“This was not a subject ... on anybody’s mind until I brought it up.”
– Donald Trump, on immigration, Republican debate, Aug. 6
Not on anyone’s mind? For years, immigration has been the subject of constant, bitter argument within the GOP. But it is true that Trump has brought the debate to a new place – first, with his announcement speech about whether Mexicans are rapists, and now with the more nuanced Trump plan.
Much of it – visa tracking, E-Verify, withholding funds from sanctuary cities – predates Trump. Even building the Great Wall is not new. (I, for one, have been advocating that since 2006.) Dominating the discussion, however, are his two policy innovations: (a) abolition of birthright citizenship and (b) mass deportation.
If you are born in the United States, you are an American citizen. So says the 14th Amendment. Barring some radically new jurisprudence, abolition would require amending the Constitution. Which would take great effort and make the GOP anathema to Hispanic-Americans for a generation.
And for what? Birthright citizenship is a symptom, not a cause. If you regain control of the border, the number of birthright babies fades to insignificance. The time and energy it would take to amend the Constitution are far more usefully deployed securing the border.
Moreover, the real issue is not birthright babies, but the chain migration that follows. Chain migration, however, is not a constitutional right. It’s a result of statutes and regulations that can be readily changed. That should be the focus, not a quixotic constitutional battle.
Last Sunday, Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd that all illegal immigrants must leave the country before we will let “the good ones” back in. This is crackpot. Wouldn’t you save a lot on Mayflower moving costs if you chose the “good ones” first?
It is estimated by the American Action Forum that mass deportation would take about 20 years and cost about $500 billion for all the police, judges and enforcement agents – and bus drivers! – needed to expel 11 million people.
This would all be merely ridiculous if it weren’t morally obscene. Forcibly evict 11 million people from their homes? It shouldn’t happen. And, of course, it won’t ever happen. But because it’s the view of the Republican front-runner, every other candidate is required to react. So instead of debating border security and sanctuary cities they are forced to debate a repulsive fantasy.
Which, for the Republican Party, is political poison. Mitt Romney lost the Hispanic vote by 44 points advocating self-deportation. Now the party is discussing forced deportation.
It is not just Hispanics who will be alienated. Romney lost the Asian vote, too. By 47 points. And many non-minorities will be offended by the idea of rounding up 11 million people, most of whom are law-abiding members of their communities.
Trump has every right to advance his ideas. He is not to be begrudged his masterly showmanship, his relentless candor or his polling success. I strongly oppose ostracizing anyone from the conservative movement. Let the people decide.
But that is not to say that he should be exempt from consideration of the effect of his candidacy on conservatism’s future. If you are a conservative alarmed at the country’s direction and committed to retaking the White House, you should be concerned about what Trump is doing to the chances of that happening.
The Democrats’ presumptive candidate is flailing. Republicans have an unusually talented field with a good chance of winning the presidency. Do they really want to be dragged into the swamps on immigration that will make that electorally impossible?
Yes, I understand. The anger, the frustration, etc. that Trump is channeling. But how are these alleviated by yelling “I’m mad as hell” and proceeding to elect Hillary Clinton?
Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for The Washington Post.