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Must Reads by Dara Lind and Greg Sargent: Trump’s Immigration Dance Does Not Add Up to a Policy Pivot

 

Earlier this week, Frank Sharry argued that Donald Trump was attempting to “cynically repackage a truly radical policy to make it more palatable to suburban white voters rightfully turned off by Trump’s explicit racism and nativism. But the underlying deportation-focused policy doesn’t seem to be evolving alongside the rhetorical tweaks.”

Others have argued that Trump’s rhetorical shift amounts to a policy pivot, one that would provide a path to legal status for some portion of the undocumented immigrant population in the United States. We respectfully disagree.

Our view is that Trump’s word salad does not add up to a policy pivot. For once, we find ourselves agreeing with Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson, who said, “[Trump] hasn’t changed his position on immigration, he’s changed the words that he is saying.”

From our perspective, the best analyses of the Trump dance on immigration have been written by Dara Lind at Vox and Greg Sargent of the Washington Post.

As Lind says in her thorough and thoughtful post (posted before last night’s Anderson Cooper interview):

“The real reason people are seeing a total flip-flop and an embrace of legalization in Trump’s words is that a lot of people assume it’s inevitably going to happen. It suits a lot of narratives people already believe about the Trump campaign.

Donald Trump is running the most disorganized presidential campaign in modern American history — of course he would end up flip-flopping on his core issue. Donald Trump is a rich man who has ignited a mass movement of people who feel downwardly mobile — of course he was playing them for fools the whole time.

That may very well be how this shakes out! But it hasn’t yet. Right now, the people seeing what they want to see in Trump aren’t his supporters — they’re the pundits who are reading so much into a throwaway reference to making immigrants pay taxes.”

In this morning’s analysis entitled, “Trump’s Position on Deportations is Perfectly Clear. Let Us Decode It For You,” Greg Sargent takes stock of Trump’s interview with Anderson Cooper last night, and explains how it underscores that Trump’s immigration policy remains fundamentally consistent and rooted in the radical notion of removing every undocumented immigrant from the United States. Sargent’s take is a must-read, available online here and excerpted below:

“Donald Trump gave an extended interview to CNN’s Anderson Cooper last night, in which he tried to clear up all the uncertainty surrounding his position on mass deportations. His interview is being widely faulted for adding more confusion.

In reality, Trump made his position on immigration perfectly clear. It’s this: All the 11 million undocumented immigrants still remain targets for deportation. We’ll go after the worst ones first, because I recognize that not all of them are full blown criminals — I have a tremendously big heart, believe me — but we will probably have to target the rest for removal later. And there is no meaningful path to legal status for any of them.

The most important claim Trump made is that under his plan, “there is no path to legalization, unless they leave the country and come back.” This is widely — and rightly — being interpreted as confirmation that Trump will offer no path to legal status for the 11 million that doesn’t require them to leave the country first.

But Trump actually went further than that. Many have speculated that Trump left an opening to create a process by which undocumented immigrants (“the good ones,” anyway) can leave and come back via an expedited path to legal status.

But Trump actually said, in a tacit way, that this will not happen. He said — repeatedly — that his plan would be carried out under “existing law.” He said: “We’re going to go with the laws that are existing.” If this is true, then Trump has foreclosed the option of an expedited path to legal status for those who leave the country, because the creation of such a path would require a change in the law.

“Under existing law, undocumented immigrants who leave the U.S. are barred for returning for up to 10 years, and in some cases, permanently,” immigration lawyer David Leopold tells me. “The notion that they can leave and come back is meaningless without a legislative overhaul.”

Trump basically confirmed this himself. He said: “If somebody wants to go the legalization route, what they’ll do is they’ll go, leave the country, hopefully come back in. And then we can talk.” In other words, no path to legal status until you leave and come back, but we won’t even discuss that until you’ve left and returned.

Thus, under Trump’s plan (which is subject to change) there is no meaningful path to legal status at all. That’s because for many undocumented immigrants, leaving the country for long periods of time could mean uprooted families, moving out of homes, and abandoning jobs and communities, making it prohibitive, Leopold argues. “People won’t do it,” he says.

Now, deportations. Trump said repeatedly that “the bad ones” will be deported first. In so doing, Trump confirmed again that the enforcement priorities Obama has implemented for the last five years are correct. But, crucially, Trump made it clear that the rest remain targets. Asked whether the rest will be deported, Trump replied: “We’re going to see what happens once we strengthen up our border.” And when Cooper said that “the vast majority of those 11 million are not criminals,” Trump replied: “We don’t know that. We’re going to find out who they are.”

Translation: The good ones remain targets for deportation, though I’m not saying for sure whether I’ll deport them. That’s a slight shift from mass deportations, but it’s nothing like what Obama and Hillary Clinton — or even some Republicans — want. They both favor taking their removal completely off the table, for the sake of the national interest, to rationalize enforcement resources and because they are more than simply criminals. They are currently contributing to American life, and their emigration was born of morally complex circumstances — they were trying to better their lives and their families’ future prospects — and is in keeping with American history and values.

Trump’s rhetoric right now reflects a search for a magic formula. He wants to reassure suburban white swing voters who see most undocumented immigrants as mostly a positive and essentially favor mass assimilation that he isn’t proposing to cruelly ship out millions, which would be costly and disruptive to families and communities. So he says, don’t worry, we’re only starting with the bad ones, and the status of the good ones may be subject to negotiation later. He compassionately recognizes that many of them are good people — they’re not all merely criminals. But he also wants to reassure the hardliners, so he indicates that they all are still subject to removal, which is code for indicating that he is not making mass assimilation the goal.

But Trump’s actual position, for now at least, is the latter. The prospective goal is not mass assimilation. It’s shrinkage and removal — beyond just the “bad ones.” There is no straddle that works. There is no magic formula here.”