President Donald Trump waves to members of the media as...

President Donald Trump waves to members of the media as he walks on the South Lawn as he arrives at the White House in Washington on April 15, 2019, after visiting Minnesota. Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik

“Our country is full.”

That claim by President Trump as he visited the southern border was directed at migrants seeking asylum. It was both false and foolish.

False because America is not full (although Trump capitalizes FULL in his tweets). False because Trump’s message was clearly a trial balloon for his 2020 election campaign that had nothing to do with solving immigration problems.

And foolish because Trump’s demonization of legal, as well as illegal, immigration sets the country for big economic problems in the future. It also undermines the values on which America was built.

Let’s start with some facts.

First, America is not full, nor can it thrive without new immigrants, as demographer William H. Frey points out. Population growth has hit its lowest level since 1937, and would be declining even more quickly were it not for immigration. “By 2035, there will be more seniors than children for the first time in the nation’s history,” writes Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

What gives America an advantage over graying nations in Europe, Japan, and even China, is the population boost from immigrants. That youthful infusion is essential to provide workers whose taxes will support the aging U.S. citizenry.

Even now, the U.S. economy is experiencing a serious shortage of both skilled and unskilled workers.

As for where the immigrants should go, a sane immigration policy could direct some of them to where they were most needed, including the revival of smaller cities that are suffering from depopulation.

Instead, Trump has reportedly handed the reins on immigration policy over to aide Stephen Miller, the godfather of the Muslim ban who wants to revive the family separation policy at the border. Miller has made no secret of his desire to slash legal immigration.

“This viewpoint is anti-American, without focusing on the central role immigration has played in the creation of this country,” says Rep. Brendan Boyle (D, Pa.) whose father immigrated to America at 19 and worked as a janitor to support his family. “When Trump and Miller talk about immigration in such a hateful way, it shows a tremendous ignorance of American history.”

Moreover, the White House attack on legal immigration displays a shameful level of immorality. Nothing illustrates this better than my recent conversation with former Army Reserve Sgt. Peter Farley about an immigration injustice I’ve followed for some time.

Farley has been trying for eight years to help obtain visas for the family of two Iraqi brothers, both translators he worked with in Iraq. The Al-Baidhani brothers risked their lives to work with the U.S. Army (one was later shot by an anti-American militia) and entered the U.S. on special visas for translators; they are now working, paying taxes, and well settled.

Their immediate family members, under death threat in Baghdad, are also entitled by U.S. law to visas. But the family is stuck due to the administration’s attack on legal immigration, including visas for Iraqis and Afghans who helped Americans, as well as refugees, asylum seekers, and others. The Iraqi program has a backlog of more than 100,000 people, and, according to the State Department, only 48 were admitted in a ten-month period in fiscal year 2018.

The Baidhani case illustrates the bizarre, bureaucratic maze that the Trump administration has established to block legal immigration. After five years of security vetting, under the Obama administration, the family were granted visas nearly three years ago, only to be told the day before they left for America that they needed to undergo another security check. By then, they had sold all their possessions.

The family appealed, and in an almost unheard of reversal, immigration officials granted them conditional entry in June 2017. But by then, the Trump administration had tried to ban all Muslim immigrants, and made slashing immigration its signature issue. Despite backing by multiple congressional members and 135,000 signatures on a petition, the Baidhanis have still heard nothing.

Meantime, constant rule changes and the massive turnover at the Department of Homeland Security, whose top officials Trump has just forced out, plus the decimation of State Department staff dealing with refugees, makes obtaining visas nearly impossible.

Just as a supportive congressman was set to send yet another letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, she was fired. “We didn’t even know who to send it to,” Farley told me. “This is not what our country was supposed to be like. Where are we living?”

We are living in a country where Trump’s constant labeling of immigrants as rapists and murderers makes it impossible to craft a rational immigration policy. Where Miller’s slashing the number of refugees (who get legal visas) puts America to shame.

The Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in 2013 but that will never be repeated so long as Trump plays the immigration card for political reasons. Nor will Peter Farley succeed in helping the Baidhanis get their visas so long as this obscene game goes on.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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