Is this the “pivot” by Donald Trump we’ve all been waiting for? It looks more like a giant step backward.
Instead of adopting a moderate position on immigration that could make the Republican presidential nominee more palatable to the mainstream – which, polls indicate, doesn’t favor mass deportations and supports earned legal status if illegal immigrants acknowledge wrongdoing – a recent shift in Trump’s immigration plan makes the candidate appear more xenophobic.
I didn’t believe this was possible for someone who launched his campaign on a promise to protect Americans from Mexican criminals and rapists – a fear-mongering tactic that seems passe now that Trump is more worried about the Islamic State.
The candidate is framing his recent call for “extreme vetting” of legal immigrants who come from countries where there is a lot of terrorism as a national security measure. Supposedly the objective is to prevent future attacks against the United States. Yet it’s also being pitched as part of his overall immigration policy.
This is not at all helpful. As evidenced by the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando, the new threat is from Muslim Americans who are already in the United States but have become radicalized. How does cracking down on immigration stop that?
Also, the immigration debate in the United States is largely a discussion about what to do with Mexican immigrants who, in better economic times, stream across the U.S.-Mexico border and who now seem to be headed in the opposite direction. It’s not fair to mix this group with radical Islamic terrorists. Here’s how we tell them apart: One threatens our lives by wanting to do harm; the other makes our lives possible by doing the cooking, landscaping and vacuuming.
Trump’s vetting plan is the brainchild of Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, to whom the candidate outsourced the job of shaping his immigration policy.
Since these ideas are on loan, Trump may not see them through if he is elected president. The GOP standard-bearer seems to have no core beliefs, but he does have a willingness to compromise. He might just be pushing a right-wing hard line on immigration to energize the GOP base, with no intention of ever implementing it.
Earlier this year, Trump had an off-the-record conversation with The New York Times editorial board in which he supposedly said that his campaign rhetoric about removing scores of illegal immigrants with a “deportation force” was probably not something that he would follow through with. Instead, Trump said, that kind of talk was merely the starting point of a negotiation.
This would mean that Sessions could soon find himself on the sidelines, as have other Trump former advisers. Still, for now, the senator seems to be driving Trump’s policy agenda on immigration. And that’s not good.
It’s one thing to take a stand against illegal immigration because, as Trump said early in his campaign, without laws and borders, you don’t have a country. But it’s another thing to make it harder to immigrate legally. Legal immigration is something that most Americans support, and seem to agree isn’t the real problem.
After all, if you argue that people have to follow the rules, how do you then turn around and penalize those who have done just that?
You’d be surprised. This conflating of legal and illegal immigration happens every day in the immigration debate, which has always been about keeping out not just the undocumented but foreigners in general.
For one thing, that’s where the numbers are. There are, in the United States, more than three times as many foreign-born Americans (roughly 40 million) who are here legally as there are illegal immigrants (about 11 million).
Besides, some insist that legal immigration leads to more illegal immigration because people from other countries will try to join family members in the United States, even if they must do so illegally.
So, if what motivates you to take a hard line against immigration is a concern over the racial and ethnic composition of America, sooner or later you have to drop the pretense that you’re only concerned with illegal immigrants and go after their legal brethren.
Accordingly, whereas Trump was initially worried only about illegal immigrants, he now wants to put obstacles in the way of some legal immigrants – if they come from the wrong countries.
The GOP nominee brags about his intelligence. But you have to wonder: What part of “legal” does The Donald not understand?
Ruben Navarrette firstname.lastname@example.org