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While Democrats Stand Up for Immigrants and Refugees, the Three GOP Frontrunners Embrace a Radical Deportation Agenda

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Frank Sharry: “Let us hope the nation ultimately rejects the radicalism of the right in favor of the humanity of our ideals”

The stark contrast between the two parties on immigration was on full display this week.

Yesterday, speaking at a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives, President Barack Obama delivered an eloquent defense of America’s tradition of welcoming immigrants: “You may come from teeming cities or rural villages.  You don’t look alike.  You don’t worship the same way … But here, surrounded by the very documents whose values bind us together as one people, you’ve raised your hand and sworn a sacred oath.  I’m proud to be among the first to greet you as my fellow Americans.”  While extolling the virtues of immigrants and refugees’ contributions to America, the President also rebuked the fear-mongering that has led to dark chapters in America’s past – a not-too-subtle reference to the ugly rhetoric and policy proposals emanating from the Republican nomination race.

Similarly, Democrats on the campaign trail and in Congress have rallied to support immigrants and refugees.  At the National Immigrant Integration Conference in New York this week, Democratic candidates Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley reiterated their strong support for reform with a path to citizenship as well as for expanding executive actions in the absence of a legislative breakthrough.  And just last night we learned that Democrats in Congress successfully fought off numerous Republican policy riders aimed at restricting the admission of refugees from Syria and Iraq and undermining pro-immigrant policies already in place.

Meanwhile, the Republican presidential contenders are embracing anti-immigrant politics and policies with a renewed fervor.  In last night’s debate, we got a glimpse of just how far to the right the leaders in the race have moved.  Here’s our take on where the three leading Republican candidates stand on the key issue of what to do with 11 million undocumented immigrants who are settled in America:

Donald Trump’s Mass Deportation Stance: Donald Trump promises to round up and deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants in America within 18-24 months.  He promises to deploy a Deportation Force to do the job and says the key is “good management.”  In addition, he promises to revoke the citizenship of some 5 million U.S. citizen children whose parents are undocumented and deport them as well.  He also says he will round up Syrian refugees already resettled in the U.S. and send them back.  As if promising to expel a quarter of the nation’s Latino community and send refugees back to their persecutors isn’t enough, he recently called for a ban on the admission of all Muslims into the United States.  We should not become desensitized to the radicalism of these nativist proposals nor his religious and racial bigotry. The fact that many GOP voters express support for these ideas is especially chilling.  Nor should we overlook the fact that Trump’s words and “policy” prescriptions are having real-life consequences, including numerous instances of hate crimes and harassment against Latinos, Muslim-Americans, and African-Americanslinked to the “combustible” atmosphere fostered by the candidate and his campaign (see this recap of the disturbing scene on display at the latest Trump event in Las Vegas).  Trump remains the GOP frontrunner and his fellow candidates have so far refused to reject the notion of supporting Trump if he becomes the party’s nominee.

Ted Cruz’s Self-Deportation Stance: Ted Cruz has now officially adopted an immigration stance that is to the right of Mitt Romney’s.  During last night’s debate and in the post-debate spin room, Cruz and his campaign team made it clear that the candidate “unequivocally — unequivocally — does not support legalization.”His “attrition through enforcement” approach – an idea taken directly from extreme anti-immigrant groups – is the same as Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” stance.  The hideous idea is to make the lives of undocumented immigrants so miserable that those not rounded up will pick up and “voluntarily” leave the country.  Unlike Romney, Cruz is now embracing significant new restrictions on legal immigration, allying himself with Donald Trump’s views and bragging that his new stance has been influenced by ultra-hardliners such as Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA).  Both of these Cruz positions represent a flip-flop from his previous positions in support a path to legal status but not citizenship, and his support for significantly expanded legal immigration during the 2013 immigration reform debate.  The bottom line is that Cruz, who avoids Trump-like bigotry that demonizes entire nationalities and religions, would seek policy outcomes that differ little from those of Trump.

Marco Rubio’s Self-Deportation Stance (With the False Promise of an Eventual Path to Citizenship): Rubio has perfected the art of wrapping hardline immigration policies in softer rhetorical packaging.  But once you move past his disciplined talking points and unpack what he’s actually proposing, Rubio favors aggressive enforcement-first policies that would end up looking an awful lot like self-deportation.  Rubio argues for a step-by-step approachthat is remarkably similar to the one espoused by Cruz: border security, mandatory E-Verify, entry-exit systems and legal immigration reforms (Rubio supports a shift from family reunification to employer-based immigration, while the new Cruz position wants to restrict even employment-based immigration).  Then, says Rubio, if illegal immigration is “under control” he might support work permits for some of the undocumented.  Naturally, Rubio refuses to specify what “under control” means, and ignores the fact that net migration from Mexico has fallen below zero, as more Mexican immigrants are leaving America than entering.  Then, some ten years after illegal immigration is under control and work permits have been issued, Rubio is prepared to keep citizenship on the table.  As MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin recently explained, “no one knows when this 10-year-or-so clock actually begins.  In fact, it’s still not clear when people will gain just temporary protection from deportation, let alone a path to a green card and citizenship.  In an interview last month, Rubio seemed to indicate that he might wait 10 to 12 years before even having a conversation about green cards, a timeline that would punt the issue past his hypothetical presidency entirely.  And every day the enforcement measures, especially provisions that block hiring undocumented immigrants, are in place without some temporary legalization component, then the plan is effectively Mitt Romney’s ‘self-deportation.’” To put it bluntly, Rubio’s “path to citizenship” is, in reality, a path to nowhere.  The idea that his “plan” would result in undocumented immigrants getting citizenship is but a cruel hoax.  Rubio’s “path to citizenship” has more to do with fooling donors and journalists than it does with fixing our broken immigration system.

And lest we forget, each of the three GOP frontrunners also strongly oppose President Obama’s immigration executive actions and promise to rescind them – including the DACA program that has benefited 700,000 Dreamers.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “While Democrats are standing up for immigrants, refugees and American values, the three frontrunners for the Republican nomination can be located on the far-right span between mass deportation and self-deportation.  Donald Trump has revived the radical notion of mass deportation, once consigned to the fever swamps of the white nationalist movement.  Ted Cruz has completed his flip-flop and now embraces self-deportation and hostility towards legal immigration, putting him to the right of Mitt Romney.  Then there’s Marco Rubio.  He once championed comprehensive immigration reform before his ambitions and his party got the best of him.  Now he supports self-deportation with a false promise of a path to citizenship.  The contrast between the parties on immigration has never been more stark or consequential.  The stakes for America’s newcomers and for America’s tradition as a nation of immigrants have never been higher.  Let us hope the nation ultimately rejects the radicalism of the right in favor of the humanity of our ideals.”