The Trump administration’s determination to revamp the American immigration system appears to be boundless. From its proposed redefinition of which public benefits immigrants can use without being labeled a “public charge” to its steep reduction in the US’s refugee ceiling to its sudden withdrawal of legal status for immigrants from countries like Haiti and El Salvador to Donald Trump’s recent flirtation with ending birthright citizenship, the administration appears willing to stretch, change or even break US laws en route to an ill-defined effort to remake American immigration around a “merit-based” approach.
At an intuitive level, its strategy makes sense. If you think of the US as a sandlot squad competing to outshine other nations in a never-ending, all-encompassing, resource-scarce Olympics, then sure, we clearly ought to treat immigration like a competitive draft. If we want to win, if we want to beat the other countries, presumably we want to vet potential new US immigrants – our new “players” – carefully. In this view, we should obviously use our immigration system to filter in only the best free throw shooters, the most beautiful models, the richest moneylenders, the cleverest scientists, etc.