The problem is that, although economists differ about the extent of the damage, immigration hurts the Americans with whom immigrants compete. And since more than a quarter of America’s recent immigrants lack even a high-school diploma or its equivalent, immigration particularly hurts the least-educated native workers, the very people who are already struggling the most. America’s immigration system, in other words, pits two of the groups liberals care about most—the native-born poor and the immigrant poor—against each other.
One way of mitigating this problem would be to scrap the current system, which allows immigrants living in the U.S. to bring certain close relatives to the country, in favor of what Donald Trump in February called a “merit based” approach that prioritizes highly skilled and educated workers. The problem with this idea, from a liberal perspective, is its cruelty. It denies many immigrants who are already here the ability to reunite with their loved ones. And it flouts the country’s best traditions. Would we remove from the Statue of Liberty the poem welcoming the “poor,” the “wretched,” and the “homeless”?
A better answer is to take some of the windfall that immigration brings to wealthier Americans and give it to those poorer Americans whom immigration harms.