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It’s an article of faith on the Republican campaign trail that the border is out of control and that immigration enforcement is lax – hence, we are experiencing a spike in illegal immigration.  In fact, none of these assertions are true.

Below, America’s Voice offers some relevant facts and reminders about the real state of play on immigration policy.  Below that we offer key questions on immigration for the Republican contenders, aimed at getting beyond “sand-in-your-face” soundbites to an actual discussion of policy.

The Real Facts and State of Play on Border Security: (Despite the “Out of Control Border” Meme in GOP Circles)

“Illegal Immigration Flows Have Fallen to their Lowest Level in at Least Two Decades,” After Record Levels of Enforcement: May 28th front-page story in the Washington Postby Jerry Markon noted that “illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades.”  The Post story noted, “As the Department of Homeland Security continues to pour money into border security, evidence is emerging that illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades.  The nation’s population of illegal immigrants, which more than tripled, to 12.2 million, between 1990 and 2007, has dropped by about 1 million, according to demographers at the Pew Research Center….Homeland security officials in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations — who have more than doubled the Border Patrol’s size and spent billions on drones, sensors and other technology at the border — say enhanced security is driving the new trends.”

The U.S. Government Already Spends More on Immigration Enforcement than All Other Federal Law Enforcement Priorities Combined: According to a comprehensive analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, the U.S. government spends $18 billion a year on immigration enforcement – a figure greater than spending on all other federal law enforcement priorities combined.

Key Border Security Metrics from 2007 Senate Bill Have Been Met: The key border security metrics written by hard-line Republicans that served as so-called “triggers” in the Senate’s 2007 comprehensive immigration reform billare accomplished even absent enactment of this bill.  In other words, the goalposts set by border security hawks in 2007 have been met, so today’s border security hawks have moved the goalposts to make them unattainable.  For example, legislation approved by the Homeland Security Committee in the House of Representatives this year on a party line vote sets the goalposts at “100% operational effectiveness,” a standard impossible to reach when we consider that the Berlin Wall, complete with a kill zone, achieved 95% operational effectiveness.

Why the GOP’s “Secure the Border First” Riff Is a Vacuous Excuse for Inaction

The GOP’s “Secure the Border First” is an Excuse: As America’s Voice outlined in our reporton 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.

Leading Republicans and Conservatives Agree: Former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff called 100% operational control of the border“unrealistic and unnecessary.”  Chertoff 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.  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.”

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.

Republicans Lurching to the Right and Painting “Immigrants as Criminals” – a Reminder of Why Latinos Are So Turned Off by the GOP 

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.  Earlier this week, Bush released a six part immigration plan, with all six points focused solely on immigration enforcement and border security measures.  While he bookended his six point plan with mentions of a rigorous path to earned legal status, Bush’s intent is clearly to establish hawkish bona fides as the Republican primary season kicks into high gear.  Recently, Bush also backtracked on a path to citizenshippledged to end both the DACA and DAPA executive action programs in the first three months of his presidency, and embraced the GOP’s vacuous “secure the border first” excuse.

Meanwhile, hardline, anti-immigrant Republicans – from Donald Trump to members of Congress – have seized on a few horrific crimes to try to paint all immigrants as criminals.  Latino, Asian-American, and immigrant voters are rightly offended with the GOP’s lurch to the right – just one reason that Latinos have a negative view of the Republican Party by a nearly a 2:1 margin in in NBC/WSJ/Telemundo polling.

Here are the actual facts:

Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native born (see this detailed study from Immigration Policy Center)

The Public Safety Roots of Community Trust Policies: When immigrants are victims of crime, many are less likely to report them because they are afraid the police will turn them over to immigration authorities.  That is why some state and local police agencies have created community trust policies, which Republicans will spend lots of time attacking on the debate stage as so-called “sanctuary city” policies.

The Best Solution Remains a Comprehensive Immigration Reform Overhaul: But the reason these policies exist is because Congress has failed to do its job and pass meaningful immigration reform.  It’s far better for everyone when undocumented immigrants come forward, register, and go through background checks as part of a comprehensive reform approach.  This is a solution that Republicans are afraid of, so you won’t hear much of it tonight.  To Latino, Asian-American and immigrant voters, the Republicans’ silence on solutions is just as deafening as their relentless attacks on entire communities.

Key Immigration Questions for Republican Contenders

Question: What Do You Mean When You Say “Secure the Border First?”The majority of the GOP presidential contenders spout the “secure the border first” talking point, but leave important specifics unsaid.  Who decides what a “secure” border is, what are the metrics, and how can you overcome those in your party who use border security as a moveable goalpost and an excuse for inaction?  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.”

Question: “Provided the Border is ‘Secure’ to Your Satisfaction, What Policy Do You Support for Undocumented Immigrants Settled in the United States?”  Should, as Donald Trump suggests, all undocumented immigrants have to go to their home countries before applying for legal status?  Should they be able to come forward and apply for work permission, and if so, when in the process – at the beginning of the process or only after the border is deemed secure or after illegal immigration is deemed stopped?

Question for Candidates (Such as Jeb Bush) Who Promote Legal Status But Not Citizenship – Would You Sign Legislation That Bars Citizenship for Current Undocumented Immigrants?  As President, would you sign an immigration reform bill that allows undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status, but prohibits them from ever becoming citizens?  If they would be eligible to apply under the “normal system”would other changes be made to make sure they can apply for permanent residence (green cards) and later citizenship without being subjected to decades-long backlogs?

Question: Would You End Immigration Executive Action Programs DACA and DAPA Regardless of the Status of a Permanent Legislative Fix?  When? DACA is the 2012 program created for “Dreamers,” while DACA expansion and DAPA are the November 2014 programs currently tied up in the courts.  Candidates such as Jeb Bush couch their opposition to DACA and other immigration executive action programs with their support for passing permanent legislation to address the status of immigrants eligible for these programs.  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 this Republican-controlled Congress, will you commit to keeping Obama’s executive actions in place until legislation is enacted, or will you undo them before legislation is enacted?