Trump won in 2016 running on a strong “America First” platform. A major component of America First-ism is prioritizing the interests and the well-being of American citizens first—before the interests and well-being of foreign-born workers and immigrants, legal or otherwise. The appeal and the concept aren’t difficult to understand: a government should, chiefly, operate in the interest of its citizens before anyone else. We can discuss the best immigration policies as a nation, but those policies should always place American citizens at the forefront.
It’s such a simple and pure political philosophy, it’s a wonder it comes under such fire. But such is the world of globalists—who want cheap labor and sacrificial offerings to Efficiency—and progressives—who think anyone who is white and cares about having a job is a racist. Take out the mercenaries (the former group) and the insane (the latter group) and you have reasonable people, those folks that might quibble around the edges of America First doctrine, but can’t disagree with its fundamental premises.
Trump has been better than most of his predecessors on immigration, though his waffling and equivocating—likely the product of Jared Kushner’s influence—have soured his some of his earliest supporters. His turn on Jeff Sessions and the former Attorney General’s ultimate defeat in the Alabama Republican primary this summer seemed to many Trumpists to be a betrayal of immigration patriotism. Sessions was, indeed, the leading voice in the United States government, pre-Trump, in denouncing open borders and unlimited immigration. With Sessions leaving the national scene, immigration patriots and restrictionists have reason to worry.
That said, it bears remembering that Trump won the presidency campaigning on building a wall, prioritizing Americans over foreign workers, and keeping American industries at home. No one in meaningful national politics (other than Jeff Sessions and Pat Buchanan) was beating that drum prior to Trump. Trump tapped into a deep well of resentment over the Obama administration’s decade of putting middle-class Americans last, and several decades of neglect and open scorn from national politicians.
I also don’t expect Trump to reverse the postwar consensus overnight, or to get the whole loaf all at once. I think Trump’s basic instincts are to put Americans first, while weighing the complexities of various interest groups and economic factors.
But Trump is at his best when he cuts the Gordian Knot and drives to the heart of the issues. If Americans are losing jobs to foreign visa holders, well, make those visas less valuable. He’s done that with an executive order barring H1B visa holders from working in federal government jobs, and barring the government from using contractors who use H1B visa holders.