National Security

Trump Aims to Set the Immigration Record Straight

"There is only one core issue: the well-being of the American people."

Nate Jackson · Sep. 1, 2016

As we noted back in August, Donald Trump’s immigration plan was exactly why he was so appealing to Republican primary voters. Here was an outsider who promised to do what the establishment wouldn’t — secure the border and deport millions of illegal aliens. Then came the general election, and Trump appeared to soften his stance. On Wednesday, however, he worked to set things straight with a significant speech on the subject. The question, then, is which Trump would take office and set policy?

Trump began the day with a huge gamble — making a visit to Mexico to meet with its president, Enrique Pena Nieto. We say gamble because it could have gone very badly for Trump if Nieto publicly repudiated him or if Trump failed to appear “presidential.” But it paid off. The meeting was cordial, and Trump both appeared presidential and elevated a sense of cooperation with our southern neighbor. Such cooperation is essential to solving the immigration problem for both countries.

On the subject of deportations, Trump said yesterday, “According to federal data, there are at least two million criminal aliens now inside the country. We will begin moving them out day one, in joint operations with local, state and federal law enforcement. Beyond the two million, there are a vast number of additional criminal illegal immigrants who have fled or evaded justice. But their days on the run will soon be over. They go out, and they go out fast. Moving forward, we will issue detainers for all illegal immigrants who are arrested for any crime whatsoever, and they will be placed into immediate removal proceedings. We will terminate the Obama administration’s deadly non-enforcement policies that allow thousands of criminal aliens to freely roam our streets.”

He thus definitely softened his previous pledge to deport all (estimated) 11 million illegals as quickly as possible.

First deporting illegals guilty of other crimes is to us the common-sense position. But it also happens to be the position held by most of Trump’s rivals for the nomination, including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, whom Trump and his supporters derided as “globalists” supporting “amnesty.” Trump also scoffed at Mitt Romney’s 2012 plan to enforce employment law in such a way as to encourage self-deportation. Now that’s also part of Trump’s plan, as is waiting until enforcement works before deciding what to do with “those who remain.” It’s good to see him come around.

Trump very effectively made his case for deporting criminals by telling the stories of five people killed by illegals. “Countless Americans who have died in recent years would be alive today if not for the open border policies of this administration.”

He also clearly set the terms of the debate, while rejecting the premise of the Left. “The central issue is not the needs of the 11 million illegal immigrants,” he said. “Only out of touch media elites think the biggest problem facing American society today is that there are 11 million illegal immigrants who don’t have legal status. To all the politicians, donors and special interests, hear these words from me today. There is only one core issue in the immigration debate and it is this: the well-being of the American people.”

In short, his position as stated yesterday is essentially the — or at least an — orthodox Republican position. So back to our opening question: Which Trump would take office? By that, we mean to ask why he let the debate over his shifting stance simmer for the last two weeks, when the overall effect of this speech was to reiterate that he’d be the toughest president on immigration in a long time. That’s what matters to voters. Trusting Trump (or any politician, for that matter) to follow through is another story.

And a parting thought from Trump, just this morning, after the speech: “Oh, there’s softening. … I think you’re going to see there’s really quite a bit of softening.”

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