Click to Return to

There's nothing wrong with Trump's desire for better immigrants

January 12, 2018, at The Hill

By John R. Lott, Jr.


Is it racist to say that you would prefer immigrants coming to the U.S. who are well-educated, skilled, and high-income earners? Or would you want poorly-educated, unskilled people? Is it racist for countries such as Canada and Australia to rank immigrants on a point system based on these qualities?

President Trump supposedly called Haiti and African nations “shithole countries” and said, “We should have more people from Norway.” Trump denies using that language, while Republican senators say they “do not recall” him saying it. 

To Trevor Noah, it was a clear case of racism. “But you know what part put it over the line for me is Norway,” Noah told his Comedy Central audience on Thursday. “Yeah, when he said where he wanted immigrants to come from, he didn’t just name a white country. He named the whitest country.”

CNN’s Anderson Cooper saw it the same way, saying that Trump “is tired of so many black people coming into this country … he would like to bring more people from countries like Norway. Norway, which population is overwhelmingly of Nordic descent. White people in other words.”

While some people see everything in terms of race, there are other obvious reasons why you might prefer people from certain countries.

Norway’s per-student spending from primary school through college is the third highest among developed countries. It has one of the world’s highest real per capita incomes, which adjusts for livings costs. In 2016, the IMF listed Norway at $69,249. That is 21 percent higher than the U.S. real per capita income of $57,436.

In contrast, Haiti’s real per capita income is just $1,784 per person. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is $3,732.

The differences in people’s skills explain a lot of these variations in income. Haiti’s education system is a disaster, with the lowest schooling rate in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti's literacy rate is well below the average for Latin American and Caribbean countries (61 percent versus 90 percent).

A lot of kids don’t have the opportunity to go to school in sub-Saharan Africa. Over one-fifth of children between the ages of about 6 and 11 are out of school, and one-third of those from 12 to 14. 

Other countries focus much more on trying to attract the best and brightest immigrants. When China took over Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, a lot of wealthy Chinese wanted to leave Hong Kong and come to the United States. Unable to do so, they instead went to countries such as Canada, which gave wealth and education strong preferential treatment. These Canadian immigrants from Hong Kong brought an estimated $4.2 billion in wealth with them.

Ignore people’s race. Who do you want? Higher income immigrants mean more tax revenue. Low-income people don’t pay income taxes. In 2014, 45 percent of Americans paid no federal income taxes.

Not surprisingly, poor people are more likely to use government welfare. In 2009, the Center for Immigration Studies found that 57 percent of households headed by an immigrant (legal or illegal) with children (under 18) used at least one welfare program. For households with children headed by native-born Americans, the rate was 39 percent. Even immigrant households with no U.S.-born children received welfare benefits at a very high rate — 56 percent.

Welfare use varies dramatically based on an immigrant’s country of origin. Welfare benefits are given to seventy-five percent of immigrant households with children that came from Mexico or Guatemala. This is true of only 7 percent of those same types of households from the United Kingdom

The U.S. State Department warns that “crime statistics are woefully underreported” in Haiti, but what data is available indicates that they have an astronomical murder rate, with something around 60.9 per 100,000 people in 2012. By contrast, the murder rate in Norway is about 0.56 per 100,000.

Illegal immigrants also commit crime at a much higher rate than do U.S. citizens. This doesn't just ruin lives, it also imposes real costs for our police and prisons.

Subsidizing the educations of poor immigrants means fewer resources to educate minority groups right here at home, such as Native Americans. With a $20 trillion debt, America has to be much more careful with its money.

The media likes to constantly paint President Trump as a racist, and they clearly haven’t been above misinterpreting remarks and quoting them out of context to make that case.

Let’s stop making everything about race. Not everything is about race. If Norwegians were poor and badly educated, Trump wouldn’t want them or use them as an example, no matter how white they are.

Do you like this page?