Has Trump Blown the Immigration Issue?

Through the primary season, illegal immigration was Donald Trump’s signature issue. He loudly promised to deport the millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S., and build a high wall that would keep out future unlawful entrants. I don’t think there is much doubt that it was Trump’s seemingly strong position on immigration that propelled him to the front of the Republican race.

But recently, Trump has softened his comments on illegal immigration, even backing off of his pledge to deport the illegals who are already here. Byron York thinks Trump has made a mess of the issue:

What is the status of his old proposal to deport all immigrants who are in the United States illegally? After days of Trump and his senior advisers talking about it, the answer is entirely unclear.
Trump has held many, many rallies in which he talked about building the wall — he’s talked about it so much that it is now a call-and-response with some audiences. But at the same events he said nothing about deportations.
His new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, has said Trump’s position on deportations is to be determined. Trump himself has said things that appear to be hardline and things that appear much softer. The problem will not be resolved until Trump lays out, in some systematic way, where he stands on the question and explains in turn where that position fits into his larger immigration policy.

Part of the problem is that Trump has always been a squish on immigration, if you took his proposals seriously. Sure, he said he would deport the current generation of illegals. But remember that his high wall had a “huge door” in it. All those deported illegals who were “good” would promptly be re-admitted to the U.S. In practice, there is no possible definition of a “good” illegal immigrant other than one who has not been convicted of a felony. That means that if you took Trump’s proposal seriously, his much-feared mass deportation of illegals would amount to almost nothing, since virtually all of them would promptly be let back in–this time legally!

Presumably this wasn’t what Trump’s supporters had in mind, but it is what Trump put on his web site. One of our frequent email correspondents made the point in language less delicate than Byron’s, commenting on this InstaPundit post where Trump said he would only deport the “bad” illegal immigrants:

Trump struck a starkly different tone during an interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News that aired on Monday night. Trump said he would separate the country’s undocumented immigrants into two groups: The “bad ones” who would be kicked out of the country as soon as he takes office and “everybody else” who would go through the same process that the Obama Administration is currently using.

Our correspondent writes:

OH?? “enforce our laws”? Against the employers? Not bloody likely.

And this is perfect for O’Falafal, too. See, the problem is that they’re not LEEEEE-gal, that’s all. LEEEE-gal immigrants are good because they do the JAWD/JAAND for the employers — like the white farmers, ranchers, homebuilders, America’s Dairymen, contractors, small businessmen, restaurateurs, EWIC —- not like the illegal aliens who are rapists, but with some “good” “productive” people, too, though they don’t work and get welfare while they take “our” jobs. We’ll “deport” them for 10 minutes in the old “touchback” fraud sponsored by Trump’s running mate, but then they’ll come right back in! Through the “big beautiful gate” in the fraudulent wall. And then, comrade, they will be LEEEE-gal. Presto-change-o they’re now good, “productive” LEEEE-gal immigrants, just like that! That’s the magic of being LEEEE-gal which everyone is for.

Think this is what the Trumpen-proletariat has in mind? Universal amnesty, conditional on not being a rapist? Oh, and, of course, once they are LEEEE-gal they are “permanent lawful residents” and eligible for all public benefits! When they don’t work while getting welfare and simultaneously taking our jobs that will then be LEEEE-gal!

Hilarious…and you heard it here first.

There isn’t a dime’s worth of difference —- even on immigration! —– objectively, between Trump and Hillary. It’s the usual contest to stand on a dime in the middle of the 50 yard line.

The answer to the question? What happens next is the unconditional “pathway to citizenship” obviously implied by all but unconditional amnesty…and we don’t need no stinkin’ back taxes either.

Is our correspondent correct when he says there is now little difference between Trump’s position and Hillary’s on illegal immigration? (Note, as always, that the bigger problem is legal immigration, which only Trump has made an issue, but not consistently or clearly enough.) On paper, he can make a good case. But my guess is that both Trump’s supporters and Hillary’s will continue to believe that their candidates are far apart on the issue, and they probably are right. I think that as president, Hillary would essentially waive our immigration laws for the next four years, hoping to establish as many millions of non-Americans as possible as permanent residents (either de jure or de facto), while Trump would make a reasonably good faith effort to enforce our laws.

If that is right, immigration can continue to be a rallying point for the Trump campaign. Still, he has come down a long way from the rhetorical flights of last Fall, and some of his supporters will notice.