Donald Trump is driving the Republican immigration policy agenda – and defining the GOP’s brand image to Latino voters in the process. As Donald Trump heads to the border tomorrow—on a personal invitation from Breitbart and the local Border Patrol no less—we present a review of actual facts that belie the “out of control border” meme that is an article of faith in Republican circles. Below, we present four key facts about that border that, we suspect, will be missing from Trump’s rhetoric tomorrow.
- “Illegal Immigration Flows Have Fallen to their Lowest Level in at Least Two Decades,” After Record Levels of Enforcement: A May 28th front-page story in the Washington Postby Jerry Markon noted that “illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades.” The Post story noted, “As the Department of Homeland Security continues to pour money into border security, evidence is emerging that illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades. The nation’s population of illegal immigrants, which more than tripled, to 12.2 million, between 1990 and 2007, has dropped by about 1 million, according to demographers at the Pew Research Center.”
- The U.S. Government Already Spends More on Immigration Enforcement than All Other Federal Law Enforcement Priorities Combined: According to analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, the U.S. government spends $18 billion a year on immigration enforcement – a figure greater than spending on all other federal law enforcement priorities combined.
- Key Border Security Metrics from 2007 Senate Bill Have Been Met: The key border security metrics written by hard-line Republicans that served as so-called “triggers” in the Senate’s 2007 comprehensive immigration reform billare accomplished even absent enactment of this bill.
- The Public – Especially Latino Voters – Supports Comprehensive Immigration Reform and Does Not Buy The “Border Security First” Excuse: For years, pollshave shown strong support for comprehensive immigration reform among the general electorate, despite protests from Republicans in Congress two the contrary. The public also sees through the border security first excuse. September 2014 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll asked, “When you hear Republicans say that immigration reform must wait until the border is secure, do you think that is a legitimate concern that needs to be addressed first before immigration reform can take place, or they are using that as an excuse to block action on immigration reform?” Overall, 40% of voters believed this was a “legitimate concern” vs. 52% who viewed this as an excuse to block immigration reform (the “excuse” number was 66% among Latino respondents).Latino Decisions July 2013 polling in 24 Republican-held congressional districts also found that 66% of Latino voters viewed the border-first concept as “an excuse to block a path to citizenship, rather than a legitimate concern.”
In fact, three quarters of the American people favor comprehensive immigration reform rather than an “either/or” approach to unauthorized immigration. That is, they support stronger enforcement and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, not one at the expense of the other.
Instead of admitting these facts, GOP contenders like Trump continue to insist that the border is out of control and mindlessly trumpet a “secure the border” mantra. As Paul Waldman wrote in the Washington Post, “’Secure the border first!’ is an utterly hollow position, because it’s never followed by any specificity about how we’ll know when the border is ‘secure.’ So long as even a single immigrant can find a way in, it will be possible for Republicans to say that the border is not yet secure, so we can’t enact any of the other parts of immigration reform.” Similarly, the Wall Street Journal has editorialized: “Republicans who claim we must ‘secure the border first’ ignore the progress already made because their real goal isn’t border security. It is to use border security as an excuse to kill immigration reform.”
In House Homeland Security legislation approved this year on a partisan basis, the stated Republican goal is to secure border at the level of 100% effectiveness. That would mean that no one crosses the 2,000 mile U.S.-Mexico border without authorization, ever. This is a remarkable goal given that the Berlin Wall, complete with a kill zone, was only 95% secure. Even former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff called 100% operational control of the border “unrealistic and unnecessary.” He added, no other law enforcement agency is asked to meet that type of standard – the equivalent would be requiring a city police force to maintain a 0% crime rate. So no, there’s no legitimacy to Republicans’ accusations that the border is actually insecure.]
Republicans have rejected the best way to secure the border, focus enforcement resources on bad actors, and overhaul the immigration system. As America’s Voice outlined in our recent report on 2016 Republicans and immigration, the Republican reliance on the “secure the border first” riff is a coded way to say “comprehensive immigration reform never” and avoid answering what to do regarding 11 million undocumented immigrants in the nation. In fact, the Senate immigration bill that passed in 2013 on a bipartisan basis had the toughest border security provisions in American history, and it still wasn’t “tough enough” for most Republicans. This is why serious advocates of immigration reform view the “secure the border first” soundbite as circular: we can’t reform immigration until the border is secure, the border is not yet secure because some people still get across, therefore we can’t move forward on immigration reform until the border is secure first. It gives opponents a policy-sounding argument to continually move the goalposts so that nothing is done for 11 million undocumented immigrants settled in our nation.
Make no mistake, a comprehensive immigration reform approach remains the single best way to secure the border alongside modernizing the entire immigration system. Comprehensive immigration reform is the only way combine smart enforcement at the border and inside the country, ensure that most hiring is legal, create wider legal channels for needed workers and close family members, and to open up a line for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to get into so they can apply for legal status, and eventually, citizenship. If Republicans truly wanted to upgrade enforcement and focus resources on bad actors, they would need to stop opposing Obama’s administrative reforms and work with Democrats to pass comprehensive immigration reform. You can’t solve any part of the immigration puzzle unless you solve all of it, together.
According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice, “In the end, control is a product of a functioning immigration system, and the only way to get from here to there is for a President to work with Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. And that President will not be Donald Trump.”