As is now clear, in a way that only the most obtuse American might have hitherto missed, the Trump administration’s approach to immigration is draconian and prejudiced against the poor, driven by red-meat politics rather than rational policy, and makes no sense with regard to the nation’s economy.

Following last week’s big ICE roundup of undocumented workers in poultry-processing plants in Mississippi, a police action carried out in our name, the administration announced new rules to make it even tougher for immigrants with legal status to get a green card, a visa or citizenship.


Every American should ask why. Why such an aggressive approach to people who, in the main, live quietly and productively in our country? Why all the shock and awe? Why do we make small children cry from fear, even for a few traumatic hours, that they might never see their parents again?

I realize that people who crossed the border without permission are scofflaws. Please don’t worry about my understanding of that. I have had many discussions about this with my fellow Americans, and more than one hard-liner has answered my questions with a question: “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” That’s a real conversation killer, that one.

Americans who favor mass deportation hold that anyone who crossed the border without permission is a criminal who should never be granted amnesty; their presence in the United State is illegitimate, and can only be corrected if they go back where they came from and get in line. A lot of people are camped on that hill — some on principle, some because they see a “Hispanic invasion” changing the character of the country. Either way, they have a president who has made fighting the “invasion” his top priority.

Despite revelations that make Donald Trump a five-star hypocrite when it comes to the employment of undocumented workers, he has continued to vilify them and pledged to deport them. “Our country is full,” he said in one of his meandering orations, suggesting that there’s no room here for more workers from Central America.

Of course, that’s not true, and Trump’s efforts to limit immigration make little sense.

The administrations of three previous presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — deported millions, and, given demographic trends, that did not make much sense to me either. (Baltimore is 300,000 residents short of its historic peak. Why not send some of them here?)

I do not believe in open borders, and I fully support sending people with serious criminal records packing. But I do not regard crossing the border a singular act of villainy calling for deportation. Most of the people who cross are desperate. Most of them settle here and contribute to our country with their labor, often in jobs that most Americans don’t want. Why this cruel crusade against them?

This country needs another amnesty program, like the one that occurred in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was president, and we need a reform of the system that is humane, principled and practical, not driven by prejudice.

If you look at what the U.S. Census Bureau says about us — the cohorts of Americans in various age groups (baby boomers, millennials), the number of us who are working, the number who are retired or about to retire, and the nation’s falling fertility rate — there won’t be enough of us to keep everything going.

Several economists have agreed that, to maintain productivity for growth at a decent rate — at least the 2.1 percent reported in the second quarter of this year, if not 3 or 4 percent — we will need more immigrants, not fewer.

And we will need them to maintain the tax base and Social Security system. We were told years ago, when Alan Greenspan was chairman of the Federal Reserve, that undocumented workers had contributed billions to the Social Security trust fund and to the Medicare system, though the many who leave the country, either of their own will or through deportation, will never collect retirement or health benefits.

I have reported on this in the past because it’s an overlooked aspect of the immigration picture. By 2007, the Social Security trust fund had received a net benefit of some $240 billion from unauthorized immigrants, revenue that kept the system from experiencing persistent shortfalls.

A few years later, Stephen Goss, chief actuary of Social Security, reported that undocumented workers had contributed about $12 billion annually to the trust fund. Citing more recent research, Marketplace put that number at $13 billion in 2016, with another $3 billion going to Medicare. And if blue-collar immigrants were not exploited, if they made better wages, they would have contributed even more to both systems.

Deport undocumented workers in big numbers, as Trump would like to do, and who do you think will make up the difference to keep Social Security solvent, the Walton family?


If poor legal immigrants or poor undocumented immigrants are a drain on American taxpayers — public schools and free lunch for their children, for example — research shows that, within a generation, that drain pretty much goes away. And, of course, these “drains” the administration talks about would not be so if the outrageously wealthy paid more in taxes instead of getting tax cuts.

My father was an immigrant almost a century ago. He and his mother struggled after his father died. Many years later, offering a rare memory from his boyhood, he described indignities inflicted by the ruling class of a small New England town when he and his mother had to ask for relief, what today would be derided as “welfare.” That was before one of the richest countries in the world became, as a matter of policy, one of the most decent and humane, providing for those in need while welcoming the tired and the poor of the world. That generation, my father’s generation, many of them immigrants or their children, became known as the Greatest Generation.


And look where we are now.