SAN DIEGO – Did Donald Trump really just do a total flip-flop on immigration? No, I don’t believe he did.
I think the elite media in New York and Washington are once again showing that they don’t understand the immigration issue well enough to report on it honestly, clearly and comprehensively. This is a topic full of complexity and nuance, and the media aren’t capable of grasping either.
We see the media’s ignorance about immigration on display when networks send reporters to the U.S.-Mexico border to film illegal immigrants when a trip to the neighborhood big-box store in New Jersey or Maryland would suffice, when TV commentators suggest that Americans can deport our way to a solution without thinking about the possibility that those who we deport will come back, and when cable news anchors debate how to punish those who are in the country illegally but turn a blind eye to those U.S. citizens who break the law by hiring them.
Now Trump has reportedly told members of his national Hispanic advisory council that he regretted some of his more hurtful comments about Hispanics and that, if elected, he wants to find a “humane and efficient” manner to deal with immigrants who are in the country illegally.
According to BuzzFeed, which spoke to people at the meeting, Trump stressed that any such accommodation would have to take place in the context of increased border security and his much ballyhooed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. And he still plans to carry out some deportations.
But the real estate developer did seem open to hearing ideas about how to deal with what he acknowledged was the toughest part of the debate – what to do with those who are in this country without the proper documents.
And in some cases, Trump seemed to admit, the proper remedy might include a pathway to earned legal status. According to Univision, at least one participant heard Trump say that mass deportations aren’t the answer and that a better idea might be to allow the undocumented to sort out their legal status on U.S. soil through “embassies or consulates of their countries.”
Those who characterize this as a flip-flop point to earlier comments such as what Trump said during an interview last August on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The businessman told host Chuck Todd that the undocumented “have to go.” In other interviews, he talked about creating a “deportation force.”
On Sunday, when CNN’s Dana Bash asked Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, if the nominee’s immigration plan still included a deportation force that would remove illegal immigrants, Conway replied: “To be determined.”
The undocumented population in the United States is estimated at about 11 million people. Many conservatives think these people should all be sent home, while many liberals think they should all be allowed to stay.
Both camps are wrong. We can’t treat all these people the same. We need to sift through the population and deport, for instance, the bad actors who have criminal convictions for violent crimes but not the housekeepers who mean no harm and simply want to provide for their children.
That’s common sense, which explains why you don’t hear this sort of thing in proposals coming from Washington – a place where common sense goes to die.
I would just as soon not defend Trump, especially on immigration. But it doesn’t seem fair for the media to be so quick to label as a “flip-flop” what could just be the separate elements of a balanced approach. After all, President Obama has deported a record number of people while still using executive action to spare others that fate.
If you listen closely to what Trump has said about immigration since he launched his campaign, you’ll see he wants to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, keep out immigrants who have sinister motives for entering the United States, make it easier for well-intentioned immigrants to come legally, and deport those with criminal records before they do more harm.
Now, Trump may have added a new piece to the puzzle: creating – for some of the undocumented but not all – a path to earned legal status or citizenship.
The media might be able to improve their batting average on the immigration issue, and figure out that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this complicated problem, if only they would give Trump something they’re determined to deny him: a fair hearing.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.