Politics & Policy

Trump’s Lesson: Voters Are Furious about Illegal Immigration

Border Patrol agents apprehend illegal immigrants in Texas, 2013. (John Moore/Getty)

Donald Trump has rocketed to the top, or near the top, of the Republican-primary field by focusing on illegal immigration and border security.


Depending on the poll, Trump is garnering in the high teens of Republican voters. It might be that the high teens is the ceiling for Trump, but in a field with more than one dozen candidates dividing the voting pie, that’s enormous.

As the field narrows, Trump will have to expand those numbers if he is to win a primary, much less the nomination. But for now, Trump is in the driver’s seat, and his vehicle is the lawlessness reflected in our failure to control illegal immigration in general, and violent illegal-immigrant criminals and gangs in particular.

Trump’s announcement speech caused an uproar because of these sentences:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

The media fell all over itself to denounce Trump, as did many Republican candidates and pundits. Trump was called incendiary, insensitive, a clown, not serious, damaging to the Republican “brand,” not what “we” are about, and so on.

There also was the increasingly common cultural purge. Several companies severed ties with Trump’s businesses, and the FAA even removed navigation codes near Palm Beach Airport that had been named for Trump, such as UFIRD (for Trump’s “you’re fired” line on The Apprentice), DONLD, and TRMMP.

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But something happened on the way to the denunciations and purges.

Kate Steinle was murdered in San Francisco, a sanctuary city. Steinle was killed in broad daylight on a popular pedestrian pier in a business and tourist district, by an illegal immigrant with a long criminal record who had been deported five times and recently was released from custody.

The murder of Steinle struck a chord like nothing else, because it came to symbolize the vulnerability Americans feel about the failure of government to protect us from people who shouldn’t be here in the first place.

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Statistics about “immigrants” having lower crime rates are irrelevant, because they mix legal and illegal immigrants. One would expect legal immigrants to have low crime rates, since they are, by definition, the type of people who follow the law.

Trump clearly was not talking about legal immigrants, but about the kind of foreign “gang bangers” (a term Obama used) who terrorize everyone with impunity. The statistics on illegal-immigrant crime are staggering. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, over 36,000 illegal-alien criminals were released from custody in 2013 while awaiting deportation. Eighty-two percent of the 133,551 removals from the interior of the United States involved illegal immigrants with criminal records.

Some claim that the rate of murder and crime by illegal immigrants is no higher than for those here legally, but that’s an obfuscation. Any murder or crime by an illegal immigrant is one too many, because that person should not be in our country in the first place.

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How does the murderer of Kate Steinle get deported five times yet make it back to the U.S. so easily? Presumably he came on foot across the border. The border matters.

Sure, Trump mentions other issues such as trade, but it is illegal immigration that motivated at least several thousand people to turn out for what was supposed to be a modest campaign stop in Phoenix. One section in Trump’s Phoenix speech jumped out at me as capturing especially well what is happening on the ground:

When I started . . . I didn’t think the immigration thing would take on a life like it has. I made some very tough statements about people flowing through, because that’s one of the things, to make our country great again, we have to create borders, otherwise we don’t have a country [italics added].

Any Republican who doesn’t understand what Trump was getting at is hopelessly out of touch with the most motivated portion of the electorate, Republican and otherwise.

In the wake of the murder of Kate Steinle, many Republican candidates have denounced the sanctuary-cities agenda. There is talk of withholding funding from cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. But who among the Republican candidates has stood side by side with the families who have lost loved ones to illegal-immigrant criminals?

#related#Trump did. He held a press event with the families of numerous murder victims. He visibly felt the pain of the victims of the lawlessness of the present situation. And in the Phoenix speech, Trump turned over the stage for ten minutes to the father of a young man killed by an illegal immigrant.

Illegal immigration and open borders have made voters increasingly angry because they reflect the growing lawlessness of society and the willingness of Republicans to capitulate to leftist identity politics. The sense that we are losing control of our own country, by the design of politicians, is creating a fury — and an opening for a politician willing to recognize that the problem poses an existential threat to our own freedoms.

If Republicans consider Trump a danger to the Republican party in the 2016 general election, then they should start by feeling the people’s pain over illegal immigration, standing with the victims, and looking in the mirror — not at Donald Trump.

— William A. Jacobson is a clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School and publisher of Legal Insurrection, a politics and law website.

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