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Immigration Memo: Key Questions Ahead of Biden/Trump Debate

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Washington, DC — Ahead of the first presidential debate, and given the salience of immigration this election, see below for America’s Voice’s analysis of key points of emphasis and context along with key related questions that we hope the candidates will answer.

Three Key Immigration Points of Emphasis (explored in more detail below):

  • Point 1: Donald Trump’s unsparing mass deportation plans will do severe damage to America 
  • Point 2: Stark contrasts are in sharp relief between Biden and Trump on immigration – especially when it comes to separating immigrant families
  • Point 3: Trump’s immigration obsession is central to his larger anti-democratic threats, election denialism, and calls for violence.

Three Key Immigration Questions

  • Question 1: Donald Trump and mass deportation: Will Trump detail the scope and breadth of his mass deportation vision? Will he again reiterate that Dreamers and other long-settled residents, including spouses of U.S. citizens, would be targets of his proposed roundup and deportation? Will he highlight plans to deploy the military into U.S. cities and deputize the police to begin mass round-ups? 
  • Question 2: Donald Trump’s dangerous immigration rhetoric and the larger threats: Will Trump amplify and repeat calls to violence, with dehumanizing bigoted rhetoric about ‘poisoning the blood’ and continue invoking dangerous “invasion” and “replacement” white nationalist conspiracies about immigrants on the debate stage? Will his focus on immigrants and crime continue despite the evidence that there is no correlation between crime rates and immigration? And would he continue using heinous acts for political gain and, in the process, put Americans at risk of political violence, like the anti-immigration mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, a Buffalo grocery store or at El Paso? Will he use the debate stage to push lies about the election to undermine American democracy, including lies about immigrants stealing the upcoming election?  
  • Question 3: Trump and Biden and their broader vision for legal immigration and reform: Will Biden and Trump outline their broader vision for legal immigration and whether they will do anything realistic to address the 11 million or so undocumented people who live and work here and have done so for decades? Will the refugee program be strengthened or gutted? Will programs that allow people to come in an orderly manner through ports of entry at the border, like the parole programs expanded under President Biden, be allowed to continue working to reduce chaos at the border? Trump’s recent off-the-cuff comments supporting permanent legal status for some immigrants run contrary to his general disdain for legal immigration except from certain European countries and are ripe for follow-up.

Key Immigration Points of Emphasis

Point 1: Donald Trump’s unsparing mass deportation plans will do severe damage to America 

  • As America’s Voice describes in this detailed memo, Donald Trump and allies are reiterating their pledge of unsparing mass deportations in a Trump’s second term, which we think is the single most consequential immigration policy topic. It would include deploying red state National Guard troops in blue state cities and communities throughout America and promised mass detention camps run by the military.
  • As the AV memo underscores, the proposed mass roundups and removals are not just talking points – there are real proposals backed by plans to put Trump’s vision into practice (also read the Niskanen Center’s assessment of Project 2025 and immigration). 
  • Notably, the Trump team is making clear that “no one is off the table,” and that includes Dreamers and other long-settled immigrants, including the spouses of U.S. citizens with more than 10 years in the U.S. – the group President Biden’s recent policy announcement addressed.
  • The economic toll of implementing this plan would be vast, with millions of native-born Americans losing their jobs and livelihoods; entire  American industries would be gutted with untold ripple effects; all while millions of immigrant homeowners, entrepreneurs, essential workers, healthcare providers, and teachers would be uprooted from U.S. communities, along with an untold number of their family members and people assumed incorrectly to be undocumented but deported anyway.

Point 2: Stark contrasts are in sharp relief between Biden and Trump on immigration – especially when it comes to separating immigrant families

  • Following Republican legislative obstruction of broader legislative reform and even a border and asylum bill heavily tilted toward GOP policy priorities, President Biden has taken executive actions that aim to pair an orderly border – including restrictive measures we don’t fully support – with protections and opportunities for long-settled immigrants and American families. 
  • President Biden’s newest actions aim to ensure that American families can stay together, including an estimated 500,000 spouses of U.S. citizens, and that more Dreamer college graduates have an opportunity to put their degrees to work to build up this country. 
  • This is combined with the tens of thousands of would-be migrants at the border between ports of entry who have been given alternatives to irregular migration through the CBP One App, the CHNV Program, United for Ukraine, the Afghan program and the Welcome Corps.
  • This approach of order and legalization connects with the vast majority of the American public’s immigration sentiments. 
    • Frustrated with the broken immigration status quo, Americans want action on immigration and are concerned about maintaining an orderly border.  Yet, the strong majority of the public supports a balanced immigration approach that pairs efforts to ensure an orderly border with legal protections and opportunities for long-settled immigrants, instead of enforcement-only alternatives (let alone Trump’s proposal of mass deportation of Dreamers and others with deep roots in the U.S.) See a deep dive analysis on Americans’ immigration views here and an Equis poll of Latino voters’ immigration views here.

Point 3:  Trump’s immigration obsession is central to his larger anti-democratic threats, election denialism, and calls for violence.

  • Advancing dangerous xenophobic conspiracies and lurid lies about immigrants is both the beating heart of Trump-ism and a central plank in his larger anti-democratic push to pre-invalidate the 2024 results unless they go his way. 
  • For example, Trump and allies’ repetition of the ‘replacement’ theory lie that non-citizens are voting, or that putting new voters on the 2024 rolls is the intention of Biden’s recent announcement to protect spouses of U.S. citizens, are inextricable from his efforts to delegitimize the elections and lay the foundation for another Jan. 6 assault if they do not win in November. 
  • Specifically, as we detail in this America’s Voice analysis, there are three major and related threats from the Trump campaign’s immigration focus:
    • Downstream political violence that results from amplifying white nationalist conspiracies like the invasion and great replacement conspiracies
    • The threat of unrelenting and indiscriminate mass deportation, which would devastate the economy, and
    • Casting immigrants as villains determined to influence our elections as a strategy to erode confidence in American democracy among base Republican voters.
  • Also read this recent Univision op-ed from Vanessa Cárdenas, “How Trump’s relentless anti-immigrant focus is tied to his threats to democracy
  • Ever since Trump descended the golden escalators of Trump Tower in 2015 to announce his first campaign, he has been denigrating immigrants with racist appeals and taken the Republican Party ever farther from supporting legal immigration. The descent has continued for the GOP in policy, politics and rhetoric, but will Trump and his allies be tempted to descend even further?

Key Resources