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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.
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.”