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Rich Lowry Says 'Country Of Origin Matters'


We've been looking at the issue of immigration today and gathering reaction to President Trump's offensive comments about immigrants from Africa, Haiti and El Salvador. The remarks were made at a White House meeting on immigration where the president expressed his dislike of diversity visas and said, we should accept more immigrants from Norway rather than Haiti. Rich Lowry of the conservative magazine National Review has noted that while the president may have expressed himself crudely, he has a point. And he joins us now via Skype. Good morning.

RICH LOWRY: Hi. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Very well. So what do you think President Trump was trying to say in his comments?

LOWRY: Well, it was in the context of discussion of the fate of the visa lottery. And the president inciting Norway, I think, was just making the point - let's have immigration that emphasizes higher education levels and more skills.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you've written that country of origin matters. Make your case briefly.

LOWRY: Well, it really doesn't ultimately have to do with the country. They're coming from so much as the level of skills and education of the immigrants who are coming here. And I should preface my remarks by saying I have nothing against any immigrants that - who are coming here. And they all overwhelmingly come here to work hard and are good people. But you have a lot of immigrants from Mexico and Central American countries. And a lot of them don't even have high-school degrees. And it's just very hard in 21st century economy to thrive here. So they end up poor. They end up using welfare programs. And then you look at immigrants coming from countries that actually have quite high levels of education. You know, I believe, you know, majority of immigrants from India come here with a college degree, and their median income of their households is $105,000 a year.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So if it is about skills, then why restrict the H-1B visas, which are specifically for highly skilled individuals, many of whom go to highly skilled Indians, which this administration has done?

LOWRY: Well, that's a different issue, but the argument is that those visas have been abused and are used to undercut American engineers and folks in various positions.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sure. But it seems that the debate is constantly shifting to say, well, OK. Not these people. Maybe these people. But, you know, it - oh, it's being abused. But it seems that the people that are constantly targeted are people from browner nations, shall we say.

LOWRY: But I think if you actually went to the kind of point system that Senator Tom Cotton is proposing, you would shift the composition of immigrants here. But you wouldn't shift it whiter or more European. You would shift it more to South and East Asia. And you should always have a humanitarian element to our immigration. And we still would with the refugee program. It's just you would - like, Canada and Australia, which aren't closed or racist societies - you would actually have a more deliberate immigration system where you're emphasizing those people who have that - who are best suited to thrive in this sort of economy that we have. It wouldn't compete for jobs with the people lowest down the income scale who are going to have - who have had the most trouble in our economy over the last 30 years.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So many people consider this, though, a question of sort of American identity. And this is a country that was built off the backs of immigrants. You know, generations ago, European Jews and Italians and Irish immigrants were considered undesirable by some. Now it's part of the narrative of American success. What's different about poor immigrants coming from potato famines versus earthquakes?

LOWRY: Well, I think it's a different country and a different economy now. And the early 20th century - you could come here with very few skills and - I'm simplifying - but basically, just you plugged into any assembly line anywhere - and just be fine and have a relatively high-wage job. And that's just not the case now. We're not a overwhelmingly agricultural or industrial country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rich Lowry, editor of The National Review, thanks for joining us.

LOWRY: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.