Remembering the tired and poor

Last week President Donald Trump endorsed a bill sponsored by Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and David Purdue (Ga.) that proposes to cut immigration in half, effectively taking a bad situation and making it worse.

The legislation is designed to move the immigration process toward a skills-based system — with less emphasis on reuniting families and more on hiring prized IT workers — and to reduce legal permanent immigration from 1 million people a year to 500,000.

Opposition to the move was swift and predictable, and not all of it on party lines. Some economists argued that efforts to squeeze immigration when the country is reaching full employment and jobs are not being filled makes no sense, and others asserted that closing the doors of the country to newcomers when the U.S. population is aging and birth rates are at unsustainably low levels is a recipe for a decaying economy. And then, of course, there were those like Kevin Appleby of the Center for Migration Studies, who saw the move as “part of a broader strategy by this administration to rid the country of low-skilled immigrants they don’t favor, in favor of immigrants in their image.”

We could do without the finger pointing and the vitriol, but we agree that the proposed limitations in the new immigration bill are not a good idea. Part of our concern stems from the fact that nothing in the bill addresses the tough central question of immigration overhaul that neither Democrat nor Republican administrations have been able to figure out: How should we deal with the millions of people who are in this country illegally? This is a problem that won’t go away, and its ramifications affect us regularly.

A case in point: The same day that the president endorsed the immigration bill, two brothers who lived in a Washington suburb since 2009 were deported to El Salvador. Lizandro Claros Saravia, 19, was a standout soccer player, and his brother, Diego, 22, was a recent high school graduate. Neither man had a criminal record, but they both entered the country illegally. When Lizandro reported to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency that he had been accepted to a university on a soccer scholarship, he was arrested, and the two brothers were immediately deported.

Emma Lazarus’ famous words, which adorn the Statue of Liberty — our proud symbol of freedom — contain our country’s invitation to the world to bring to our shores “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We are troubled that the administration appears to be moving away from that fundamental humanitarian goal. Indeed, White House aide Stephen Miller, the great-grandchild of Jewish immigrants, went so far as to tell CNN that the Lazarus sentiment “doesn’t matter.”

We think it does. Indeed, it is part of what made America great.

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