There were only two ways the mainstream media would portray Donald Trump’s speech on immigration once he finally delivered it. Either Trump would be the same dreadfully inhumane guy he’s been throughout the campaign or he would be a flip-flopper whose word cannot be trusted on anything.
The “meany” option was always the preferred one. Voters seemed to have little problem with Trump flip-flopping to more reasonable ground on immigration. And why should they, given the fact that Hillary Clinton has changed her position on everything from gay marriage to international trade?
Trump’s speech was therefore inconvenient for the mainstream media. As discussed below, he substantially softened his position on illegal immigration.
What to do? Easy — pretend that Trump hasn’t shifted.
This is what Washington Post reporters Jenna Johnson, Robert Costa, and Philip Rucker have done in a dishonest piece called “How Trump got from Point A to Point A on immigration.” (The paper edition’s sub-headline states “immigration views unchanged”). With partisanship dripping from nearly every other word, they write:
[Trump] spent days floating a series of possible changes and gauging the reaction, and even visited Mexico for a few hours Wednesday in a bid to appear more presidential. But later that night, he decided to stick with the far-right positions that were key to his success in the Republican primaries and could help him cement the support of white men — one demographic where he beats Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s original position on immigration had two main features: (1) build the big wall and (2) deport all illegal immigrants. The second feature was far and away the more controversial of the two.
In his speech, Trump abandoned the idea of deporting all illegal immigrants. In what universe is abandoning one’s signature position moving from “Point A to Point A”?
Here is what Trump said about deportation:
In a Trump Administration, all immigration laws will be enforced. As with any law enforcement activity, we will set priorities. But, unlike this Administration, no one will be immune or exempt from enforcement – and ICE and Border Patrol officers will be allowed to do their jobs. Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation – that is what it means to have laws and to have a country.
Our enforcement priorities will include removing criminals, gang members, security threats, visa overstays, public charges – that is, those relying on public welfare or straining the safety net, along with millions of recent illegal arrivals and overstays who’ve come here under the current Administration.
To say that anyone who has entered the country illegally is subject to deportation is not to say that anyone who has entered the country illegally will be deported. Anyone who runs a red light is subject to ticketing but not everyone who does so will get a ticket. Being subject to deportation simply means you haven’t received amnesty — actual or de facto. It does not mean you will be deported.
As Trump made clear, deportation decisions will be driven by enforcement priorities. If he still intended to deport all illegal immigrants, there would be no need for enforcement priorities.
In fact, Trump left no doubt that illegal immigrants would remain in this country in a Trump presidency. That’s why, later in the speech, he turned to the question of their status. He stated:
In several years, when we have accomplished all of our enforcement goals – and truly ended illegal immigration for good, including the construction of a great wall, and the establishment of our new lawful immigration system – then and only then will we be in a position to consider the appropriate disposition of those who remain.
Here, Trump isn’t just abandoning his promise to deport all illegal immigrants; he’s also showing a willingness to consider adjusting the status of those who have not been deported. This too
is a big change in position. But even if, in a Trump presidency, illegal immigrants are only able to “live in the shadows,” this would still be an obvious departure from his past pronouncements.
The Post ignores all of this. Johnson, Costa, and Rucker don’t even bother to quote from his speech. There was a time when this would be considered malpractice.
The Post relies instead on several members of Trump’s Hispanic advisory council who were disappointed with Trump’s speech and say they may not vote for him. Their disappointment is natural. Trump has not promised amnesty. He has insisted on effective enforcement as a condition precedent to any consideration of improving the legal status of illegal immigrants. He has promised to pick up significantly the pace of deportations.
But the fact that Trump didn’t give certain Hispanics what they wanted doesn’t mean his position is unchanged.
The Post also cites a statement from Trump’s spokesperson Katrina Pierson, made before Trump’s speech, that the tycoon “hasn’t changed his position on immigration; he’s changed the words that he is saying.” Apparently, Johnson, Costa, and Rucker construe this nonsensical statement as an invitation to ignore the words of Trump’s speech. Less partisan, more honest analysts will focus on Trump’s words and see that his position has changed significantly
Finally, the Post relies on its own analysis which purports to find that “at least 5 million immigrants would be subject to rapid deportation under Trump’s latest proposals.” (Note the deeply biased refusal to say “illegal immigrants”). Even if all 5 million were “rapidly deported” this would be a significant change in the position of a man who used to call for the rapid deportation of 11 million. Or does the Post consider the fate of 6 million people inconsequential?
But again, being “subject” to deportation isn’t the same thing as being deported. Here is what Trump said about rapid deportation:
We are going to triple the number of ICE deportation officers. Within ICE, I am going to create a new special Deportation Task Force, focused on identifying and removing quickly the most dangerous criminal illegal immigrants in America who have evaded justice.
Note first that tripling the number of ICE deportation officers will not enable the government to deport rapidly anywhere close to 5 million people.
Note second that the people Trump says will be deported “quickly” are “the most dangerous criminal illegal immigrants in America.” There are nowhere near 5 million such people.
The Post got to 5 million by counting all criminals, gang members, security threats, visa overstays, public charges. It’s true that these are the groups Trump identified as enforcement priorities. But it’s fanciful to suppose that large numbers of people in the later two groups will be deported within the next few years (which is when Trump expects to reevaluate what to do with those here illegally). That’s why Trump limited his promise of quick deportation to “the most dangerous criminal illegal immigrants.”
Trump’s change of position on what to do with illegal immigrants in the U.S. has changed significantly. The change won’t satisfy many Hispanics and it certainly doesn’t satisfy the Washington Post, which is committed to seeing Trump lose regardless of the cost to its journalistic integrity. However, it increases the probability that I will vote for him and I’m probably not alone on this.