So much for that pivot. Despite speculation over a so-called “softening” on immigration policy, Donald Trump returned to true nativist form on Wednesday night with a speech laying out his ten-point plan for reforming our immigration system. Among his proposals were building a border wall, a new deportation task force, and a requirement that undocumented immigrants leave the country to apply for legal status. There will be no path to citizenship for the undocumented.
Trump’s speech was long on inflammatory rhetoric, and short on viable policy solutions. He missed no opportunity to demonize immigrants, yet failed to address the issue at the heart of the immigration debate – what to do with the estimated 11 million undocumented people who are already here. Trump also revealed his ignorance about how our immigration system works.
The tone of this speech was harsh, at times flat-out ugly. Trump thinks that Syrian refugees arriving in the U.S have it too easy, and that undocumented immigrants are treated better than veterans. He believes that we should institute an “ideological loyalty test” for prospective immigrants; never mind that this would likely be unconstitutional. He described some immigrants as a potential “Trojan Horse,” and reeled off crimes allegedly committed by undocumented people.
What Trump did not do was deliver a speech grounded in fact. He ignored the reality that, according to experts and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, our border is more secure and safer than ever. He ignored the reality that illegal immigration is down, with more Mexicans leaving than entering the U.S. He ignored the reality that undocumented immigrants are our friends, family members, colleagues, employees, and neighbors. Instead viewers got a fiery tirade invoking every negative stereotype of what Trump called “criminal aliens” and a long list of all the people he plans to deport on Day One.
Trump stated that the only way that undocumented people might be allowed to adjust their status is if they return to their countries of origin, apply to re-enter legally, and go through a vetting process. But under current immigration law, this is not possible. Anyone who has remained in the U.S. illegally for over six months who leaves the country – for any reason – is automatically subject to a ban on re-entry for three years, ten years, or sometimes permanently. These provisions apply even if someone is leaving to apply for a visa or entry permit at a consulate.
Meanwhile, consider that 62 percent of the undocumented have lived here for more than a decade, and one-fifth have lived here for more than two decades. Imagine the social and economic disruption if such people were forced back to countries where they no longer belong. So Trump’s notion that he will make people leave and then allow the “good ones” to come back is as impractical as it is inhumane.
As Trump enumerated his ideas, from ending funding for sanctuary cities to increasing the budget for the Border Patrol, he mostly overlooked the fact that such proposals must all go through Congress. That’s one reason we do not yet have national mandatory E-Verify or an entry/exit tracking system for visas; lawmakers may like these ideas in theory, but they balk at funding them. Does Trump plan on making Congress pay for programs the same way he intends to make Mexico pay for the wall?
At times, Trump’s screed veered into blatant falsehoods. He claimed that undocumented immigrants are a net drain on society, while there is solid research showing otherwise. He ripped into the “Obama/Clinton” immigration failures, even though Hillary Clinton, in her former role as Secretary of State, did not set immigration policy. He said that Clinton wants “open borders for all” which is not true. For the record, Clinton plans to work with Congress on an overhaul of our immigration system, end immigrant family detention, and use executive action only as a last resort.
For undocumented immigrants and their allies, much of Trump’s speech was chilling. He vowed to cancel DACA, which has helped thousands of young people live productive lives without fear of deportation. He wants to bring back the troublesome 287(g) and Secure Communities programs, which sowed fear in immigrant communities until President Obama’s DHS phased them out. And just in case there were any doubt about what a Trump administration would be like, The Donald was clear: “Everyone not following immigration laws is subject to deportation.” He went so far as to suggest that anyone apprehended for immigration violations be detained and deported at once, without the due process required by law. Such disregard for our justice system and civil liberties is staggering.
How darkly ironic that this virulent anti-immigrant sentiment comes from a man who has been accused of using illegal workers on his hotels and properties, whose modeling agency allegedly flouted immigration law, who prefers to hire cheaper foreign labor over Americans at his Florida resort, and whose wife has her own immigration controversy. Hostility, meet hypocrisy.
Basically, Trump’s “new” immigration policy is what is has been all along, the mobilizing of xenophobia towards immigrants and anyone else his base views as The Other. The only positive takeaway from Trump’s proposals was that they exist in a far-right bubble, away from the large majorities of Americans who favor practical immigration solutions. According to a July Gallup poll, 84 percent of Americans, including 76 percent of Republicans, want a path to citizenship for the undocumented with conditions – something Trump derides as “amnesty.” Two-thirds of Americans, incidentally, are against Trump’s wall.
Trump’s immigration speech should serve notice on anyone who still believes that he can or is willing to change for the general election. The GOP nominee for president intends to make America Great Again by terrorizing and demonizing immigrants, and by trampling on our nation’s core values in the process.