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5 Fact Checks & Reactions to Immigration in Last Night’s GOP Debate

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Below, we offer some reactions and fact-checking about the immigration-related parts of last night’s debate:

The Focus of the “Mass-Deportation” Discussion Was on the Impracticality of Donald Trump’s Plan – Not Its Morally Abhorrent, Un-American Vision:  During the immigration-related parts of last night’s debate, most of the candidates who reacted to Donald Trump’s vision to expel 11 million people in two years chose to focus on the logistical difficulties of such as plan rather than a more fundamental question – is that the type of America we want to live in?  Only Jeb Bush, who noted that it “would destroy community life, it would tear families apart,” mentioned the morally abhorrent nature of Trump’s plan.  In contrast to the GOP field, a growing chorus of voicesare weighing in to condemn Trump’s vision and the climate of hostility it is already creating.  As New York Times editorial writer Lawrence Downes captures, “It’s not clear that Mr. Trump will end up with any power to pursue his racist agenda — his ambitions seem a lot narrower, more TV-based.  But the toxic support he is stirring up, the polluted ideas he is spreading, the hate he is emboldening his supporters to voice with his blaring, surround-sound campaign — that evil will live after him.  We will be cleaning up after Mr. Trump for a long time.”

Perspective on the Radical Nature of the GOP Notion to Change Birthright Citizenship: It remains staggering that some of the Republicans on last night’s stage think it right or smart to seek to change the birthright citizenship clause of the U.S. Constitution.  In fact, as Sylvia Manzano, a principal at Latino Decisions, told NBC Newsabout last night’s debate: “no one defended the 14th Amendment, not even those who said mass deportation is not feasible.”  While Donald Trump claims the notion of birthright citizenship is legally controversial, the reality is that the vast majority of legal scholars recognize that the issue is long-since settled.  Further, the Republicans seeking to change the 14th Amendment are ignoring the essential history of this amendment.  Since the Civil War, the 14th Amendment has guaranteed citizenship to all children born in America, regardless of their background – in the process, becoming a guard against our country ever again creating an underclass of less-than-Americans.  It means that if you are born here, you are one of us, no matter who your parents are.  As former U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger wrote in a Politico op-ed several years ago: “Reflecting on our country’s experience with Dred Scott, we concluded, in the Civil War’s aftermath, that we should never again entrust politicians or judges with the power to deny citizenship to a class of people born on U.S. soil.  Other countries may follow a different approach — taking bloodlines into account in determining whether citizenship is warranted.  But for our nation, with its brutal legacy of deciding who among those born here did and did not truly merit citizenship, a simple, objective birthplace test of citizenship had — and has — a powerful appeal…With the birth of each new child on U.S. soil, any questions about the legitimacy of prior generations are forever confined to those generations.  Each new boy or girl born here is — simply and indisputably — an American. And so it should remain.”

The “Democrats Don’t Actually Want to Solve Immigration” Charge Is a Laughable Attempt to Deflect Blame from the Real Culprit, House Republicans: Last night, Carly Fiorina asserted“Why have Democrats not solved this problem? … Democrats don’t want this issue solved.”  Other candidates, including Donald Trump last night and Jeb Bush earlier this year, have made similar assertions.  While this might have been a fair accusation in 2009, it’s certainly not now.  In 2010, it was the Democrats who tried and nearly succeeded in passing the DREAM Act, supplying a combined 96% of the votes in favor of the bill in both chambers.  During the last Congress, after the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill by a 68-32 margin (with support of every Democratic Senator), the Republican-controlled House simply refused to vote on a reform bill, despite having the votes to pass the legislation if Speaker Boehner put it up for a vote (the vast majority of House Democrats and a contingent of pro-reform House Republicans would have gotten the bill across the finish line).  Boehner and House Republicans bear the brunt of responsibility for failing to fix our immigration system when they had the chance, and everyone knows it.

Marco Rubio’s Piecemeal Immigration Reform Approach – An Excuse for Inaction on 11 Million Undocumented Immigrants: Last night, Senator Rubio dusted off his well-crafted talking points on his preferred way forward on immigration.  He is careful to try to portray himself as serious and consistent on immigration reform – see this recent exchange with Jake Tapper on CNNfor an example of Rubio’s self-portrayal on immigration.  Yet Rubio’s notion that he has been consistent on immigration doesn’t pass the laugh test and his preferred piecemeal approach is more excuse for inaction than serious concept.  The first step in Rubio’s piecemeal vision is the “secure the border first” excuse for inaction  — the height of cynical, circular logic: Rubio says we can’t reform immigration until the border is secure, but the border can be deemed “not yet secure” because some people still get across, therefore we can’t move forward on immigration reform until the border is secure first.  Rinse and repeat.  It gives a policy-sounding argument to continually move the goalposts so that nothing is done for 11 million undocumented immigrants settled in our nation.  As 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.”

The “Out of Control Border” Meme Doesn’t Hold Up to Scrutiny – and the GOP Keeps Rejecting the Best Way to Further Reduce Unauthorized Immigration: Greg Sargent pointed outtoday that “when the topic turned to actual reform, even Rubio — and to a lesser extent, Bush — remained stuck in a position where legalization must wait until some absolute, undefined state of border security is attained first.”  Despite the article of faith in GOP circles that our border is out of control, “illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades,” according to the Washington Post, and the border is arguably more secure and flush with resources than at any time in modern U.S. history.  As America’s Voice outlined in our report on 2016 Republicans and immigration, the GOP reliance on the “secure the border first” riff is a coded way to say “comprehensive immigration reform never.” For many candidates, it’s a way to avoid answering what to do regarding 11 million undocumented immigrants in the nation, while for others it’s an excuse to delay action on a comprehensive approach to reform supported by three quarters of the American people.  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 secured 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 – an issue that divides the GOP.  A comprehensive immigration reform approach – one that combines smart enforcement with legal immigration reforms and a path to legal status and citizenship for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants settled in America – remains the single best way to secure the border, reduce illegal immigration to a trickle, and modernize our dysfunctional immigration system.  We won’t be able to effectively solve any part of the immigration puzzle unless we solve all of it at the same time.  In fact, the Senate immigration bill that passed in 2013 on a bipartisan basis did just that.  But revealing the hypocrisy of Republican opposition, the bill had the toughest border security provisions in American history (excessive in our view) and it still wasn’t “tough enough” for most Republicans.