The Coming Battle Over Immigration

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There will be conflicts between Republicans and Democrats, of course, but the real battle over immigration may be fought within the Trump administration. Trump has a hard-line image on immigration–especially among his enemies–but if you take his web site discussion of the subject seriously, he is a squish. His executive branch nominees span the full range of Republican opinion on the subject.

Jim Antle, at the Washington Examiner, has an excellent review of Trump’s various nominees and where they stand on immigration. You really need to read it all; I won’t undertake to summarize it. This is important:

Incoming Vice President Mike Pence angered enforcement-first House Republicans when he proposed an immigration compromise that would have allowed illegal immigrants to apply for readmission to the United States through private sector job placement centers. Critics called this “touchback amnesty.”
The real cause for concern among immigration hardliners, and hope GOP comprehensive reformers, involves lingering questions about where Trump’s true allegiances lie. His message on trade, for example, has been consistent since at least the 1980s. On immigration, he is more of a convert.

Trump criticized Romney for advocating “self-deportation” during the 2012 campaign. At various points after the election, he called the idea “mean-spirited,” “maniacal” and “crazy.” “It sounded as bad as it was, and he lost all of the Latino vote,” Trump said. “He lost the Asian vote. He lost everybody who is inspired to come into this country.”

Even during the campaign, Trump hesitated to criticize high-skilled immigration — Rubio took a harder line on the H-1B visa program during a Republican debate — and occasionally modified his pitch depending on the audience. While he chanted “build the wall” at rallies, Trump told both his Hispanic advisory council and the New York Times editorial board they would be surprised at his humane approach on immigration. He signaled for days after the Republican convention that he might soften his position before delivering a hardline immigration speech written by Miller and Bannon.

Trump rarely mentioned lowering overall immigration numbers when he wasn’t delivering an at least partially prepared speech. On the more hawkish side, he did often suggest he would do mass deportations — something never mentioned in his Sessionesque formal immigration plan. His talk of illegal immigrants going home, but the “good ones” swiftly returning, sounded more like Pence’s touchback amnesty than Sessions’ immigration proposals.

My own opinion is that what Trump will ultimately try to do on immigration is a wide-open question. A knowledgeable reader writes:

[The linked article] is an excellent, thorough and highly accurate account of the issues and the conflicts within the incoming Trump administration on immigration. It remains to be seen what happens, but the wall is bogus and unnecessary. It’s the employers!!! RICO a couple dozen of them with asset seizures and you get an end to the illegal immigration problem.

The real issue, however, is legal immigration:

You can then get a grand bargain on legalizing maybe 60% of the illegals, drastically cutting legal immigration of all kinds, mandatory E-Verify, interpreting the 14th Amendment’s “subject to the jurisdiction” clause as forbidding automatic birthright citizenship to children of illegal immigrants–and, most important, giving citizens standing to initiate enforcement actions in the courts, as with environmental laws, so the employers/donors can’t collude with the pols successfully to backslide and undermine enforcement as they have for 30 years.

That’s a deal I would happily take.