Hot August Fright: The Month Republicans Lost Their Minds Over Immigration

From deporting U.S. citizens to electronically tagging tourists, the top 14 Republican presidential candidates each said something insane about immigration this month


Some day soon we will look back at this month, and say "Yeah, I remember my first beer." ||| CNN

With the news this weekend that that Scott Walker is flirting with building a wall on America's border with Canada, that Chris Christie wants to track foreign visitors like FedEx packages, and that Bobby Jindal is staying awake at night mumbling about how "immigration without integration is not immigration; it's invasion," what started as a trickle of migration-policy critiques has ended with a flood of full-blown restrictionist mania: August 2015 is threatening to go down in history as the month the Republican Party lost its collective mind over immigration.

Following the lead of Donald Trump, the big-government, recently-Democrat reality-TV sonofabillionaire who rocketed to front-runner status in part by calling Mexican immigrants "rapists" and proposing to deport American-born children, the rest of the 2016 GOP presidential field has systematically dismantled any muscle memory of a Republican Party fronted by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, who in 1980 rejected border fences, framed illegal immigration as a problem of prohibition, and advocated "open[ing] the border both ways."

Immigration is a difficult set of overlapping policy challenges that no major party or president has managed to get right, despite repeated promises (as illustrated by the Republican and Democratic party platforms since 1980), and despite periodic stabs at legislative reform and the long-term ramping up of security resources along the southern border. It's an issue that defies easy solutions (for Reason's pragmatic ideas about increasing the number of legal visas, embracing a guest-worker program, and establishing a non-citizenship green card category for qualifying illegal immigrants, click here), but that hasn't stopped the GOP field from promising child-like simplicity to voters frustrated by the persistent presence of 11 million U.S. residents who aren't legally authorized to live here.

Donald Trump, for instance, has described building a 2,000-mile wall as "very easy." Current runner-up in nationwide polls Ben Carson has repeatedly stressed that "we have the ability" to fix immigration (including, in his view, affixing a "seal" on every border), but that "we just don't have the will." If there is one idea animating the GOP base so far in this campaign, it's that political outsiders will be able to impose their immigration will on a kicking and screaming political elite.

But do these candidates' depictions of the problem and proposed solutions reflect reality and logical thinking? In a word, no. Meanwhile, even more so than in previous presidential cycles, this debate has dragged not just the increasing number of restrictionists but also the dwindling ranks of immigration moderates into bizarro-world rhetorical territory.

The following is a selection of crazy immigration quotes from the top 14 GOP presidential candidates during the month of August. Rank and percentages come from RealClearPolitics' rolling average of national polls from Aug. 11-25.

Just can't get enough of that face. ||| NBC

Name: Donald Trump

Rank: 1 (25.7%)

Most insane quote: Aug. 16, on NBC's Meet the Press, talking about families with Amerian-citizen children of illegal-immigrant parents.

We're going to keep the families together. We have to keep the families together….But they have to go. But they have to go….They have to go. Chuck, we either have a country or we don't have a country.

Arguments against: We continue having a country—one that still dominates all comers in economic and military strength—despite the presence of 4 million or so U.S.-citizen children born to at least one illegal-immigrant parent. And while the forcible detention and physical relocation of otherwise law-abiding U.S. citizens does have legal precedent at the Supreme Court (in a case that has never been officially overturned), Korematsu vs. United States is widely and correctly seen as a low point in both the constitutional and moral history of the country. There may also be some logistical and expense considerations with increasing the number of citizen-relocations by thirtyfold over the 1940s.

Other dubious policy suggestions: Ending birthright citizenship, making the E-Verify database mandatory for every employee-employer agreement nationwide, forcing Mexico to pay for a full-length border wall on threat of impounded remittances and increased fees for most categories of visas for Mexicans, instituting a "pause" in the issuance of new green cards.

Yes, let's. ||| ReformImmigrationForAmerica.org

Name: Ben Carson

Rank: 2 (11.0%)

Most insane quote: Aug. 19, at a rally in Phoenix.

