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Steve Bannon in 2016: legal immigration is the real “problem"

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Steve Bannon interviews Trump’s Senior Advisor Stephen Miller in 2016
Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images for SiriusXM

President Donald Trump’s sweeping visa and refugee ban is likely only the beginning.

Already he has signed a variation of a “Muslim ban” — and has suggested expanding it. He has pushed forward on the southern border wall, regardless of Mexico’s refusal to pay for it. And he is reportedly considering moves to overhaul the United States’ legal work visa program (H-1B visas) that many technology companies rely on. To many, it would appear that Trump is doing what he said he would do.

But behind these policy reforms, two longtime immigration skeptics are making a name for themselves: Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon and White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, who is a former staffer for Sen. Jeff Sessions and yet another hard-line immigration restrictionist. (Sessions is waiting for his confirmation vote for attorney general).

Before Bannon and Miller became White House colleagues and began drafting executive orders, however, Bannon was a Breitbart News executive asking Miller, a policy adviser on Trump’s campaign, for Trump’s positions on legal and illegal immigration.

Trump’s public stance has seemingly always been to keep the “bad people” out and let the smart people in. But a conversation between Bannon and Miller from March 2016, on SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Daily first resurfaced by the Washington Post, shows Bannon and Miller may both hold a more conservative view on immigration.

“Isn’t the beating heart of this problem, the real beating heart of it, of what we gotta get sorted here, not illegal immigration?” Bannon asked Miller. “As horrific as that is, and it’s horrific, don’t we have a problem? We’ve looked the other way on this legal immigration that’s kinda overwhelmed the country?”

Bannon goes on to decry the “oligarchs” of Silicon Valley and Washington and call the number of immigrants in the United States “scary.”

Miller’s response is affirmation: “The history of America is that an immigration-on period is followed by an immigration-off period,” he said.

As the power and sway of these two men becomes increasingly apparent, their conversation is worth revisiting. Here is the exchange:

BANNON: Where are we in the Trump campaign with the H-1B visas? Because we got the oligarchs down there, man, and they have got Karl Rove and literally hundreds of millions of dollars, and they are coming with one reason. And they are coming for unlimited ability to go throughout the world and have people come here and compete with kids coming out of engineering schools and IT jobs. If you are in your 40s and 50s right now, people will tell you, they haven’t had a raise in decades in IT. What was supposed to be a great career turned out not to be a great career. It’s because of these visas.

And now you got all the engineering schools full of people from South Asia and East Asia. And it’s not that I have any problem with those folks learning, but they are coming here to take these jobs. You have turned over the entire American education system — we have cut out art, we have cut out history, we have cut out music. Why have we done it? STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math. We have told every minority kid in this country, you got to excel at that. What happens? They get into graduate schools, they can’t get engineering degrees, they can’t get into graduate schools because there are all these foreign students, when they come out, they can’t get a job. And they are looking for these people like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump who talk about immigration and talk about H-1B visas to stand up for them against these oligarchs. So where are we on this?

MILLER: Well, that was brilliantly stated.


High-skilled immigration and the H-1B visa are just not the same thing. And you’ll notice when you pick up a copy of the newspaper, you will often see the phrase high-skilled immigration — and sometimes it is used by people on our own side, and I just don’t ever use that phrase, because the reality is we are talking about less skilled foreign guest workers that are less educated than Americans, who are paid less than Americans, who know less about the computing industry and about the technology industry than Americans — so I just don’t use that phrase.

BANNON: Is Donald Trump going to stand up to these oligarchs? That are down on this island with Arthur Brooks and all the swells of guys at AEI ... down there with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, who wants unlimited immigration. ... Is Donald Trump going to stand up to those guys, or is he going to kiss their ring?

MILLER: There is zero doubt what Mr. Trump’s position is on H-1Bs. And the statement that went out that evening from Mr. Trump, that he felt very strongly about, made clear that the H-1B program is going to be reformed dramatically to protect American workers. If you go back and look at Mr. Trump’s policy papers —


The word high-skilled doesn’t even appear in that paper — because again, we don’t use the term to describe high-skilled workers — other people can, that’s their choice, but the system that he wants is that on the permanent immigration that we would switch from a low-skilled to a high-skilled system, on the permanent immigration side. Not talking these guest workers.

BANNON: You saw these guest workers. You saw the CIS report yesterday. You saw that, what is it, 61 million? Isn’t the beating heart of this problem, the real beating heart of it, of what we gotta get sorted here, is not illegal immigration? As horrific as that is, and it’s horrific, don’t we have a problem, we’ve looked the other way on this legal immigration that’s kinda overwhelmed the country? When you look and there’s got 61 million, 20 percent of the country, is immigrants — is that not a massive problem? You were with Jeff Sessions for many, many years. Is that not the beating heart of this problem?

MILLER: Well, yes, it’s mind-boggling, and it is something I have talked about before at some length on your program. It’s important to understand that historically speaking, that immigration is supposed to be interrupted with periods of assimilation and integration. So if you looked at the numerically smaller immigration waves from 1880 to 1920, when the foreign-born population increased from 7 million to 14 million, there was zero immigration growth for the next half-century. In fact, the foreign-born population growth shrank remarkably. So from 1920 to 1970, the foreign-born population shrank from 14 million to about 10 million. The number of immigrants in the country, the total number of immigrants, shrank in 50 years, and the overall American population doubled. Now, to just finish this short history of immigration, from 1970 to today the foreign-born population has quadrupled, more than quadrupled, from less than 10 million to more than 40 million plus the kids that are from the CIS report.

BANNON: It’s scary. It’s scary.

Miller: So there is no precedent for that kind of growth whatsoever. If you were to follow the history of the 20th century — and you want to win an immigration argument with your friends, and they say we should follow America’s history — well, the answer to that is, you’re absolutely right. We should follow America’s history, and the history of America is that an immigration-on period is followed by an immigration-off period.

Correction: This article originally incorrectly stated the exchange between Bannon and Miller took place on Breitbart News podcast. It was on SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Daily.

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