attractive to Mexico, its leaders need to persuade the American president to increase the number of temporary-worker visas. Again, by far the largest number of these permits are extended to Mexicans. H-2A visas, for seasonal agricultural workers, have no congressional cap; H-2B visas, for seasonal nonagricultural activities, do, but it can be lifted and has been for several years. The Trump administration can increase these numbers significantly without congressional approval.

An immense reconstruction effort is underway in Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and, with virtual full employment, there is a huge demand for low-skilled, low-wage labor in those regions. It can come only from Mexico.

Were Mr. Peña Nieto to make such a suggestion and were Mr. Trump to accept it, both countries’ interests would be well served.

In the early years of this century, a comprehensive package like this was called “the whole enchilada.” Half a loaf, or whatever nutritional metaphor one prefers, is not bad.

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