[W]e need to seal our borders—but not just the southern border, the northern border, the Pacific border, the Atlantic border, every border.

Arguments against: An estimated 40 percent of the current illegal immigrant population in the United States arrived in this country legally, making them impervious to sealant (short of some sort of physical tracking device harmonized with an expulsion mechanism for when their legal status expires; about which see Chris Christie).

Other dubious policy suggestions: Revoking the citizenship of anyone involved in voter fraud, ending birthright citizenship, using lethal drone strikes on border-tunnels, building a border wall.

They're crafty, I'm telling you. ||| Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Name: Jeb Bush

Rank: 3 (9.7%)

Most insane quote: Aug. 19 and 24, on the Bill Bennett radio show and in a press conference, respectively:

If there's fraud or if there's abuse, if people are bringing, pregnant women are coming in to have babies simply because they can do it, then there ought to be greater enforcement….That's the legitimate side of this. Better enforcement so that you don't have these, you know, "anchor babies," as they're described, coming into the country. […]

What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed, where there's organized efforts, and frankly it's more related to Asian people coming into our country having children in that organized effort, taking advantage of a noble concept, which is birthright citizenship.

Arguments against: The 14th Amendment to the Constitution states that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." Since its 6-2 decision in United States v. Wong Kim Ark 117 years ago, the Supreme Court has held that:

The fourteenth amendment affirms the ancient and fundamental rule of citizenship by birth within the territory, in the allegiance and under the protection of the country, including all children here born of resident aliens, with the exceptions or qualifications (as old as the rule itself) of children of foreign sovereigns or their ministers, or born on foreign public ships, or of enemies within and during a hostile occupation of part of our territory, and with the single additional exception of children of members of the Indian tribes owing direct allegiance to their several tribes.

Emphasis mine. There is no "fraud" escape clause in either the constitutional or constitutional-interpretation language, and there is indeed no (to my knowledge) legal definition of birthright citizenship fraud; you're either born here or you're not. And there is this additional consideration about those dastardly "Asian people" dropping babies here and then going back home with their American spawn, as spelled out provocatively by Shikha Dalmia:

[B]irth tourist babies go home to be raised during their most expensive phase — only to possibly return to America after their 18th birthday, during their most productive phase. In effect, birth tourism allows America to outsource the raising of its citizens, resulting in enormous savings, given that it costs a whopping $300,000 to raise a child in a middle-income family in America today.

Other dubious policy suggestions: A "biometric exit system" that would electronically track every time a human being of any nationality leaves the country, and a crackdown against "sanctuary cities."

Si? ||| Fox News
Fox News

Name: Ted Cruz

Rank: 4 (7.3%)

Most insane quote: Aug. 25, on The Kelly File, in answer to repeated questions over whether he would support deporting Amerian-citizen children of illegal-immigrant parentage:

Megyn, I get that that's the question you want to ask. That's also the question every mainstream media liberal journalist wants to ask. They focus exclusively on 12 million people. […]

It is a distraction from how we actually solve the problem. You know, it's also the question Barack Obama wants to focus on.

Arguments against: It's a yes-or-no question, one every potential deporter-in-chief should answer, particularly though not only those, like Cruz, who are against birthright citizenship.

Other dubious policy suggestions: Mandatory E-Verify, biometric entry-exist system.

In the running for my Booby Prize, along w/ Christie and Jindal. ||| YouTube

Name: Scott Walker

Rank: 5 (6.7%)

Most insane quote: Aug. 30, on Meet the Press:

Some people have asked me about [building a wall on the northern border] in New Hampshire. They've raised some legitimate concerns, including some law enforcement folks, that brought that up to me at one of our town hall meetings about a week and a half ago. So that is a legitimate issue for us to look at.

Arguments against: The Canada-U.S. border is 5,500 miles long. A very small percentage of illegal immigrants come from Canada, and most of them likely cross into the country legally (meaning, a wall would not affect them). Border walls, in addition to their substantial price tags, require massive governmental intrusions on private property (including Indian reservations), and a host of environmental/structural challenges that come with erecting barriers in riparian habitats featuring protected, migratory species. Walls increase the likelihood that illegal crossers will stay in the country, rather than leave when the work dries up.

