Despite criticism from some GOP presidential contenders this week of Donald Trump’s immigration plan, the six-page proposal is actually a collection of what many Republicans have already been pushing on the campaign trail.
His call to scale back and reform the legal immigration system to better protect American workers? Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum have been arguing that strategy for months.
Trump’s plan to seek out and deport immigrants who enter the country legally but overstay their visas? That’s one of the six points in former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s immigration plan.
His goals of securing the border, punishing sanctuary cities in the U.S. and expanding an employer’s ability to check the immigration status of new hires? Virtually all of the GOP field agrees.
“There’s absolutely nothing new or radical about Trump’s plan,” said Bob Dane of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that opposes illegal immigration.
What makes Trump’s plan unique, and what prompted Dane to call it the “American Workers’ Bill of Rights,” is that Trump is the first candidate to embrace virtually the entire spectrum of ideas from immigration hard-liners.
The plan is a consolidation of different approaches long touted by immigration think tanks and members of Congress, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
“He could’ve put this together over a weekend with a couple of smart people and an Internet connection,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which is cited in Trump’s proposal. “And the thing is, any of the other candidates could have done that too. They dropped the ball by not doing something like this weeks ago.”
While Dane and Krikorian are thrilled to see so many of their proposals taking center stage, others say the rest of the GOP field has steered clear of such an approach for a very good reason.
Over the course of the 2012 Republican primaries, Mitt Romney was pushed so far to the right that he ended up embracing the idea of making life so difficult for undocumented immigrants that they would choose to “self-deport.” While that helped him lock up the Republican nomination, it resulted in Romney garnering just 27% of the Hispanic vote in his loss to President Obama.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, which opposes Trump’s plan, said the proposal could push Republicans back into that corner and lead to the same result.
“Donald Trump is the gift that keeps on giving for the Democrats,” Noorani said. “Mitt Romney didn’t move this far to the right, John McCain didn’t move this far to the right, and they didn’t win. Now it’s like Trump is saying, ‘I have to become even more extremist if I want to win.’ “
Even some groups that oppose illegal immigration have offered critiques.
While it’s not spelled out in his policy paper, Trump said on Meet the Press on Sunday that he would deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants from the U.S.
“Did he go beyond NumbersUSA there? Yes,” said Roy Beck, executive director of the group that has helped sink congressional efforts to grant legal status to undocumented immigrants for decades.
Dane said he’s concerned about Trump’s plans to raise tariffs on Mexican imports as a way to prompt them to build a secure border wall.
“That could start a trade war that might not be to our advantage,” Dane said. “If you decimate Mexico’s economy, you’re creating an incentive for northern migration.”
Even Trump’s intense focus on the border wall is turning some of the groups off.
“The whole fence fetish I think is a problem,” Krikorian said. “The bang for the buck is much greater in other areas that he identifies — E-Verify, (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) cooperation with police, exit-tracking for foreign visitors. That’s where we’re really going to make progress if we devote the effort.”
Whatever comes of Trump’s candidacy, immigration groups feel that he has already changed the conversation and forced other White House contenders to begin staking out detailed positions.
They can no longer throw out vague ideas of securing the border and protecting American workers, Krikorian said. Now, at campaign events and in upcoming debates, they should be forced to answer each of the points Trump laid out and the different policies he endorsed.
Walker, for instance, expressed his support for ending birthright citizenship following its inclusion in the Trump plan.
“This has the potential of pinning them down on some positions in a way that, say, Santorum’s plan didn’t because he’s a second, third-tier candidate, whereas Trump is a reality TV star,” Krikorian said. “When he puts something like this out, people have to respond.”
Or, as Dane put it: “Trump’s plan … fills the vacuum that a lot of the other candidates are walking around aimlessly in.”
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