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Navarrette: America needs more immigrants, not fewer

April 19, 2017 at 1 a.m.


President Trump appears to have softened his position on NATO, free trade, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, the advice of generals, and whether China is a currency manipulator.

This is welcome news to "Never Trump" elements on Wall Street and in the Washington establishment, who are holding out hope this could be a normal presidency after all.

But there is one issue where Trump and his cohort are not going soft: immigration. On that front, the administration is doubling down — on cracking down.

Team Trump is pressing ahead with plans to build a barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border, punish so-called sanctuary cities, hire thousands of additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and Border Patrol agents, end the "catch and release" policy, and appoint 125 new immigration judges over the next two years to speed up the deportation process.

As Attorney General Jeff Sessions said recently during a visit to the border: "This is a new era. This is the Trump era."

For a while there, it seemed as if Trump was prepared to deal sensibly with immigration — by not revoking President Obama's executive actions, not deporting those undocumented young people known as "dreamers," telling members of his Hispanic Advisory Council during the campaign that he wanted a "humane and efficient" approach to the undocumented that could include legal status, and acknowledging that what he sold to voters as a seamless 2,000-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border will be more like a patchwork of fencing along a few hundred miles.

In his first 100 days in office, the president learned that health care reform and dealing with North Korea are more complicated than he thought.

Yet Trump learned the same thing about immigration — even before he took office. But now that he seems to have empowered Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to shape U.S. immigration policy, there is reason for concern.

Sessions' record in the Senate shows he is not just anti-illegal immigrant but anti-immigrant. Now that he wants the Justice Department to have a larger role in immigration policy, he should try to reform the system so more immigrants can come into the country legally, instead of simply keeping out those who come legally.

Meanwhile, Kelly has been all over the map. During a recent trip to Mexico, he declared: "There will be no mass deportations." But during an appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press," he warned the undocumented: "If you're here illegally, you should leave or you should be deported."

Sometimes, Sessions and Kelly disagree. While visiting the border, Sessions urged federal prosecutors to look for ways to charge undocumented immigrants and said that anyone in the country illegally should expect to be deported. Someone should loop in Kelly who, on "Meet The Press," said "just because you're in the United States illegally doesn't necessarily get you targeted."

With Sessions and Kelly cast as the Abbott and Costello of immigration policy, you'd think more people would be nervous.

Yet you don't hear many complaints, aside from the open-border activists whom no one listens to anyway. Could it be the political establishment and business community are not as pro-immigrant as they pretend to be?

They're not the only ones. Show me a region of the country that complains about having too many immigrants. And I'll show you a bunch of people with short memories who, 10 years ago, were so desperate for workers to build their homes, pick their crops, and babysit their children that they did everything but place help wanted ads in foreign newspapers.

Oh wait, actually, some U.S. companies did do that.

After more than a quarter-century of writing about immigration, I'm sick to my stomach of hearing a chorus of dishonest Americans complain about something that is — any way you look at it — a self-inflicted wound.

Just look at who accounts for much of the economic growth in this country, who is taking the risks, and who is producing much of the wealth — sometimes for themselves as budding entrepreneurs but more often for others.

A new study by the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative found that, over the last decade, the number of Latino-owned businesses grew 300 percent faster than the national average. And 61 percent of these entrepreneurs are immigrants or children of immigrants.

Americans have it backward. Instead of driving out immigrants, we ought to be begging the world for more.

— Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group.

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