Other dubious policy suggestions: Mandating E-Verify, doing something about birthright citizenship (exactly what depends on which day of the week you ask him).

If only we'd had E-Verify! ||| CNN

Name: Marco Rubio

Rank: 6 (6.3%)

Most insane quote: Aug. 6, GOP debate:

I also believe we need a fence. The problem is if El Chapo builds a tunnel under the fence, we have to be able to deal with that too. And that's why you need an e-verify system and you need an entry-exit tracking system and all sorts of other things to prevent illegal immigration.

Arguments against: El Chapo is indeed a cautionary tale about how building a wall will not prevent all incursions across the southern border, but drug kingpins have squat-all to do with forcing all American employers to check a national database to make sure that all of their American employees are American, which is a terrible idea that Rubio has long advocated.

Other dubious policy suggestions: Making English the official language.

Now THAT's a Festering problem! ||| DirtBunny.net

Name: Carly Fiorina

Rank: 7 (5.0%)

Most insane quote: Aug. 27, at a press conference in Le Mars, Iowa:

[T]here's an industry that has been set up in L.A. where Chinese women come over on a tourist visa and have a baby. This abuse has been going on for a while. We need to stop it. […] We need to stop abuses like this by enforcing the laws we have. […] But instead, as unfortunately what happens too often in a political season, everybody tries to distract people from festering problems that have never been solved to talk about something new. Well, let's talk about birthright citizenship. Let's talk about something else. We have to fix these problems. It's ridiculous that women are coming in and doing this. We know it's happening. Let's fix it.

Arguments against: See entry for Jeb Bush.

Other dubious policy suggestions: Making E-Verify mandatory, moving to "close down" sanctuary cities.

I mean, unless you're otherwise law-abiding. ||| Monopoly

Name: John Kasich

Rank:  8 (4.7%)

Most insane quote: Aug. 19, interview with PBS:

[W]e have to finish the wall and then make it clear, if anybody comes over that wall again, they have got to go back. There should be no debate about that. […] And then I think, with the 12 million, they're here. If they have been law-abiding, then I believe they should have a path to legalization.

Arguments against: While Kasich has among the most reasonable immigration approaches in the field, the Ohio governor has a glaring logical problem here: You simply cannot "make it clear" that wall-jumpers "have got to go back" when you're also making the opposite clear to previous wall-jumpers. This is one of the many ways that immigration policy is hard!

Other dubious policy suggestions: Making English the official U.S. language.

Shockingly, this did not come from a restrictionist website. ||| RushPassport.com

Name: Mike Huckabee

Rank: 9 (4.3%)

Most insane quote: Aug. 28, on the Hugh Hewitt radio program:

I would [support a law restricting birthright citizenship], because I think when you see even advertisements in China, advertising essentially "birth tourism," where people are able to purchase packages so they fly to the U.S., have their baby in the U.S. so it has dual citizenship, and these aren't people who are impoverished, looking for a Medicaid payment. These are very wealthy people who are coming here so their child will in essence be put a foot down and say, "I have American citizenship," dual citizenship, American and Chinese. And I just don't see how we can sit back and say that that is perfectly OK.

Arguments against: In addition to the refutations contained in the Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina entries above, Huckabee's position is a brazen flip-flop from his stance in 2010.

Other dubious policy suggestions: Tracking legal visitors like FedEx or UPS does.

Still true. ||| Reason

Name: Rand Paul

Rank: 10 (3.7%)

Most insane quote: Aug. 19ish, interview with NBC News.

[I]f you have an open border you can't have birthright citizenship.

Arguments against: Since Paul is using this argument to buttress his ongoing support for legislation asserting "that under the 14th Amendment a person born in the United States to illegal aliens does not automatically gain citizenship," it's worth noting that the border, in fact, is not "open." There are more than 650 miles of fencing between the U.S. and Mexico; deportations have climbed steadily for most of the 21st century, and the wait times for legally qualified immigrants who "stand in line" are so long (more than 20 years, in some cases) that the end of that quip might as well be "and stay out!"

