A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but that is exactly what Trump has on immigration. He may have been shooting from the hip in demonizing Mexicans when he started his campaign, but it is clear that he senses an opportunity and wants to capitalize on the issue. And as the front runner for now, it means that the other GOP candidates must react to Trump's position. Today, August 16, Trump was on Meet the Press and boldly went well beyond Romney's suggestion of self-deportation, stating that he wishes to repeal Obama's DACA order and deport undocumented immigrants. He said:
We're going to keep the families together, but they have to go.
What is extraordinary about this quote is that he seems to be suggesting we also deport US citizens since so many immigrant families are of "mixed status" or consisting of US citizens, undocumented, and lawful permanent residents ("greencard" holders) all within the same family. Or perhaps he perfectly that concept and is going for a "twofer" in practicing what my colleague Corey Robin has termed "Family Values Fascism" in calling for the deportation of the undocumented while insisting on keeping their families intact.
Not to be outdone by his Senate opponents (mainly aiming at Rubio) who previously championed comprehensive immigration reform, Trump today also put out his own 6 page immigration plan. On Twitter, Frank Sharry, a well known immigration activist, called it "Pure Jeff Session-Steve King Ugliness." No doubt Sharry is correct, but it before immigrant advocates tune Trump out, they would be wise to analyze his proposal carefully. The man, or at least some half-competent advisers, have been at least nominally reading up on immigration. The whole thing reads of a cynical ploy to shameless appeal to racist, nationalist, populism.
What makes Trump's proposals dangerous is that there is quite a bit of ignorance of the complicated U.S. immigration system and there is a long tradition of scapegoating immigrants for the nation's ills, especially in times of economic uncertainly. Trump, with these proposals, has done the usual mixing of fiction with a sprinkling of half truths. Take for his example his exhortation to build a wall on the southwestern border; it wins for dramatic flair and symbolic effect even though the efficacy is dubious. But he is not unaware of the 40 percent of visa overstays who contribute to the undocumented population as he is the first candidate, of any party, to explicitly call for an escalation of interior enforcement in addition to building a wall. (See his proposal to "Triple the number of ICE officers".)
Still, he can't resist returning to the canard that immigrants are predisposed to criminal activity and that argument has some resonance because around the time he made his racist remarks about Mexicans, the Kathryn Steinle murder happened. Instead of citing more recent and credible evidence, Trump cited a 2011 GAO report enumerating arrests of undocumented immigrants in which not all those data points represented violent crimes. Meanwhile, Trump, cherry picking his data, ignored a major report exploring the relationship on immigration and criminal activity that showed immigrants are less likely to commit violent crimes and end up behind bars than the native born. But the Steinle murder and the use of the soundbite of "sanctuary cities" as alleged havens for violent immigrant criminals has meant political pay-dirt for Trump playing to a segment of the population that feels dispossessed not only by a shaky economic recovery, but by a culturally and racially evolving America wrought by immigration.
Looking to divide and conquer, Trump is if nothing, an opportunist. Perhaps observing Bernie Sanders' stumbles and confrontations with the Black Lives Matters activists, sprinkled throughout Trump's immigration proposal is a new found, purported concern for black Americans and Hispanics and the economic harm that undocumented immigration causes them. Indeed, the report makes racial and ethnic references to "black Americans", "black teenagers", "Hispanic teenagers", "Hispanic immigrants,", in addition to several references to "middle class Americans"--all of these presumably the "real Americans" he is seeking to protect from the invading hoards of Mexican "drug dealers and rapists"?