Government & Politics

Trump on Immigration: Softening or Sophistry?

To understand his evolution, one has to examine his past record.

Arnold Ahlert · Aug. 29, 2016

“There’s nothing Trump can do that won’t be forgiven. Except change his immigration policies.” —from Ann Coulter’s latest book, “In Trump We Trust”

Has Trump changed his immigration policies? The best way to begin answering that question is to examine his past record. In his own 2011 book, “Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again,” Trump outlined a five point immigration plan:

  • Build a fence, deploy 25,000 additional border agents, and utilize Predator drones to facilitate the effort.
  • Enforce existing immigration law.
  • Do away with “resort-like” illegal immigrant detention centers.
  • Oppose the DREAM Act.
  • Eliminate tuition breaks for illegal aliens.

Trump also demanded an end to the interpretation of the 14th Amendment that allows for “anchor babies” born to illegals to automatically become citizens simply because they were born on U.S. soil.

Then there is also Trump’s website. It includes a policy paper released in August 2015 that delves into greater detail. Highlights include all of the aforementioned ideas and these additional ones:

  • Nationwide e-verify to protect American jobs.
  • Mandatory return of all criminal aliens to their home countries and “canceling any visas” of those countries that refuse to accept them.
  • The defunding of sanctuary cities.
  • The enhancement of penalties for visa over-stayers.
  • The reformation of the H-1B visa system by increasing prevailing wage thresholds and adopting a requirement to hire Americans first.

So far, so good in terms of the ostensible consistency his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, insists Trump is maintaining.

Unfortunately, there is one agenda item that has indeed “evolved.” “Donald Trump estimated that it will take 18 months to two years to get the roughly 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to leave the country, and that he would then build a wall running along the border with Mexico,” reported The Wall Street Journal last September. “The businessman’s statement made on a call with Alabama Republicans Thursday night added a bit of specificity to the Republican presidential frontrunner’s hardline stance on immigration.”

That was then. This is now. “Let me go a step further — [illegal immigrants will] pay back-taxes — they have to pay taxes, there’s no amnesty, as such, there’s no amnesty, but we work with them,” Trump stated to Fox News’ Sean Hannity, even as he reasserted there would be no citizenship available for those illegals.

He further insisted it would be hard to deport illegals who have lived here for a long time. “Now, everybody agrees we get the bad ones out,” Trump added. “But when I go through and I meet thousands and thousands of people on this subject, and I’ve had very strong people come up to me, really great, great people come up to me, and they’ve said, ‘Mr. Trump, I love you, but to take a person who’s been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and their family out, it’s so tough, Mr. Trump,’ I have it all the time! It’s a very, very hard thing.”

Perhaps it is. But there is little doubt it was precisely Trump’s ostensible willingness to do a very, very hard thing with regard to illegal immigration that vaulted him past 16 other Republicans whose own solutions to the problem ranged from vague and evasive, to the very same amnesty and “pathway to citizenship” advocated by Hillary Clinton.

Will it hurt him? “What BuzzFeed found will not surprise anyone who’s been paying even a modicum of attention and understands the motivations of the Trump movement. In other words, everybody except the left-wing media,” asserts The Daily Wire’s James B. Barrett. “The consensus: Trump fans had no problem with Trump’s immigration pivot — or as many put it, to the Left’s chagrin, his ‘evolution.’”

The Washington Post echoes that idea, noting that “many rank-and-file voters will give Trump relatively broad latitude to alter the parameters of his immigration policies.” Trump supporter Ahava Van Camp agreed. “He always said that as he got closer to November he’d get into more details. Now we’re seeing that. It’s not a pivot. He’s on second base and getting closer to home.”

It’s a long way from second base to home, and there is an element of calculated cynicism that cannot be ignored. Trump’s evolution follows a meeting with his newly announced Hispanic advisory council attended by newly appointed campaign CEO Steve Bannon and Conway. Both leaders were characterized by a Trump supporter as people who understand the need for a “big tent coalition” that includes Latinos. Jerry Natividad, a Hispanic Republican from Colorado, insists Trump’s people “want to put together a task force very much like the Ronald Reagan days, with the exception of amnesty,” along with a policy for illegals that “doesn’t put them in front of the line, but puts them in line.”

The cynicism? A calculation based on the idea that additional supporters can be garnered without losing those already on board. An idea more than likely animated by the reality Clinton’s “open the illegal immigration floodgates” approach leaves those now less-than-enchanted supporters nowhere else to go.

But there is a place those supporters can go. They can go home and stay there on Election Day, just like the Evangelicals did during the 2012 election. “If Mr. Trump were to go down a path of wishy-washy positions taken on things that the core foundation of his support has so appreciated, and that is respecting our Constitution and respecting law and order in America, then yeah, there would be massive disappointment,” stated Trump supporter Sarah Palin. She expects Trump to clarify his position in the coming days, “leaving no doubt that he’s as strong against illegal immigration as he was to start with.”

Palin, and any other Trump supporters dismayed with the Republican nominee’s newfound position, shouldn’t get their hopes up. His attempts over the weekend to “clarify” his position, including his assertion the media has “missed the whole point on immigration,” isn’t likely to mollify those for whom “softening” equals capitulation.

Thus on the immigration front, it would increasingly appear Americans have an invidious choice for president. One between a candidate completely dedicated to rewarding millions of people for breaking the law, and one partially dedicated. One who chooses to let illegals stay, and one who chooses to send them away and come back to stay. One willing to fully embrace the fundamental transformation of the United States, and one apparently willing to embrace fundamental transformation “lite.”

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” —from “Animal Farm” by George Orwell.

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