Trump aide says immigration “contentious” issue despite small immigrant workforce

White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) Chairman Kevin Hassett argued that despite the fact that the debate over immigration has become “incredibly contentious” and “a very heated issue,” the United States has a relatively low immigrant-based labor force.

“The share of the labor force of the U.S. that is immigrants, legal and illegal, is about the lowest share of any developed country,” Hassett told CBS News’ Major Garrett on “The Takeout” podcast this week. “We’re right down there with Japan and France in terms of not having a lot of immigration. And yet immigration is this incredibly contentious issue.”

Immigration has garnered even more attention than usual in the past week due to the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday reversing the policy, although it is not a long-term solution, and he did not end his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of arresting and charging everyone who crosses the border illegally. 

“I’m not saying there aren’t really big problems, and the president talks about it,” Hassett said. “But I think there’s clearly a border security issue that we have not managed well that has had a big impact on people’s attitude towards immigration.”

Immigrants comprised 17.1 percent of the U.S. labor force in 2017, with Hispanics accounting for 47.9 percent of that figure, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2013, while serving as director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., Hassett argued the same point: that immigrants make up a small percentage of the workforce compared to other international economies. But he also made the case that doubling the flow of immigrants to the U.S. could boost the country’s GDP.

“If the U.S. doubled its total immigration and prioritized bringing in new workers, it could add more than half a percentage point a year to expected GDP growth,” he wrote in an article for the National Review. “That is not the only relevant policy consideration, but it should be weighed carefully as Congress considers immigration reform.”

Now, Hassett says he agrees with Mr. Trump’s overall initiative to secure the border. When asked how the immigration issue has impacted his own decision making within the CEA, he cited executive privilege and would not give a specific answer.

“That fact that we have a relatively small share of immigrants in our society compared to other countries, and we can’t get our politicians to work it out, is why voters are frustrated,” Hassett said.

For more of Major’s conversation with Kevin Hassett, download “The Takeout” podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcher, or Spotify. New episodes are available every Friday morning

Also, you can watch “The Takeout” on CBSN Friday and Saturday nights at 9pm ET/PT. For a full archive of “The Takeout” episodes, visit And you can listen to “The Takeout” on select CBS News Radio affiliates (check your local listings).

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Categories: Government & Politics

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