Just five years ago, 68 of 100 senators voted for an immigration bill that would have expanded immigration — expanded it, according to the Congressional Budget Office, by 10.4 million people over a decade. That would have represented roughly a doubling of immigration.
Only a quarter of Americans want higher immigration, and presumably even fewer would want much higher. Yet that feature of the bill was hardly debated at the time. Jeff Sessions, then on the Senate Judiciary Committee, offered an amendment to cap immigration at 33 million over the decade. No other senator on the committee voted for it. After Sessions made his barely-noticed stand, public discussion of the bill focused on its amnesty for illegal immigrants and ignored its impact on legal immigration.
Five years ago, we had an essentially undebated bipartisan consensus for much higher legal immigration amid public inattention to the issue. Now increases in legal immigration aren’t on the table, and reductions are. Win or lose, Trump has moved the argument over immigration in a sharply restrictionist direction.