Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The "Amnesty" Trap

As his campaign paves the way for some statement on immigration policy, Donald Trump appears on the verge of falling into a conventional trap on immigration: making the fate of current illegal immigrants the centerpiece of any immigration discussion.  The Democratic party and its media allies prefer to focus on what to do with the "undocumented" because this issue splits conservatives and obscures other areas of immigration policy that badly need reform.

As I've long argued, immigration policy is about much more than what to do with illegal immigrants, just as tax reform is about much more than what to do with people who owe back taxes.  It's also about much more than building THE WALL or whether or not we should have a so-called DEPORTATION FORCE.  The Trump campaign has a tendency to grope toward hot-button issues (and the status of illegal immigrants is certainly one of those), but its interests would be better served by focusing on other oft-ignored--but very important--policy issues, including:

  • The size and structure of our legal immigration system (by the way, the current legal immigration system makes the legalization of illegal immigrants much harder)
  • The size and structure of guest-worker programs
  • How to improve various mechanisms of interior enforcement, such as E-Verify
  • Efforts to encourage upward mobility and integration for recent immigrants

On many of these issues, the agenda of the far Left (and Hillary Clinton) is radically out of step with the American people, so the Trump campaign would benefit from framing the discussion about immigration on these terms.

The editors of National Review and others have suggested that Trump would be far better off arguing that the question of the status of long-term illegal immigrants would be better addressed once a reformed enforcement regime is up and running.

Of course, in order to make that alternative argument, the Trump campaign (including the candidate himself) will have to be willing to discuss policy details in depth.  The shiny bright-red button of media polarization will have to give way to sober deliberation, which might be less explosive but is also often more politically beneficial.


  1. Hillary Clinton has staked out the most radical position on illegal immigration ever seen by a nominee, saying that no illegal immigrant should have to leave, save for the few that are deemed truly dangerous. That effectively amounts to open borders for anyone breaking our immigration laws and is at odds with the president's duty to uphold the laws of the nation. Yet Trump manages to obscure that by making himself the issue regarding immigration. Neither walling the entire border nor the quick, mass deportation of all illegal immigrants is advocated by experts who truly believe in legal and limited immigration. Trump should defer to the expertise of such people and commit to keeping to only a handful of statements on immigration intended to try to change the terms of the debate to one disadvantages Clinton, highlighting the decades-long disregard for the rule of law by those in government that makes realizing the lawful and limited immigration that most American people want impossible. Trump should focus on a sincere intention to delivering that end, letting others craft the specific means to achieve it. And he should emphasize the contrast because, if you like illegal immigration, Hillary Clinton is your candidate.

    Immigration is a news media minefield and a sensible candidate unskilled in the area wouldn't choose to carelessly dance there but rather solicit proxies who are experienced in navigating that when it comes to questions in service of an agenda. One of the arguments being made for Trump is he doesn't have to be the expert himself but that he has the ability to competently choose people who are. Let's see that.

  2. Nonsense. Waiting for "a reformed enforcement regime [to be] up and running" is what we've been doing for decades, and what has actually happened is that the cheap labor lobby keeps getting its way while lip service is paid to doing anything for GOP voters. Deport now ("They must go!" - Trump) is a simple promise and you can see whether it is happening. I'm not taking any wooden nickels.