In the run up to the 2016 presidential election in the United States, there are drastic differences in the tone and approach toward immigration by the major political parties and their nominees. But what exactly are some of their proposals for changes to U.S. immigration policy? This post is the first in a three-part series by Paul McDaniel examining the positions of the major political parties and the perspectives on immigration of their presidential nominees. We begin with the Republican Party.
Part I: The Republican Party and Donald Trump
The 2016 Republican Party Platform generally approaches the topic of immigration as negative, a problem to be solved through enforcement. The section “Immigration and the Rule of Law” summarizes the focus on enforcing the law, but avoids the fact that immigration law has not been upgraded in years and is not keeping up with today’s economic and social realities.
In one example, the platform references undocumented immigrants as a threat to public safety: “Illegal immigration endangers everyone… In a time of terrorism, drug cartels, human trafficking, and criminal gangs, the presence of millions of unidentified individuals in this country poses grave risks to the safety and sovereignty of the United States. Our highest priority, therefore, must be to secure our borders and all ports of entry and to enforce our immigration laws.” Yet decades of research show that immigrants in general and undocumented immigrants specifically are far less likely than the native-born population to commit crimes or be in prison.
Another example of a focus on enforcement is the proposal for a southern border wall. As the platform states, “we support building a wall along our southern border and protecting all ports of entry. The border wall must cover the entirety of the southern border [nearly 2,000 miles] and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.” However, this proposal ignores the important social and economic relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, the fact that undocumented migration across the U.S./Mexico border is at historic lows, the fact that the U.S. already spends more on immigration enforcement than on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined, and the perspective that throughout history massive walls have rarely succeeded in their intended purpose. The platform makes little mention of immigrant integration at the sub-national level. It only briefly alludes to opposing “sanctuary cities” and supporting states that enact laws deterring undocumented immigrants from residing within their states.
Beyond the party’s platform itself, the Republican nominee for President of the United States has established a track record of uninformed views on immigration and the broader context within which international migration occurs — opinions that are unsupported by decades of facts and interdisciplinary research. Donald Trump has stereotyped entire groups of immigrants, calling Mexican immigrants rapists, proposing a ban on all Muslim immigrants, and proposing costly mass deportations. Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, while offering no practical steps, further sowed division and ignored the history of the United States as a diverse, immigrant-receiving society built by welcoming and integrating people and ideas from across the globe.
The Republican Vice Presidential nominee, Mike Pence, has a track record of an enforcement-centric approach to immigration while in the U.S. Congress and as Governor of Indiana. Pence’s actions include supporting a 2004 bill that would have allowed hospitals to refuse care to undocumented individuals if they could be sent to hospitals in their home country, a 2006 plan that he described as “no amnesty immigration reform,” and co-sponsoring a 2007 English-only bill. During his time as Indiana’s governor, Pence ordered state agencies not to assist in Syrian refugee resettlement, and signed Indiana onto the Texas lawsuit challenging expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).
Of the relatively few policy positions the Trump/Pence 2016 campaign website describes, two relate to immigration: “Immigration Reform” and “Pay for the Wall.” Regarding immigration reform, the campaign makes three proposals. First, building a wall across the southern border involves compelling Mexico to pay for the wall by instituting trade tariffs, increasing visa fees, cancelling visas, and dramatically curtailing or disallowing wire transfers of funds from within the U.S. to outside the U.S. unless persons meet specific requirements. This would drastically reduce the amount of remittances sent home to Mexico from Mexican laborers in the U.S.
Second, enforcing laws passed in accordance with our Constitutional system of government would involve tripling the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, instituting nationwide e-verify (a controversial U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services online system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States, and has garnered much criticism for errors and inaccuracies), conducting mandatory deportations, strengthening detentions, cutting off federal grants to “sanctuary cities,” enhancing penalties, and ending birthright citizenship (currently guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution).
The third proposal is for improving jobs, wages, and security for all Americans as part of any immigration plan (as if immigration policy alone is responsible for these large and complicated policy areas). While this point makes a few suggestions at increasing opportunities for inner-city youth, placing U.S. children without parents in safer homes and improving community safety, overall it takes a zero-sum game approach to immigrants vs. native-born populations rather than focusing on growing opportunities for all in the U.S.
The track record of an enforcement-only approach toward immigration policy that the Republic Party and its nominees for President and Vice President have established ignores the broader economic and social contexts and realities of international migration. Such approaches are detrimental to processes of immigrant and refugee integration in local communities, cities, and metropolitan regions, and would ultimately be detrimental to the U.S. economy and society.
Part 2 of this 3 part series will examine the positions on immigration of of the Democratic Party and Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.