Donald Trump’s immigration plan is now shrouded in confusion. News reports suggest that he signaled an openness to amnesty in a meeting with Hispanic supporters over the weekend. On Sunday’s political shows, both campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and Senator Jeff Sessions declined to restate his prior support for mass deportation.
If Trump is indeed recalibrating his policy, he would be well served to abandon his current posture. We never like it when politicians say one thing in the primaries and then shift in the general, but he never should have committed to such a foolish policy in the first place. It perversely combines support for a fantastical policy of deportation of all illegal immigrants — an administrative impossibility — with a soft-headed “touch-back” amnesty that would allow some portion of the deportees to return to America with legal status. If deported illegal immigrants are going to come right back, it makes little sense to deport them in the first place, which is why Trump might have begun crab-walking his way to a less convoluted form of amnesty in his meeting, although accounts differ over what he said or what he might have meant.
Deportation is an entirely legitimate tool of enforcement, and it must be part of any functioning immigration system, but it is easier to achieve a big change in the illegal population through attrition, or what Mitt Romney was lambasted (including by Donald Trump) for calling “self-deportation.”
Once the illegal population has measurably diminished, then we can have a discussion about what to do with the balance of the illegal population. It might make sense at that point to exchange legalization (a significant portion of the illegal population has been here more than ten years and isn’t leaving) for changes in the legal immigration system, including lower overall numbers and drastically diminished low-skilled immigration. But the first step is enforcing the laws that we already have.