Donald Trump Promises More ‘Merit’ Immigration and DACA Plan

President Donald Trump talks with reporters as he tours a section of the southern border wall, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Otay Mesa, Calif. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) ORG XMIT: CAEV426 (Photo: Evan Vucci, AP)
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

President Donald Trump slammed Joe Biden’s promise to flood the blue-collar labor market with new migrants and refugees in a Rose Garden speech on July 14.

But then Trump used his speech to promise he would expand white-collar “merit” migration into the jobs needed by unemployed, swing-voting college graduates.

Joe Biden would “vastly expand low-skilled immigration to the United States,” Trump said, adding:

So they want a lot of people come in with low skills … Think of that: Vastly expand low-skilled immigration to the United States.  These are the things that are in the plan. This is Biden. Biden has gone radical left. Increase refugee admissions by 700 percent. Huh. That’s a lot.

“Every person from South America is going to pour in and every person from other countries, they’re going to be pouring in,” he said.

But Trump then said he would shift immigration rules to favor the inflow of higher-skilled, white-collar migrants, despite the massive unemployment numbers in the American middle-class. He said:

In the not-too-distant future, pretty soon I’m going to be signing a new immigration action — very, very big merit-based immigration action … it’s going to be based on merit. It’s going to be very strong.

As he repeatedly slammed Biden’s endorsement of low-skilled, blue-collar migration, Trump also said he would endorse some form of benefit for the 700,000-plus younger DACA migrants who were brought into the country by their illegal-immigrant parents:

I’m going to take care of DACA much better than the Democrats did. The Democrats had their chance, and they blew it. But we’re going to take care of DACA because I’m going to be doing, in the not-too-distant future, pretty soon, I’m going to be signing a new immigration action — very, very big merit-based immigration action that, based on the DACA decision, I’ll be able to do.

Trump, however, suggested he would demand a swap from Democrats in exchange for any DACA benefits. Democrats “used it as politics.  I’m using it to get something done,” he said, adding:

We’ll be taking care of people from DACA in a very Republican way … I’ve spoken to many Republicans, and some would like to leave it out, but, really, they understand that it’s the right thing to do.

Trump’s 2020 strategy of promising more white-collar migration is puzzling, in part, because Trump has changed public attitudes about migration since he was elected in 2016.

For example, Trump has largely blocked new illegal immigration, chiefly by changing laws and regulations governing the asylum claims by migrants crossing from Mexico. A Pew Research Center survey taken in June shows that only 43 percent of Republicans and Republican leaders now consider illegal immigration to be a “very big problem.”

That 43 percent is a huge drop from the 67 percent level recorded in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

In contrast, his promise of more “merit-based immigration” is a direct shot at a new bloc of swing-voters — the college-educated, suburban professionals who worry they will soon lose their jobs and careers to “merit” immigrants.

Especially since 2016, when Trump promised to end the H-1B program, this bloc has viscerally opposed the “merit-based” immigration that has pushed their husbands, wives, sons, and daughters out of college-grad, white-collar jobs.

For example, a June-July Rasmusen poll showed that 67 percent of all voters said, “no,” to more foreign workers while Americans need jobs. So did 66 percent of people with college degrees, 80 percent of conservative suburban women, 71 percent of moderate suburban women, and 62 percent of liberal suburban women.

Just 12 percent of swing-voting “moderate” suburban women and just 19 percent of all likely voters agreed with business groups and Democrats that the government should “allow employers to import foreign workers to fill job openings instead of recruiting among these unemployed Americans,” said the poll of 1,810 likely voters.

The Rasmussen poll echoed the result of several recent polls, including a survey of 1,008 adults taken from April 21-26 by the Washington Post. The poll was taken just after Trump announced April 22 that he would trim migration to help Americans gain jobs in the coronavirus recovery.

An immigration shutdown is backed by 65 percent of all adults, 67 percent of independents, 83 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of conservatives, 64 percent of moderates, and by 63 percent of younger people aged 18 to 39, said the Washington Post.

A shutdown is also backed by 61 percent of non-whites, 60 percent of people with college degrees, 68 percent of people with income below $50,000, and 62 percent of people with income above $100.000, said the Post.

However, Trump is under pressure from advisers and business groups to expand “merit-based” immigration that allows investors and CEOs to boost their stock prices by cutting white-collar payroll costs. These advisers are betting Trump’s campaign on the hope they can build an alliance of billionaires and blue-collars, leaving white-collars to be targeted by migration programs.

For example, campaign adviser Mercedes Schlapp told Fox News July 12:

 What the President has also been talking about is a merit-based immigration system, meaning that you protect American workers while at the same time bringing in the brightest and the best into our country.

That is a fundamental shift from Trump’s 2016 campaign, when he promised white-collar voters in March 2016: “I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.”

On June 22, 2020, Trump followed through by announcing a temporary ban on new H-1Bs and a directive to his staff to rewrite the H-1B regulations to favor the hiring of young American graduates.

Trump recognized the importance of jobs and wages in his 2017 inauguration speech when he promised jobs for blue-collar and white-collar Americans, not migrants:

We will get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor. We will follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American.

The June-July Rasmussen poll also asked voters about the universities’ Optional Practical Training  (OPT) visa worker inflow.

The OPT workers are described by migration advocates as “high-skilled,” but they are a mixed bag of skilled and unskilled white-collar workers who are recruited by the Fortune 500 companies into the white-collar jobs needed by American graduates.

Rasmussen’s poll showed that 52 percent of likely voters who are neither Republicans nor Democrats oppose the skilled program, while just 28 percent endorse the visa worker program.

Sixty-four percent of Republicans oppose the merit-based OPT program and only 25 percent support the giveaway, according to Rasmussen.

The jobs skilled-migration program got its strongest support from pro-migration liberals and Democrats. Liberals split 47 percent for versus 28 percent against, while Democrats split 44 percent for versus 34 percent against. Yet 25 percent of liberals and 21 percent of Democrats dodged the question by saying, “Not sure.”

College voters oppose the program 47 percent to 35 percent, giving Trump an opportunity to improve his lagging support among college graduates. Blacks with college degrees oppose the program 52 percent to 30 percent. Suburban voters oppose the program 61 percent to 33 percent, while urban voters support the program by 42 percent to 40 percent.

The strongest opposition comes from conservative women in suburbia who oppose the program by 75 percent to 18 percent. Self-described “moderate” women in suburbia oppose the program by 48 percent to 29 percent.

These and other polls show that the public strongly objects to companies hiring foreign workers before American employees. For example, an August 2017 poll reported that 68 percent of Americans oppose companies’ use of H-1B visa workers to outsource U.S.-based jobs that could be held by Americans.

The polls predict grassroots opposition to Trump’s draft plans.

“There is a strong sense of betrayal among many Trump voters upon learning of the President’s recent admission … that he is planning a bill or executive order to give a ‘road to citizenship’ Amnesty to Obama’s DACA illegal aliens,” said a July 14 statement from American for Legal Immigration PAC. The statement added:

ALIPAC surveyed the national organization’s social media pages and 50k email subscribers and found more than 90% oppose Trump’s shocking reversal on DACA, and more than 80% say such a move will decrease their support for President Trump.

Follow Neil Munro on Twitter @NeilMunroDC, or email the author at


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