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Key Immigration Facts & Questions Ahead of GOP Presidential Debate

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Here are a few key reminders and questions surrounding the politics of immigration ahead of Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate.

Do Observers Fully Appreciate the Radical and Nativist Ideas that Donald Trump is Trying to Mainstream?

While Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has dominated the headlines and driven the political media conversation in recent months, the staggering implications of his immigration vision nonetheless remain under-appreciated. Through divisive and racially charged rhetoric and a policy vision ripped from the fringes of the anti-immigrant and white nationalist movements, Trump is now attempting to mainstream a vision of America that deserves further scrutiny – and condemnation:

Donald Trump Calling for the Mass-Expulsion of 11 Million People over the Next 18-24 Months: In a call last week with supporters,  Donald Trump revealed more about his plan to deport over 11 million undocumented immigrants and an additional 4.5 million American citizens born to immigrant parents. Despite reports that Trump’s plan could cost hundreds of billions of dollars and that completely removing 11 million people from the country is “impossible” on any timeline, Trump stated that with “really good management,” the mass-expulsion process should “take 18 months to two years if properly handled.”

With that, Trump provided a time frame for his unprecedented plans to expel 11 million people from the United States. It’s almost incomprehensible to imagine what those 18 – 24 months would look like for our nation and especially for anyone who appears to be an immigrant. Trump’s “really good management” would create an extremely hostile environment on a scale unseen before in this country. In essence, he would need to create a police state with vigilantes and informants constantly targeting and checking papers of anyone they deemed to be an immigrant. We have a presidential candidate who, instead of discounting the concept of “rounding up” millions of people, embraces it with a timeframe to accomplish that goal.  Anyone in the media who talks to Trump needs to dig deeper into this heinous scheme. How, exactly, does he plan to expel 11 million people along with their families and possessions, in a matter of two years?  What would it cost; what would it take terms of transportation and manpower; and more importantly, what would it look like in terms of human suffering and the very American values we hold so dear? The images Trump’s plan evokes of buses and trains being loaded with families should elicit outrage from anyone with a shred of decency.

Imagine, as a thought experiment, what it would look like and be like if his ideas were to become a reality: immigration agents roaming neighborhoods, questioning anyone they think may be an immigrant; a massive increase in the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants; U.S citizens having their citizenship and passports revoked; weeping families being ripped apart; workers being pushed out of jobs and even further exploited; entire industries, from agriculture to hospitality to childcare and beyond, facing existential threats; a sharp economic downturn due to the disruption in the labor market; homes, cars, and possessions abandoned; a massive wave of resistance and conflict throughout America; allies around the world denouncing America for human rights abuses….In short, it would turn out to be one of America’s darkest chapters.

Trump’s Demagoguery and Intolerance Are Having Real-Life Consequences: Already, Trump’s anti-Latino and anti-immigrant campaign is bleeding into civil society at largeto dangerous effect, helping to foster a climate that demonizes and dehumanizes 55 million Latinos because of the way they look or speak.  We have documented an array of recent anti-Latino and anti-immigrant attacks and confrontations – a list that, unfortunately, keeps growing. As Joe Klein wrote in Time magazine, “I’ve long assumed that the diminution of white demographic power would be accompanied by an increase in anger and frustration. That is the scab Trump is picking. I’ve also assumed that this sort of nativist xenophobia was a losing proposition: a new urban generation–not color-blind but at ease with diversity of all sorts–would be a potent countervailing force. I still believe that, but I’ve also been reminded that a lot of innocent lives are going to be Trumped along the way.”

Key Immigration Questions for Republican Contenders

Question for Donald Trump: How Exactly Would You Implement Your Plan of Expelling 11 Million Immigrants from the United States Within Two YearsWhat would this entail in terms of costs, logistics, manpower, human suffering and the essence of this country?

Question for Rest of Field: Do You Agree With Donald Trump Regarding Mass-Deportation for 11 Million? If Not, What is Your Policy for Undocumented Immigrants Settled in the United States? No one should let candidates off the hook who try to rely on the “secure the border first” excuse for inaction. This is a coded way to say “comprehensive immigration reform never” and for many candidates, a way to avoid answering what to do regarding 11 million undocumented immigrants in the nation. 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.

As a reminder, even the Republican candidates such as Jeb Bush and John Kasich, who voice potential support for legalization, are opposed to immigration executive action programs such as DACA and DAPA. DACA is the 2012 program created for “Dreamers,” while DACA expansion and DAPA are the November 2014 programs currently tied up in the courts.  Given the fact that Republicans in Congress have blocked immigration reforms in 2007, 2013 and 2014, and given the lack of interest in an immigration overhauls in the current Republican-controlled Congress, would these pro-legalization/anti-executive action candidates commit to keeping Obama’s executive actions in place until legislation was enacted, or would they undo these programs before legislation is enacted? What would happen to the 11 million men, women, and children if placed into this legal limbo? 

