Immigration has been Donald Trump’s signature issue, but until now his approach to the topic has been confused. He has talked almost exclusively about illegal immigration, without seeming to recognize that our irrational immigration laws are a big part of the problem: thus his calls to build a fence with a “big beautiful door” for legal immigrants. Moreover, in an interview a week or so ago, he appeared to approve of some kind of amnesty for those now here illegally.
Trump has now put a coherent set of immigration policies on his web site. (Immigration is the only issue, so far, under the “Positions” tab.) He reportedly has been conferring with Senator Jeff Sessions, and it shows. Trump articulates three main principles relating to immigration:
1. A nation without borders is not a nation. There must be a wall across the southern border.
2. A nation without laws is not a nation. Laws passed in accordance with our Constitutional system of government must be enforced.
3. A nation that does not serve its own citizens is not a nation. Any immigration plan must improve jobs, wages and security for all Americans.
All are sound propositions. Trump elaborates on them in a series of policy proposals. With respect to illegal immigration, he calls for, among other things, construction of a fence on the Southern border; tripling the number of ICE officers; enforcing the E-verify system nationwide (this is really the key to getting the problem under control); mandatory return of all criminal aliens; detention of all captured illegals leading to deportation; and defunding of sanctuary cities.
Trump wants to “end birthright citizenship.” There is no doubt he is right about that, but the problem is how to do it. As I understand it, current law is an interpretation (a wrong one, I believe) of the 14th Amendment. So presumably a Supreme Court decision or constitutional amendment would be required.
The big change is Trump’s new emphasis on legal immigration. This is under the heading, “Put American workers first.” Trump recites the harm that admitting unprecedented numbers of low-skilled workers does to America’s working class, especially minorities. He wants to increase prevailing wages for H-1B visas so that American STEM graduates will be more competitive. And he wants a “pause” in the issuance of green cards while employers “will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers.”
Trump’s new immigration proposals are almost all sensible (I doubt whether trying to force Mexico to pay for a fence will get far), and every one is approved by a clear majority of the American people. The Republican presidential candidate will sweep to victory next November, and bring a lot more Republicans into office with him, if he adopts a popular immigration platform like the one Trump has laid out. Whether Trump is that candidate, of course, remains to be seen. He may not be able to remember the measures he has proposed, let alone articulate them persuasively and consistently. And, given that Trump was until recently a Democrat, he may not actually believe in them. But he and his staff have done a good job of setting forth a mainstream, politically winning set of immigration measures.
Who else in the Republican field has done the same? Perhaps Scott Walker. I don’t see anything on his web site about immigration, but in speeches and interviews he has shown a willingness to put American workers first by limiting legal immigration. In this brief clip, Walker says that his views on immigration are similar to what Trump has now put in writing:
Donald Trump has done the GOP a favor by laying out a good set of common sense immigration proposals. Now we will see which Republican candidates are willing to sign on to something similar.
UPDATE: More on Governor Walker’s evolving views on immigration here.