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Four Immigration Takeaways from Last Night’s GOP Presidential Debate

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Last night’s Republican debate featured an extended discussion on immigration – a conversation that has continued during candidates’ post-debate media tours.  Below are four of our key immigration takeaways:

Donald Trump Wants to Model Mass-Deportation After “Operation Wetback” – One of Darkest Chapters of Modern American History: Trump’s immigration comments during last night’s debate were a several minute reminder of why his ideas are ridiculous, deeply offensive, and deserve widespread condemnation rather than a mainstream sheen.  Not only was Trump gleeful about the deeply flawed Fifth Circuit ruling against DAPA/DACA (a case expected to be decided by the Supreme Court), but he also touted his impractical, expensive, and ineffective border wall ideaand his mass-deportation vision.  On the latter point, Trump again made the troubling assertion that he would model his mass-deportation plan after one of the darkest moments in modern American history – President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1954 round-up and expulsion of one million immigrants and some of their families to Mexico, an event known by the horribly offensive name of “Operation Wetback.”  As the Washington Post explained in September, Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback” not only rounded up one million immigrants from their homes, workplaces, and communities for deportation, but also an unknown number of U.S. citizens, too, something Trump plans to mimic if he becomes President. According to historians, trains and ships were used to intentionally deport immigrants “deep into the interior” of Mexico, in order to discourage them from returning to the United States and the families they left behind. Some immigrants, facing a life in exile, jumped off their deportation ships in desperation and drowned. Dozens more were left to perish from exhaustion, dehydration, and heat stroke in the scorching Mexican desert and other remote areas.

John Kasich and Jeb Bush Speak Up for Immigrant Families – But Why Are They Against Executive Action to Protect These Families? During an extended back-and-forth on immigrationduring the debate, John Kasich and Jeb Bush both called out the disturbing mass-deportation vision outlined by Trump.  Gov. Kasich said, “if people think that we are going to ship 11 million people who are law-abiding, who are in this country, and somehow pick them up at their house and ship them out of Mexico — to Mexico, think about the families.  Think about the children … It’s a silly argument.  It is not an adult argument.  It makes no sense.”  Bush, meanwhile, said of Trump’s vision to expel all undocumented immigrants: “to send them back, 500,000 a month, is just not — not possible.  And it’s not embracing American values.  And it would tear communities apart.  And it would send a signal that we’re not the kind of country that I know America is.”  While both Kasich and Bush deserve credit for standing up to Trump and calling out his mass-deportation plan as impractical and un-American, the question remains why they are opposed to executive action programs that would actually protect these immigrant families from deportation?  Every single Republican presidential contender is opposed to the DAPA/DACA expansion executive action programs announced last November.  Yet as the Los Angeles Timeseditorializes today, “although Congress has been discussing these issues for more than a decade, it has repeatedly failed to send a comprehensive immigration reform bill to the president’s desk. Obama’s executive actions do not create new laws but are reasonable exercises in prosecutorial discretion that we hope will offer some breathing room to millions of immigrant families while they wait for Congress to act.”

No Offense, Ted Cruz: “Anti-Immigrant” is a Pretty Good Description for You: Senator Cruz stated, “I will say for those of us who believe people ‘ought to come to this country legally, and we should enforce the law, we’re tired of being told it’s anti-immigrant. It’s offensive.”  A good applause line in a GOP debate, for sure, but spare us the faux outrage. While refusing to outline or advance a specific plan for undocumented immigrants, Cruz has led the effort to attempt to shut down the governmentover President Obama’s announced executive action programs to protect families with longstanding ties to America.  The Super PAC backing Cruz is running ads claiming that Cruz deserves credit for scuttling comprehensive immigration reform in the last Congress.  And Cruz has been using the tragic shooting of Kate Steinle in San Francisco to try and paint all undocumented immigrants as criminals, including co-sponsoring noxious legislation with Senator David Vitter.  So if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…

Despite His Attempts to Straddle Both Sides of Issue, Marco Rubio Has Officially Sided with the Immigration Hardliners: While Senator Marco Rubio was largely absent from the immigration fireworks during last night’s debate, he has been busy in the post-debate media cycle.  Greg Sargent of the Washington Postexamines the candidate’s newest remarks and captures the fact that, despite attempts to deny it, “Rubio’s way forward, broadly speaking, is a retreat from his previous support for comprehensive immigration reform — he’s now saying some unspecified ideal of border security must be attained before we can even begin to discuss legalization. That, plus his refusal to side firmly with Kasich and Bush on the mass deportation question, appears to be designed to avoid alienating conservative voters who are largely reluctant to make peace with the idea of integrating the 11 million.”  Or as Francis Wilkinson of Bloomberg View writes today: “Marco Rubio has a three-step plan on illegal immigration. Trouble is, it’s a three-step plan for Rubio to gain the Republican nomination, not to address illegal immigration.”

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice: “ Marco Rubio wants to be the leader of the United States, but his steady retreat to the right on immigration shows he is unqualified to lead.  He has decidedly embraced a hardline immigration stance in recent weeks, promising to end the DACA program for Dreamers even if Congress has not acted, and saying we should terminate the application process despite the fact that this puts the youngest contingent of Dreamers out there with no protections.  He backtracked from support of comprehensive reform (in favor of a vague and ill-defined ‘border security first’ excuse); voted in favor of David Vitter’s Trump-inspired Senate bill; and said that work permits for the undocumented should only come in a decade or longer after ‘illegal immigration is under control’–a position that he is once again muddling in recent media comments, per Sargent’s recap.  Rubio’s immigration stance is less of a balancing act than a see-saw, and the scale has tipped downward fast.  When it comes time to face a general election audience, if Rubio is still standing, these primary moves will be remembered.”