WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants to see more legal immigration because additional workers are needed by companies moving back to the United States.
“I need people coming in because we need people to run the factories and plants and companies that are moving back in,” he told a group of reporters from regional newspapers. “We need people.”
Trump’s remarks followed an unscripted comment in his State of the Union address Tuesday night in which he called for immigrants to enter the U.S. legally in “the largest numbers ever.”
The ad-libbed line immediately caught the attention of immigration advocates because it appeared to contradict the Trump administration’s hard-line stance on immigration, including the president’s push to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump’s administration also has moved to cut legal immigration. It has granted fewer visas, approved fewer refugees, ordered the removal of hundreds of thousands of legal residents whose home countries have been hit by war and natural disasters and pushed Congress to pass laws to dramatically cut the entire legal immigration system.
At Wednesday’s briefing with regional reporters, Trump was asked if his unscripted remark in the State of the Union about letting in more legal immigrants represented a change in policy.
“Yes,” he said, “because we need people in our country because our unemployment numbers are so low, and we have massive numbers of companies coming back into our country.”
Trump has said on several occasions that he supports more immigrants entering the country legally because additional workers are needed since companies are returning to the U.S.
“We really need people, but it has to be through a legal process and a process really of merit,” he said just last week at a meeting on human trafficking on the southern border. “But we do want people coming into our country. They have to come in legally.”
Groups that advocate for lower levels of legal and illegal immigration have supported Trump’s immigration crackdown the past two years, but they were blindsided by his statement during the State of the Union address. His comments from the White House on Wednesday, where he made clear that he wants more foreigners entering the U.S. to work, left them in shock.
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, called Trump’s proposal “bad public policy” and a reversal of his positions as a presidential candidate and as president.
“Coming to the United States legally matters, but so does the number of people coming to the United States,” Mehlman said. “Mass immigration, legal or illegal, undermines the jobs and wages of many Americans, overburdens vital social institutions and the social safety net. The president seems to be ignoring the impact of excessive immigration on American society.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has long pushed for an expansion and overhaul of the nation’s guest worker programs, especially as the unemployment rate has fallen and businesses have struggled to fill job openings.
“This is a welcome development, as businesses across many industries have conveyed to us that they are unable to meet their workforce needs,” Jon Baselice, director of immigration policy for the chamber, said of Trump’s remarks. “We look forward to working with Congress and the Trump Administration to enact commonsense immigration reforms that meet the economic and workforce needs of the American business community.”
Trump said Wednesday that seven automobile companies are returning to the U.S., “and there’s going to be a lot more.”
It’s true several automakers have announced plans to move automotive manufacturing to the U.S. since Trump took office. Most significantly, Toyota and Mazda announced plans to build a $1.6 billion plant in Huntsville, Alabama, the only new standalone plant announced by a major automaker since Trump’s inauguration.
Some fear the potential effects of a reconfigured North American Free Trade Agreement that punishes vehicle importing.
“The president has scared car companies into assembling more vehicles in the U.S.,” University of Michigan business professor Erik Gordon said in an email.
Contributing: Nathan Bomey
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