On Sunday, 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump released his long-awaited detailed immigration plan. Many, including this author, have criticized Trump for his lack of details and his vagaries on key issues including immigration. Those criticisms are now obsolete – Trump’s immigration plan is highly specific.
Most of all, Trump’s immigration plan will now force the other Republican candidates into a corner: Trump has outflanked them on the right on what may be the key issue for a huge percentage of the Republican base, who feel that Democratic political dominance springs from a purposefully-pursued demographic shift in the country.
Trump apparently sought heavy advice from Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), an undoubted expert on the immigration issue, and the Senate’s top hard-liner on it. The advice shows: Trump isn’t just focused on ending illegal immigration, he’s focused on seriously curtailing legal immigration, including vaunted allegedly high-tech H-1B visas.
Trump’s plan begins by ripping Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), a candidate considered a possible favorite of the establishment, calling Rubio’s immigration reform bill “nothing more than a giveaway to the corporate patrons who run both parties.” Trump’s website then continues:
Real immigration reform puts the needs of working people first – not wealthy globetrotting donors. We are the only country in the world whose immigration system puts the needs of other nations ahead of our own. That must change. Here are the three core principles of real immigration reform:
1. A nation without borders is not a nation. There must be a wall across the southern border.
2. A nation without laws is not a nation. Laws passed in accordance with our Constitutional system of government must be enforced.
3. A nation that does not serve its own citizens is not a nation. Any immigration plan must improve jobs, wages and security for all Americans.
It would be difficult for any Republican to argue with these core principles. By framing the issue in terms of borders, laws, and national interest, Trump firmly thrusts other Republican candidates into the uncomfortable position of either backing his plan or a variant thereof, or of rejecting his plan and being labeled lawless and corporate-backed. It’s smart politics.
Then Trump gets to the specifics. Trump doubles down on the controversial remarks that launched his 2016 campaign, in which he suggested that the Mexican government was sending rapists and criminals across America’s southern border. The inflammatory language has been toned down, but the suggestion has not:
For many years, Mexico’s leaders have been taking advantage of the United States by using illegal immigration to export the crime and poverty in their own country (as well as in other Latin American countries)…. The effects on jobseekers have also been disastrous, and black Americans have been particularly harmed. The impact in terms of crime has been tragic.
In short, says Trump, “the Mexican government has taken the United States to the cleaners.” Trump then says that Mexico should pay to put up a wall between the United States and Mexico, and that the United States ought to use a variety of pressure mechanisms to force such payment:
Mexico must pay for the wall and, until they do, the United States will, among other things: impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages; increase fees on all temporary visas issued to Mexican CEOs and diplomats (and if necessary cancel them); increase fees on all border crossing cards – of which we issue about 1 million to Mexican nationals each year (a major source of visa overstays); increase fees on all NAFTA worker visas from Mexico (another major source of overstays); and increase fees at ports of entry to the United States from Mexico [Tariffs and foreign aid cuts are also options]. We will not be taken advantage of anymore.
Some of these options seem reasonable; others do not. Shutting down remittances garnered from illegal wages should be broadened to include all illegal remittances, not just those to Mexico. Increasing fees on border crossing, NAFTA worker visas, and fees at ports of entry targets legal immigration, and thus punishes people who are at least titularly attempting to do things the right way. Trump also suggests the possibility of foreign aid cuts (a good idea, if the Mexican government continues its inability or unwillingness to fight the drug cartels properly) and tariffs (a terrible idea that will drive up prices in the United States).
Trump then moves on to his deportation policies. These are likely to resonate strongly with Republican voters. Citing the Constitution and the rule of law, Trump’s website states, “No one is above the law.” He then suggests tripling the number of ICE officers, funded by eliminating tax credits to illegal immigrants; making e-verify, the system by which employers must check immigration status before hiring, national; cancelling the visas to all criminal aliens; detention, not catch-and-release, of illegal immigrants; federal defunding of all sanctuary cities; higher penalties for visa overstays; and cooperation between the federal authorities and local police forces in fighting foreign-funded gangs like MS-13. All of this makes sense. My own objection to e-verify has long been based on the stupidity of forcing private business to enforce the law while the federal government refuses to do so; were the federal government to actually enforce immigration law, that calculus would change instantly.
