Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told a crowd at a private gathering in England on Wednesday night that the Trump administration “needs more immigrants” for the U.S. economy to continue growing, according to a audio recording of his remarks obtained by The Washington Post.

“We are desperate – desperate – for more people,” Mulvaney said. “We are running out of people to fuel the economic growth that we’ve had in our nation over the last four years. We need more immigrants.”

Mick Mulvaney

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Evan Vucci/associated Press

The Trump administration wants those immigrants to come in a “legal fashion,” Mulvaney said, according to the recording.

Mulvaney’s remarks appear in contrast to the public position of several top figures in Trump’s White House – especially that of senior policy adviser Stephen Miller – who have been working to slash both legal and illegal immigration via a slew of policies that aim to close off the U.S. border to foreigners. They have insisted that the steady arrival of newcomers depresses wages for the blue-collar U.S. workers whose votes helped lift Trump to the presidency in 2016.

Mulvaney’s comments were more in line with conventional GOP views of immigration as a major engine for the U.S. economy. The White House chief of staff told the crowd of several hundred people at Oxford Union that despite the president’s “anti-immigrant” reputation, his administration wants more foreign workers.

He praised the immigration systems in Canada and Australia and said the Trump administration wants the United States to embrace a model closer to those nations. “We are very interested in expanding that,” he said.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, has made similar arguments in advocating for giving higher priority to highly skilled immigrants instead of those seeking to reunite with family members already living in the United States. But his plan for legal immigration has not received congressional approval and remains unlikely to do so in Trump’s first term, administration officials said.

Hard-line immigration restrictionists want fewer new arrivals – legal and illegal – arguing that immigrants increase wage competition against U.S. workers. Miller and former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon embraced those arguments during the president’s 2016 campaign, which they argued was key to his electoral strategy in Rust Belt states that have suffered from job losses and wage stagnation.

Trump has waffled on the subject, at times suggesting that he would like to curb legal immigration and at times saying he would like to increase it.

“If everyone from Bangladesh moved here, the economy would get bigger. Would the economic condition of people already here get better? Is it necessary to increase immigration to improve the condition of Americans who are already here? The answer is no,” said Mark Krikorian, an immigration restrictionist at the Center for Immigration Studies. “A tight labor market is the best social policy.”

Since Trump took office, the number of immigration visas issued by the State Department has dropped 17 percent, according to the latest U.S. government data. Defenders of the president’s policies note that the United States continues to grant legal permanent residency to more than 1 million immigrants per year, far more than any other nation.

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