How central was attacking illegal immigration to Donald Trump's success at winning the Republican presidential nomination? Let's say it was just about everything to him and to his early supporters. Remember that five minutes into his announcement that he was running for president, Trump started laying into Mexicans as rapists, drug mules, disease-carriers, and all the rest.
Attacking illegal immigration was his campaign in its earliest incarnation. He railed against "sanctuary cities" and the nonexistent crime waves caused by illegal immigrants all over the country. He talked incessantly about his big, beautiful wall on the country's southern border and how Mexico would pay for it. In a characteristic outburst on the subject, Trump told NBC's Chuck Todd that he would even kick out kids who were U.S. citizens but whose parents were illegal. "They've got to go!" he told the newsman on his private jet. "They've got to go!"
Despite ranking low-to-nonexistent among the concerns of Republican voters, addressing the supposedly ruinous influx of mostly Hispanic illegals remains central to many, if not most, professional conservatives and right-wingers. "Conservatives are now starting to see a candidate's position on immigration as an index of his conservatism in general," wrote National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru at Bloomberg View. "Favoring tighter control of immigration is becoming a stand-in for conservatism." Indeed, the main beef with the #NeverTrumpers at the conservative National Review was precisely that The Donald wasn't serious when he promised to deport 11 million people upon taking office. As NR's editors wrote in their house editorial, "Conservatives against Trump":
Trump says he will put a big door in his beautiful wall, an implicit endorsement of the dismayingly conventional view that current levels of legal immigration are fine….
Trump piles on the absurdity by saying he would re-import many of the illegal immigrants once they had been deported, which makes his policy a poorly disguised amnesty.
Well, it turns out that they were right. Here's Trump talking yesterday on Fox News' Hannity about his new-and-improved policy toward illegal immigrants:
During a "Hannity" town hall on Tuesday, Trump said he was open to "softening" laws dealing with illegal immigrants.
On Wednesday, Trump told Hannity there would be "no citizenship" for those illegal immigrants.
"Let me go a step further—they'll pay back-taxes, they have to pay taxes, there's no amnesty, as such, there's no amnesty, but we work with them," Trump said.
He also spoke of how hard it would be to deport people who have lived in the country for decades and raised a family.
"Now, everybody agrees we get the bad ones out," Trump said. "But when I go through and I meet thousands and thousands of people on this subject, and I've had very strong people come up to me, really great, great people come up to me, and they've said, 'Mr. Trump, I love you, but to take a person who's been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and their family out, it's so tough, Mr. Trump,' I have it all the time! It's a very, very hard thing."
Trump stands firm on no path to citizenship and he insists that what he is outlining now isn't "amnesty" in any, way, shape, or form. He's full of it, of course. As Conservative Review puts it, "Trump just officially adopted the Jeb Bush/Gang of 8 position on amnesty."
To which I would only add: Good for him.
It's a start toward acknowledging reality—finding, arresting, and deporting millions and millions of people all over the country would require the establishment of exactly the sort of domestic police state about which conservatives used to be worried. It also puts Trump and by extension the Republican Party closer to the two-thirds of Americans who favor citizenship if current illegals meet "certain requirements" (such as paying fines and back taxes).
The conservative paroxysms over immigration (legal and illegal) are misplaced and deeply disturbing from any sort of policy or moral and ethical position. Immigrants (again, legal or illegal) commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. They don't "steal" jobs from Americans, or use welfare at higher rates than similarly situated natives. Two-thirds of illegals pay Social Security, Medicare, and payroll taxes, a proportion that will only increase when they are brought out of the shadows. Like previous waves of immigrants, they come here chiefly for economic opportunity (and they stop coming here when the opportunities dry up.
So in this sense, it's good to see Donald Trump change his views on dealing with illegal immigrants already in the country. His new, softer position may be a tough sell to #NeverTrump conservatives, but they're already against him anyway. If he's smart—and he rarely misses an opportunity to tell us his very, very smart!—he might even start pressing the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who in 2003 stated she was "adamantly opposed" to illegals, on her connection to one Barack Obama.
Who, as we all know (don't we?), is the. worst. president. ever. when it comes to deporting people:
Obama's government has deported more than 2.5 million people—up 23% from the George W. Bush years. More shockingly, Obama is now on pace to deport more people than the sum of all 19 presidents who governed the United States from 1892-2000, according to government data.
If Donald Trump—and conservatives and Republicans more generally—want to consider different immigration policies that would actually help the country as well as the people who want to come here to live and work, they should start here.