Trump Mocked For Having No Real Immigration Plan, But Are His GOP Rivals Any Better?

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

Thursday’s premier GOP debate will feature real estate mogul Donald Trump comfortably in the number-one slot after his controversial remarks about undocumented Mexicans helped catapult him to fame and notoriety.

Trump, when pressed by reporters for a concrete immigration plan, has said he would build a nearly 2,000 mile wall on the U.S.’ southern border and force Mexico to pay for it, deport all 11 million undocumented people currently living in the U.S., and then let whoever he determined to be the “good ones” back in. The statements were widely mocked as costly, unrealistic, and illegal.

However, the few other Republicans in the presidential race to actually release plans have been similarly vague, and similarly focused on ramping up immigration enforcement while avoiding true reform.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, considered to be the candidate most amenable to immigration reform, released a plan this week that is almost entirely concerned with enforcement. Any “practical solution to the status of the people who are here illegally,” he says, “is a nonstarter if our borders are not secure.”

Bush’s plan calls for “continuous surveillance” of the U.S. Mexico border with drones, scrapping “byzantine environmental rules” that he feels unfairly restrict the Border Patrol’s activities, and deporting more people who came into the country legally but overstayed their visas.

As an afterthought, he tossed out that qualified undocumented people can earn legal status “over an extended period of time,” but fails to detail how long that period would be or who would qualify.

Recent polls show such a plan is a “nonstarter” with much of the electorate.

“Only 13 percent of Latino voters agreed with Bush that legal status should be contingent on border security,” said Matt Barreto with the polling firm Latino Decisions. “Instead, 81 percent of Latino voters said legal status for immigrants should start right away, alongside any border security measures.”

Other Republican candidates are sticking to the enforcement-first or enforcement-only path. In July, former Texas Governor Rick Perry released a five-point plan to crack down on sanctuary cities that ban local law enforcement officers from enforcing immigration law. Four of the five points are denying the cities different forms of federal funding, while the final point consists of sending ICE agents to jails in sanctuary cities to check the immigration statuses of all their prisoners.

The other Republican candidates, like Trump, lack a coherent immigration plan, opting instead for a series of tough soundbites.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has called for arresting the mayors of sanctuary cities. He has previously suggested barring “radical Muslims” from immigrating to the U.S. Yet Jindal, like many of his opponents, has no plan for the roughly 11 million undocumented people already living in the U.S.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who will appear beside Trump at Thursday’s debate, has said merely that he “doesn’t believe in amnesty,” and has vowed reverse President Obama’s executive order protecting millions of young immigrants from deportation. While he once voiced support for offering undocumented people a path to citizenship, he has since declared a change of heart, and now has no clear plan for that population.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose poll numbers narrowly won him the last slot in Thursday night’s primetime debate, has swung wildly in his immigration views over time — from supporting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants to stripping citizenship U.S.-born children of undocumented parents. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has had a similarly all-over-the-map strategy.

Though Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and others on the Democratic side of the presidential contest have focused more on what they are against than what they are for when it comes to immigration, others have offered detailed plans.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has committed to extending “full and equal citizenship” to undocumented immigrants; extending an existing executive action that provides deportation protections to so-called DREAMers, or undocumented immigrants, giving legal representation to immigrants in immigration court; and reforming immigration enforcement and detention practices “so they’re more humane, more targeted, and more effective.”

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley went even further, promising to shut down immigrant detention facilities, expand health care for immigrants, and use aggressive executive action to limit deportations.

When 17 Republican candidates take to the debate stage in two rounds on Thursday night, immigration is expected to be a key topic of discussion. But in the one-minute answers and 30-second rebuttals, voters will likely find few answers to their most pressing questions: What is the criteria for declaring the border secure? Who should be eligible to remain in the U.S.? What would they need to do in order to qualify? If a “path” is created, how long will it take, and does it lead to full citizenship?

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This has been reposted from Think Progress.

Alice Ollstein is a Political Reporter at ThinkProgress. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered and Telesur. Alice is originally from Santa Monica, California.

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