A moral disgrace. An act of wanton cruelty. A legal outrage. An unconstitutional power grab. A work of gross administrative incompetence. A self-inflicted security wound. But economic idiocy too?
It seems almost otiose to mention money in the context of Trump’s arbitrary executive order barring Syrian refugees from America, capping the overall refugee intake for 2017 at 50,000 and stopping all entry to nationals from seven countries from the Muslim world.
But it’s true. Trump’s order not only defiles America’s founding principles, sullies its global reputation and gives comfort to autocrats the world over, but it will, in all likelihood, ultimately lead to the diminishment of the vigour of the world’s dominant economy too.
One doesn’t need to look far in America for examples of refugees and their families who have made a stunning contribution to the country’s prosperity. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was the son of a man who fled violence in Syria. Sergey Brin, the Google co-founder, was a refugee from the Soviet Union.
But the economic case for being open to refugees does not merely rest on a handful of entrepreneurial superstars. The idea that these people seeking sanctuary in other states represent an endless burden on taxpayers – something we’ve heard so often in Europe in recent years – is nonsense.
Data from Europe shows that, over time, the employment rate of refugees rises from 25 per cent to more than 60 per cent. In Sweden asylum seekers have shown a bigger increase in employment rates than any other migrant group.
Trump’s apologists stress that the ban is only temporary. Others point out that America in the Obama years only admitted an average of 70,000 refugees a year. It’s certainly true that America has not been pulling its weight when it comes to responding to the global refugee emergency.
But this is really to miss the point.
The economic damage from Trump’s order goes far wider than its direct impact. The bulk of the harm is in the message it sends. The barely disguised discrimination against Muslims tells 1.6 billion followers of that faith that “America does not want you”. And the fact that those who had been granted green cards (permanent residence) were initially included in the ban will have sent a chill through any non-American citizen worker, regardless of nationality or religion. The message here is: you can no longer rely on the US government to respect your status, to treat you fairly. Their incentive to stay - or the incentive for others with skills and talents to come to America - has taken a terrible blow.
Many informed observers suspect this anti-immigrant signal is the real goal. And listening to the views of Steve Bannon, Trump’s “chief strategist” and reportedly the driving force behind the executive order, this seems all too plausible. Bannon has ranted in the past about US engineering schools being “full of people from South Asia and East Asia” and objected to the number of Asian Silicon Valley chief executives. “Twenty per cent of this country is immigrants. Is that not the beating heart of this problem?” he once asked.
This is no finessing this. What we have here from the mouth of Trump’s right hand man is the raw voice of nativist bigotry.
It is also the voice of economic folly. America is a country settled by immigrants and whose spectacular economic success is built upon successive waves of mass immigration from people from all over the world of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds. It has prospered enormously on the back of immigrants’ inventive talents and hard work.
This noxious executive order is likely to be just the beginning. It sets the ugly and profoundly un-American tone. The longer Trump and Bannon control immigration policy in the US, the greater the damage that we can expect to be inflicted on the most productive national economy the planet has ever seen.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies