- President Donald Trump complained to a bipartisan group of lawmakers about accepting immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti and in Africa.
- His remarks reveal how he really wants to reshape the immigration system. It has nothing to do with merit or skills.
President Donald Trump talks a lot about the need to shift to “merit-based immigration.”
Legislation to do this would change the rules on immigration, allocating a larger share of green cards to people who qualify on the basis of education and skills and fewer to foreign relatives of US citizens and residents.
But the president’s reported comments in a meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers provide an indication of what he thinks the key effect of such a policy would be.
“Why do we want people from all these shithole countries here?” the president asked, referencing Haiti and countries in Africa, according to a report from NBC News. “We should have more people from places like Norway.”
The president thinks an immigration system based on “skills” will keep black and brown immigrants out and let more white ones in. He thinks, if we implemented his immigration policies, we’d get more immigrants from places like Norway. Places where people are tall and blond and look like they could have been in the Hitler youth.
In practice, a more skills-based immigration system would be unlikely to attract many immigrants from Norway. Norway’s GDP is $71,000 per capita. If you’re a highly-skilled person in Norway, you probably want to stay there.
As the demographer Lyman Stone notes, immigrants from Africa tend to be far more educated and affluent than typical residents of Africa. A skills-based system would look to the characteristics of individual immigrants, not to the countries they come from.
A key metric in any skills-based immigration system is English proficiency. And there are hundreds of millions of nonwhite English speakers around the world, many of them in Africa.
A policy shift toward more skills-based immigration would probably result in a larger fraction of immigrants coming from Asia and a smaller fraction from Latin America, not a large shift toward Europe, and certainly not toward Norway.
But this immigration policy talk is all kind of beside the point. It was never about the skills.
Wonks and most politicians talk about immigration policy like it’s a labor-market policy. But for most voters on both sides of the issue, it’s mostly about culture – what kind of people do we want to live around?
Those are the terms in which Trump discusses immigration. He wants a whiter country. And that’s why he said what he said.