Whoever conducted the recent Economist interview with the president seems to be the first reporter ever to ask him whether he wants to reduce legal immigration. The answer is no:
Do you want to curb legal immigration?
Oh sure, you know, I want to stop illegal immigration.
And what about legal immigration? Do you want to cut the number of immigrants?
Oh legal, no, no, no. I want people to come into the country legally. No, legally? No. I want people to come in legally. But I want people to come in on merit. I want to go to a merit-based system. Actually two countries that have very strong systems are Australia and Canada. And I like those systems very much, they’re very strong, they're very good, I like them very much. We’re going to a much more merit-based system. But I absolutely want talented people coming in, I want people that are going to love our country coming in, I want people that are going to contribute to our country coming in. We want a provision at the right time, we want people that are coming in and will commit to not getting ... not receiving any form of subsidy to live in our country for at least a five-year period.
But the numbers of those people could be as high as the numbers that are coming in legally now? You’re not looking to reduce the numbers?
Oh yeah, no, no, no, no, we want people coming in legally. No, very strongly. Now they’re going to be much more strongly vetted as you see. You know, we've broken the all-time record [of detentions at the border] by many times, 73, we’re up to 73, it’s going to go up to almost 80% at the border, we've ... you know, really stopped it. We also want farm workers to be able to come in. You know, we're going to have work visas for the farm workers. If you look, you know we have a lot of people coming through the border, they’re great people and they work on the farms and then they go back home. We like those people a lot and we want them to continue to come in.
This isn't a fresh betrayal engineered by his son-in-law and the other liberal Democrats in the White House. Anyone following Trump’s primary campaign could have predicted this — he repeatedly justified guestworker visas of various kinds and stressed the "big beautiful door" that would be built in to his wall. This is just the usual "legal good/illegal bad" stuff on immigration that most Republican pols have been spinning for years (with some honorable exceptions like Jeff Sessions, Tom Cotton, Lamar Smith, et al.).
Both the anti-borders crowd and some starry-eyed immigration hawks mistook Trump's commitment to enforcement (which seems genuine) to mean he was also skeptical of the overall level of immigration. And, of course, compared to what’s-her-name, he is, so I certainly don’t regret my vote. But even when he was critiquing current legal immigration policy, he was always somewhat ambiguous, never simply coming out and saying that overall immigration was too high and needed to be reduced.
Whatever the president's musings on legal immigration levels, his main job is enforcing the law — i.e., preventing as much illegal immigration as possible. And we’re seeing genuine progress in that regard. But it's Congress that sets immigration levels. In addition to sneaky tricks like slipping to the omnibus spending bill a provision to potentially double H-2B Replace-Americans Visas, there’s also good news from Congress. Along with the Cotton-Purdue bill to end extended-family chain migration, the Kushner family's shameless promotion of the sleazy EB-5 investor-visa racket in China is improving the prospects of the bipartisan push to rein in, or even eliminate, that dishonest and fraud-addled program that sells American citizenship, cheap.
Regarding immigration policy, Trump is a transitional figure — he's clearly the most committed and serious chief executive in a long time when it comes to enforcing the rules, but we may have to wait for, say, President Tom Cotton before we have a thoughtful, committed immigration skeptic in the White House.