A sweeping immigration policy proposal released Sunday by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is an early Christmas gift to American voters hungry for more restrictive immigration policies. It's also a nightmare for Republican leaders working to entice Latino voters.
The blueprint is a comprehensive missive against pro-immigration U.S. policies established by politicians who support, in Trump's words, "amnesty, cheap labor and open borders," and "the corporate patrons who run both parties." His core premise is that immigrants hurt Americans and the U.S. economy. It is Trump's first policy paper, and fittingly it's on the issue that has catapulted him to front-runner status in the GOP field.
"Real immigration reform puts the needs of working people first—not wealthy globetrotting donors," Trump writes. "We are the only country in the world whose immigration system puts the needs of other nations ahead of our own."
The plan attacks legal and illegal immigration from all angles. It leaves no option except for mass deportation of the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally—"They have to go," he said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press—which would cost some $400-$600 billion to sustain, according to an estimate by the conservative group American Action Forum. It ends "birthright citizenship"—which is enshrined into the Constitution under the 14th Amendment.
"I wish I could say we helped Trump's people write this, but the truth is they have not spoken with us," Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center For Immigration Studies, a group that seeks to slash immigration to the United States, wrote in an e-mail. Overall, he added, "none of the other Republican (or Democratic) candidates (with the exception of Rick Santorum) has as sound and as well thought-through an immigration plan."
Apart from immigration-wary conservatives, a large and passionate Republican constituency, Trump's plan will be despised by just about everyone. Knowing as much, the Democratic National Committee wasted little time trying to tie other Republicans to Trump.
"Trump has reignited the GOP's longstanding obsession with mass deportation," said Pablo Manriquez, the DNC's director of Hispanic media. "Like his fellow GOP candidates Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and others, GOP front runner [T]rump dismisses a full and equal pathway to citizenship for hardworking immigrants."
Notably, the real estate mogul's legal immigration proposals won't sit well with the American business community, which typically supports Republicans. He seeks to slash legal immigration by imposing new burdens on employers that want to hire skilled foreign workers under the H-1B visa program, the country's main guest-worker program. By contrast, the Chamber of Commerce and Silicon Valley are instead pushing to ease H-1B restrictions and raise the general quota of 65,000 immigrants per year.
Specifically, Trump proposes to raise pay requirements for H-1B beneficiaries and make sure employers try to hire American workers first, which they're not currently required to do. Trump also calls for scrapping the J-1 work-and-study visa program and wants to raise standards for asylum-seekers. He'd also "pause" on issuing green cards for foreign workers in order to make employers seek out domestic labor. His reason? Immigrants hurt Americans. "The influx of foreign workers," he writes, "holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans ... to earn a middle class wage."
Playing up a connection between illegal immigration from Mexico and crime, Trump's plan seeks to triple the number of agents patrolling the Southern border. It proposes building a wall separating the two countries and making Mexico pay for it. Mexico says it won't pay for any such wall, but Trump vows to use American leverage points to do so, such as hiking fees on, if not canceling, visas for Mexican CEOs, diplomats and work visas for Mexican nationals connected to NAFTA. The move would risk a chilly standoff with the United States' third-largest goods trading partner.
"In short, the Mexican government has taken the United States to the cleaners," Trump writes. "We will not be taken advantage of anymore."
Trump takes two shots at Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a rival Republican candidate who co-wrote a comprehensive pro-immigration bill in 2013 that he no longer supports. "The Schumer-Rubio immigration bill," Trump writes, "was nothing more than a giveaway to the corporate patrons who run both parties." The billionaire also refers to Rubio as "Mark Zuckerberg's personal Senator," referring to the Facebook founder who launched the pro-immigration advocacy group FWD.us.
Trump also proposes some ideas popular with mainstream Republicans, such as mandating E-Verify for employers, a centralized system to determine whether a prospective employee is legally eligible to work in the country; and eliminating federal grants to "sanctuary cities" that shield undocumented people from immigration authorities.
Frank Sharry, the executive director of the pro-immigration group America's Voice, called Trump's proposals "as dangerous as they are stunning" and placed the candidate "firmly on the far right fringes of the debate." He said Trump's policies would "leave a moral stain on the fabric of this nation of immigrants, trample the U.S. Constitution and its due process protections, rip apart millions of American families, and deal a death blow to our economy."
"Fortunately," he said, "these dangerous ideas are neither workable nor popular."