The GOP’s Immigration Problems Go Deeper than Trump Alone 

The Rest of the GOP Field – Lurching to the Anti-Immigrant Right: While none of the other contenders on the debate stage have fully embraced Trump’s nativist mass-expulsion platform, Republican candidate after Republican candidate is nonetheless lurching to the right on immigrationand embracing patently ridiculous and offensive immigration policies.  And on the question of birthright citizenship, Trump is joined by six of the other Republican presidential contenders in wanting to change this bedrock notion of what it means to be an American. Even supposedly pro-reform Republicans, such as Jeb Bush, have been drifting right and emphasizing their hawkish bona fides on immigration on the campaign trail (including releasing a six part immigration plan entirely comprised of enforcement details to backtracking on a path to citizenshippledging to end both the DACA and DAPA executive action programs in the first three months of his presidency, and embracing the GOP’s vacuous “secure the border first” excuse).

A Reminder: Republicans Keep Rejecting the Best Way to Significantly Reduce Illegal Immigration – Comprehensive Immigration Reform: 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.

Wednesday Night’s Debate Site – the Reagan Library in California – a Contrast and a Cautionary Tale for Current Republicans 

A Study in Contrasts Between the Gipper and the Current GOP Field: As the 2016 Republican contenders lurch right on immigration, Wednesday night’s GOP debate at the Reagan Library offers a sharp contrast on the issue.  Not only did Ronald Reagan sign into law immigration legislation that eventually provided a pathway to citizenship for approximately three million undocumented immigrants, but his optimistic vision of America as a welcoming place for immigrants is in short supply among the 2016 GOP contenders.  Witness the new adfrom the National Immigration Forum Action Fund, juxtaposing Reagan’s famous valedictory address about a “shining city…open to anyone with the will and heart to get here,” with the ugly and divisive talk from the 2016 field (watch the ad here).

California: A Cautionary Tale for the Republican Party: Wednesday night’s debate in California offers a reminder – a cautionary tale – for Republicans. In 1994, California’s Governor Pete Wilson (R) pushed through theinfamous anti-immigrant Proposition 187 and ignited a political backlash from the state’s changing electorate.  Latino and Asian immigrants became citizens in record numbers and transformed the state politically.  As a result, the California Republican Party – once the launching pad of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan – is no longer competitive statewide.  After the 1994 elections, California’s congressional delegation consisted of 27 House Democrats and 25 House Republicans, along with two Democratic Senators.  After the 2014 elections, the state’s congressional delegation consisted of 39 House Democrats and only 14 House Republicans, along with two Democratic Senators.  The state legislature hasn’t been much kinder to California Republicans, with Democrats holding a combined 60 seats in the Assembly and Senate and Republicans holding a combined 58 seats in 1994.  Now, Democrats hold a combined 78 seats while Republicans hold just 42 seats combined in the two chambers.  As political pundit Charlie Cook has noted, before Prop 187, in 1994 “the GOP carried California in nine of 12 post-World War II presidential elections, including six in a row from 1968 through 1988…Since Prop 187, Republican presidential candidates have lost California in all five elections.”  (see this Latino Decisions post for more).

Latinos are Angry, Engaged, and Mobilizing Against Anti-Immigrant and Anti-Latino Politics

Trump Beginning to Further Erode the GOP Brand Among Latinos: The immigration and Latino-related takeaways from the MSNBC/Telemundo/Marist Pollmakes it clear that Donald Trump’s outsized role in the GOP race and outspoken nativism is tarnishing the entire GOP brand.  As a write-up of the polling on MSNBC.com notes, “Almost two-thirds of Latinos surveyed – 65% – say Trump is hurting the image of the Republican Party, while just 13% say he is helping the party.  And 70% of Latinos say they see Trump as insulting and offensive, compared to 26% who say he tells it like it is.”

Spanish Language Media Engaged and Latino Mobilization Efforts Underway: In what should worry Republican strategists, there are signs that the anti-Latino rhetoric and anti-immigrant policies on display are spurring Latinos to pay attention to the 2016 race and to potentially flex their political muscle.  A new video and advertising campaign in English and Spanish from the Latino Victory Project highlights the Republican field’s anti-immigrant statements and is designed as part of a larger and sustained mobilizing effort to reach out to Latino voters (read more in this Washington Post storydescribing the effort).  And as an Associated Press story makes clear, “Spanish-language radio is fixated on the 2016 presidential campaign, sparked by Republican Donald Trump’s caustic remarks about immigrants, mainly Mexicans, and a GOP field of contenders trying to out-duel each other on the contentious topic of overhauling immigration law.”  As Jorge Ramos recently notedof the way U.S. Latinos are viewing the Republican lurch to the right, the rise of Trump, and the immigration debate overall: “This is personal … he’s [Trump] talking about our parents, our friends, our kids and our babies.”

A Reminder About the Existing Demographic Challenges Facing RepublicansLatinos have a negative view of the Republican Partyby a nearly a 2:1 margin in in recent NBC/WSJ/Telemundo polling – and the Latino voter electorate is growing at a rapid rate. A recent article in National Journalhighlighted that, “Every 30 seconds, a Latino turns 18 and becomes eligible to vote.  That’s about 66,000 every month, or 800,000 every year, according to the Pew Research Center.”  Keep in mind the analysis from Latino Decisions that the Republican nominee will need to win between 42-47% of Latinos to win the 2016 presidential popular vote. Not only are Republicans poised to repeat the mistakes of 2012, when Mitt Romney’s hardline primary stances helped destroy his general election chances with Latinos, but the GOP’s lurch right on immigration is threatening the Party’s down-ballot success in 2016 – such as 2016 Senate races in Latino-heavy states such as CO, FL, and NV (see thisand this article).