Other dubious policy suggestions: "100 percent incarceration for all visa overstays or illegal entrants until trial," and "Before issuing any visas or starting the legal immigration process, we must first ensure that our border is secure."

I mean, if you make it SEXY…. ||| CoolTattoos.us

Name: Chris Christie

Rank: 11 (3.3%)

Most insane quote: Aug. 29, at a campaign event in New Hampshire:

At any moment, FedEx can tell you where that package is. It's on the truck. It's at the station. It's on the airplane. Yet we let people come to this country with visas, and the minute they come in, we lose track of them….We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in, and then when your time is up, whether it's three months or six months or nine months or 12 months—however long your visa is,  then we go get you and tap you on the shoulder and say, "Excuse me, thanks for coming—time to go."

Arguments against: Human beings don't have bar codes (yet!). The Supreme Court has ruled that law enforcement needs to obtain a warrant before attaching a tracking device to people's property; such a precedent would almost certainly apply to the physical bodies of legally authorized visitors to the United States. Additionally, having the government monitor every movement of a human being is antithetical to the basic concept of liberty.

Other dubious policy suggestions: Huge fines for employers of illegal immigrants, putting an "end" to sanctuary cities.

How the Texas border was secured. ||| Twitter

Name: Rick Perry

Rank: 12 (1.3%)

Most insane quote: Aug. 3, Manchester, New Hampshire candidate forum:

I know a little something about securing the border—as a matter of fact, last summer, I looked in the president's eye when he came to Dallas, Texas, and I said 'Mr. President, if you don't secure the border, Texas will.' That's exactly what we did. We sent our Department of Public Safety, our Texas rangers, our Texas Wildlife, putting them literally in the river. And we also deployed our Texas National Guard. And because of that effort we saw a 74 decrease in the number of apprehensions that were occurring on that part of the border. You can secure the border.

Arguments against: Wait, the border with Texas is secure? PolitiFact Texas rated Perry's claim as "Mostly False," due to the impossibility of quantifying the "because of that effort" part of the quote (federal border-patrol efforts and seasonal fluctuations also surely played a role). If that sounds nitpicky, maybe it's because Rick Perry has stood out for being comparatively non-awful on this issue.

Other dubious policy suggestions: Ending "the notion of sanctuary cities."

True story: Santorum's relatives back in Italy are a buncha commies. ||| The Daily Beast
The Daily Beast

Name: Rick Santorum

Rank: 13 (1.0%)

Most insane quote: Aug. 20, speech at the National Press Club:

Let's face it, the problem with illegal immigration can mostly be solved immediately because it doesn't involve changing the law, it simply requires the current laws to be enforced!

Arguments against: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deputy director Kumar Kibble estimated in 2011 that it costs an average of $12,500 to deport an illegal immigrant. Multiply that by 10 million (Santorum has proposed allowing some illegal agricultural workers to conditionally stay), and you get north of $125 billion. On cost alone, let alone other logistics, there is nothing "immediate" about that process.

Other dubious policy suggestions: Reducing legal immigration by 25 percent, ending birthright citizenship, making E-Verify mandatory, establishing a tracking system for legal visitors, ending sanctuary cities.

Methinks he doth assimilate too much. ||| Pinterest

Name: Bobby Jindal

Rank: 14 (0.3%)

Most insane quote: Aug. 6, at the first GOP debate:

We must insist on assimilation. Immigration without assimilation is an invasion. We need to tell folks who want to come here they need to come here legally. Learn English, adopt our values, roll up your sleeves and get to work. I'm tired of the hyphenated Americans and the division. 

Arguments against: America is widely understood to have the best track record of assimilating immigrants of any large country in the industrialized world, regardless of whatever any given president or presidential candidate is insisting on or tired of. Suggesting that our assimilation process is threatening to become an "invasion" is grossly inaccurate demagoguery.

Other dubious policy suggestions: "Prosecuting" sanctuary cities, supporting English-only laws.