WASHINGTON – Republican presidential contender Donald Trump has provided more details about his immigration reform plan that could be accurately named “immigration denial plan”. Here is the summary: “Kick out all the illegal aliens, freeze permits for all the others”.
Serious voters turned off
I argued in a previous piece that, in the long run, when serious voters will look at Trump’s most unrealistic and sketchy proposals, they will turn away from him.
But I also argued that there will be a core group of Trump followers who will stay loyal, no matter what he says; simply because they love his outrageous, take-no-prisoners, anti-establishment, bombastic style.
Core group of supporters
And may be it is Trump’s awareness that he can count on a core group of enthusiastic supporters who simply love his radical approach that now drives his campaign strategy. May be Trump deep down knows that he will never be the Republican Party nominee, simply because there are too many likely voters who do not believe he is a credible candidate.
But Trump is also confident that his core group of supporters, while not the majority or even a large plurality, is big enough to make him relevant until the very end of this campaign, and possibly beyond it.
And what do these supporters want from their candidate? Very simple. Red meat. Lots of it. Every day.
If this analysis is correct, it may help explain Trump’s immigration reform agenda that is mostly about the positively absurd plan to deport all 11 million plus illegal immigrants now in America. (This number is an unofficial estimate).
Trump put this plan forward because he knows that there are many nativist, xenophobic Americans who really believe that it is both necessary and possible to enforce existing immigration laws. They want to see US federal agents rounding up all the illegals so that they can be sent back to their countries of origin –all 11 million.
How do you do this?
Yes, let’s go ahead and do this. Let’s enforce the laws. Wonderful. Except that according to existing laws, there have to be court procedures and adjudications in order to legally order any individual deported.
Well, guess what. The immigration system is unable to process the existing, relatively light, case load. People have to wait for months to get their hearing.
For starters, there are just not enough immigration judges, while many of them are close to retirement age. Besides, processing each case costs on average $ 12,000, all paid by US taxpayers.
Given all this, imagine the impact of millions of new cases suddenly unloaded on this already slow and over stretched system. Even if this massive deportation process were competently administered by staggering the number of cases over a long period of time, it would be chaos –for many, many years.
Social and economic disruption
And this is only half the story. Imagine the scenes of despair in thousands of communities across America delivered by the nightly TV news. What Trump proposes is a gigantic, involuntary population movement enforced by federal agents.
Nothing on this scale has ever been attempted in America. (After Pearl Harbor the US government ordered the internment, within the United States, of most Japanese Americans on the ground that they might be on the side of Imperial Japan. That was a big operation. But it included only 120,000 people. Now we are talking about rounding up 11 million).
Who in his right mind thinks that it is possible (let alone humane) to uproot and deport millions of people, keeping in mind that many of them have been living in the US for decades, and therefore realistically have no place to go back to?
Besides, imagine the cost of all this for local businesses and communities. Consider how many people will be wrongly accused of having forged papers when in fact they are law-abiding. Imagine the economic disruptions and the countless personal tragedies.
All these rather elementary considerations would tell any would-be policy maker that massive deportation is not an option.
A more reasonable approach
A more reasonable approach is to provide a path to a legal status –not amnesty leading to citizenship– to all law-abiding illegal immigrants, making sure in the process that they do indeed follow all US rules, pay taxes, and so on. Federal authorities will also identify and apprehend the dangerous criminals among the illegal immigrants.
At the same time, there will be serious efforts to stop fresh illegal immigration through better border security, while making it absolutely clear to the whole world that from now on all new illegal immigrants will be deported. The only exception will be genuine asylum seekers.
A robust temporary guest workers visa program will provide the manpower needed by American farmers who require extra workers depending on the seasons.
Last but not least, the new system will give priority to highly skilled people seeking legal entry and work permits, ending the current system that privileges reunification of families.
There is more
Beyond deportations, there is a lot more in Trump’s plan. He will build a wall at the border with Mexico in order to stop all new illegal immigrants. He will force Mexico to pay for it. Besides, Trump intends to freeze all legal immigration, at least for a while. Thereafter, he will reduce or eliminate temporary visas for foreign skilled workers. Finally, he would also try to modify the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution that grants US citizenship to all those who were born in the United States.
Anyway, you get the picture.
Most of the measures included in his immigration “plan” are outlandish. But, if indeed Trump has calculated that he needs to feed his base with truly radical ideas and solutions that will clearly separate him from all the other candidates, his approach is not as crazy as it looks.
He is telling millions of Americans exactly what they want to hear.
Again, the assumption here is that Trump is not creating a strategy and a message that will allow him to forge a broad-based coalition that will allow him to win the GOP nomination and then a national election. As I indicated above, may be he realizes that, current popularity notwithstanding, he cannot win a majority. Of course, Trump is popular. But he has hit, or will soon hit, his popularity ceiling. Some Americans like Trump a lot. But only some.
A national leader
However, while not favored by the majority, Trump has a pretty good chance to establish himself as the national leader of a vocal, anti-Washington, xenophobic, America-first, confrontational national movement, with a sizable following.
And he is well on his way to accomplish this.