Trump Driving Migrant Debate Among GOP Field

David A. Fahrenthold et al., Washington Post, August 17, 2015

The ideas once languished at the edge of Republican politics, confined to think tanks and no-hope bills on Capitol Hill. To solve the problem of illegal immigration, truly drastic measures were necessary: Deport the undocumented en masse. Seize the money they try to send home. Deny citizenship to their U.S.-born children.

Now, all of those ideas have been embraced by Donald Trump, the front-runner in the Republican presidential race, who has followed up weeks of doomsaying about illegal immigrants with a call for an unprecedented crackdown.

On Monday, Trump’s hard turn was already influencing the rest of the GOP field. In Iowa, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also began to call for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, echoing a longtime Trump demand. Walker said the separation barrier between Israel and the Palestinian territories is proof that the concept could work here.

Walker also seemed to echo Trump by questioning “birthright citizenship,” the constitutional provision that grants citizenship to anyone born in this country. {snip}

But–in a sign of how quickly Trump has changed the terms of this race–Walker had difficulty clearly articulating where exactly he stands on the issue, wanting to steal some of Trump’s momentum but not quite sure to what extent. He went on to say that if the United States enforces the laws it already has, that alone might take care of the problem.

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Trump’s immigration proposals have also redefined his role in the race. Previously, the billionaire sold himself as a seat-of-the-pants dealmaker who didn’t want to tie himself down with specific promises. For weeks, his policy on illegal immigrants was essentially that he would figure something out eventually.

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Now, however, Trump has committed to a plan that is detailed and ambitious, with none of that trust-me ambiguity. For now it is the only formal plank in his campaign platform; on his Web site, it is the only position listed under the category “Positions.”

“What you have to give to Trump is, whatever way he’s done it, he has pushed this front and center,” said Roy Beck of Numbers­USA, which wants to lower overall U.S. immigration, legal and illegal. The elites of the Republican Party, Beck said, “absolutely did not want this discussed in this debate. And instead it’s front and center. It’s strange, but it is the triumph of the working class of the Republican Party.”

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The most ambitious idea in Trump’s immigration policy would be to overturn birthright citizenship. That right is rooted in the 14th Amendment and another law passed after the Civil War. Both intended to guarantee citizenship for freed slaves, but it was clear that they would also give immigrants’ children a place in America.

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Trump, however, says the policy cannot continue. “This remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration,” says a policy paper on his Web site.

Beyond Walker, two other Republicans in the 2016 race–former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal–have expressed support for ending the provision this year. Two others, Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), have supported it in the past.

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“Trump is strong enough that he can do that,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who proposed the Birthright Citizenship Acts of 2011, 2013 and 2015, none of which got out of their subcommittees in the GOP-run House. “He has injected this into the presidential debate, and now the rest of them will have to run to catch up with him on the immigration issue.”

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Another controversial Trump idea is the mass deportation of illegal immigrants. His campaign has embraced concepts similar to Mitt Romney’s“self-deportation” plan from the 2012 race: Under tougher enforcement, some immigrants will leave on their own.

If they don’t, Trump has said, he’s willing to round them up and send them home. This part of his plan, for now, is short on details.

“But how do you do that?” CNN’s Dana Bash asked the candidate last month.

“Excuse me,” he said. “We have got to find them.”

“But how?”

“Politicians are not going to find them, because they have no clue,” Trump said. “We will find them. We will get them out.”

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“Sure, some of the mechanics, some of the logistics, have major hurdles in front of them,” said Bob Dane of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which seeks to curtail immigration. Still, Dane said, he applauded Trump for the idea at the core of his proposals: that immigration should serve the security interests and protect the jobs of people already in the United States. “My God, somebody’s espousing a principle.”

Other strategies laid out by Trump seek to lower legal, as well as illegal, immigration.

For one thing, Trump would make it more expensive for U.S. companies to bring in skilled workers on H-1B visas. And he would place a moratorium on new green cards issued to workers abroad, to allow overall immigration levels to “subside to more moderate historical averages,” in the words of Trump’s policy paper.

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