Trump’s furthest-reaching and most controversial proposal in terms of immigration enforcement comes in rejecting birthright citizenship. Historically speaking, birth inside America’s borders did not confer automatic citizenship; the language of the Constitution itself suggests that one must be “subject to the jurisdiction” of the country, so if one’s parents were foreign citizens, you would not be “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States. In Wong Kim Ark (1898), the Supreme Court said that a child born to legal residents of the United States was a citizen; it has never been explicitly stated by any Supreme Court ruling, however, that birthright citizenship encompasses the children of illegal immigrants. However, the Supreme Court has signaled its interpretation of birthright citizenship follows the leftist view; a Constitutional amendment would likely be required to prevent the Supreme Court from striking down any law reforming birthright citizenship. It is unclear at best whether such a redefinition would apply retroactively.
Some on the right disingenuously suggest that Trump’s immigration enforcement scheme would set up a “police state.” Rick Wilson, a frequent Trump and Breitbart critic, labels this part of Trump’s plan “fascism.” Rich Cromwell of The Federalist writes, “In short, the great conservative savior who wants to ‘Make America Great Again’ primarily plans to do so by creating vast new swathes of bureaucracy and swelling the police state.”
This is inane. Conservatives have always been in favor of law and order. The left has hijacked the processes of law and order to arm up executive agencies ranging from the Department of Agriculture to the Railroad Retirement Board. More law enforcement to fight immigration criminality would not be fascism. It would be the rule of law. How, exactly, do these conservatives expect illegal immigration to stop? Magic? Crime has dropped in America not because of booming economics but because America has imprisoned increasing numbers of criminals. Illegal immigration will drop over the long term because of increasing enforcement, not thanks to good will. A hampered American economy may create less illegal immigration, but that’s not something for which Americans should root.
Finally, Trump’s plan turns to trade. This is the most populist prong of Trump’s plan, and the one likeliest to draw incoming fire from the other candidates. Trump’s site states:
Decades of disastrous trade deals and immigration policies have destroyed our middle class. Today, nearly 40% of black teenagers are unemployed. Nearly 30% of Hispanic teenagers are unemployed. For black Americans without high school diplomas, the bottom has fallen out: more than 70% were employed in 1960, compared to less than 40% in 2000….The influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans – including immigrants themselves and their children – to earn a middle class wage.
For those of us who believe that the free movement of goods and people – without criminality, of course – enriches Americans by generating more innovation, cheaper products, and more competition, blaming America’s unemployment on illegal immigration seems backwards. America’s highly-regulated economy drives the desire to import labor, and draws foreign labor like a magnet. Making America’s companies less competitive by shrinking their labor pool on the basis of birthplace does not help American companies’ competitiveness any more than raising the minimum wage helps generate American jobs. But Trump knows his blue collar pitch:
Every year, we voluntarily admit another 2 million new immigrants, guest workers, refugees, and dependents, growing our existing all-time historic record population of 42 million immigrants. We need to control the admission of new low-earning workers in order to: help wages grow, get teenagers back to work, aid minorities’ rise into the middle class, help schools and communities falling behind, and to ensure our immigrant members of the national family become part of the American dream.
Trump’s practical proposals include increasing the prevailing wage for H-1Bs, which would limit immigrants with jobs to those in high-wage positions. The goal: to “force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs” to Americans. Trump slaps at Rubio again here, calling him “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Senator,” accusing his bill of tripling visas that “would decimate women and minorities.” Trump also calls for an end to J-1 visas and a “pause where employers will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers.”
This is disastrous. Cracking down on American businesses kills jobs, drives up prices, and pushes them to move abroad. Protectionism destroys economies, and punishes businesses that aren’t in bed with the government, receiving subsidies for doing the government’s bidding. Jobs are not “American” – they are jobs to be filled by the best available applicant at the lowest available price, and if America attempts to chain them to its borders, the jobs will simply leave. Ask Europe.
Trump’s other proposals on this score fare better. Trump calls for an end to welfare abuse, and a refugee program for American children designed to fight crime – this latter, mainly a guise for hiring more law enforcement.
On Sunday, Trump spoke on NBC’s Meet The Press, where he said he would deport all illegal immigrants. “We have to keep the families together, but they have to go,” Trump explained. Asked how he would pay for that plan, Trump said, “Do you think there’s a tremendous cost for the illegals that are in here right now? Do you think there’s tremendous crime being committed by illegals?” He also said he would expedite some immigrants’ return to the United States. “The good people can come back,” he explained.
Whatever one thinks of Trump’s proposals, they are certainly serious. They are also geared toward boxing in his opponents, who will now have to combat him on the issues – precisely the area they should have attacked him all along. Now they’re late to the party, and once again, Trump is setting the agenda.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.