President-elect Donald Trump has made big promises regarding illegal immigration, which was the signature issue of his campaign. From building a wall on the Mexican border to ending municipal “sanctuary” policies to removing illegal aliens, Trump has given himself a difficult job, laden with complex tactical and political considerations. What first steps can he reasonably take to demonstrate that he is serious about the issue?
America is essentially addicted to illegal immigration. In the familiar formula, the Right craves cheap labor and the Left hungers for a large, reliable voting bloc. Like many addicts, the nation is unwilling either to admit the extent of its problem or do anything decisive about it.
Australia is a good model. Beset by thousands of illegal immigrants from Asia, the Australian government waged an intensive advertising campaign with a clear message to would-be migrants: If you try to enter Australia illegally by boat, you will never be permitted to settle in the country. The island nation made good on its zero-tolerance line by outsourcing the processing of migrants to Papua New Guinea, where the social amenities often lag those of the migrants’ home countries. As a result, fewer boats have been interdicted, and fewer migrants have died at sea. Sending a clear message to the world that the rules have changed and that illegal immigration to the United States is no longer a viable solution for economic migrants should reduce the number of people willing to gamble on eventual amnesty.
Trump has said that targeting criminal aliens for expedited removal is his top priority. There are between 800,000 and 2 million such individuals in the United States already, depending on whether legal permanent residents (green card holders) are included, and depending on what level of crime is considered serious enough to merit immediate deportation. Removing unlawfully present criminals from the “homeland” would be an obvious place to start. But U.S. immigration policy is so dysfunctional that an estimated 90,000 convicted criminal aliens have been placed in removal proceedings only to have their home countries refuse to take them back (China, Haiti, India, and Cuba are among the nations that have been recalcitrant in this regard). According to U.S. law, the State Department is required to stop issuing visas to such countries, but never does. As a result, these criminal aliens are simply released after a six-month waiting period, often committing additional crimes. It would be a simple matter, and in accordance with the law, for the State Department to issue a démarche to a country, demanding quick acceptance of its citizen, or risk the loss of visa privileges.
The suggestions adumbrated above may seem harsh. But America has cynically established a kind of low-paid underclass, arguably to the detriment of a large, lesser-skilled segment of the citizenry. The election of Donald Trump has virtually ensured that some major policy shifts regarding the status of illegal immigrants are coming. The ones I have outlined are politically feasible and would incur the minimum of human suffering, while promoting the ideals of civic nationalism upon which Trump was elected.