The Democrats’ immigration radicalism has handed Donald Trump a huge gift. The only question is whether he will smartly accept that gift by allowing them to walk away from the deal he has offered, rather than engage in pointless bargaining with a party that has no interest in strengthening America’s borders, focusing on higher-skilled immigrants, or even enforcing America’s existing immigration laws. Did I mention that further concessions to the Democrats on immigration will be electorally devastating, as they will drain all of the enthusiasm from Trump’s base?
The president’s overly generous proposal on immigration, which provides an amnesty and pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal aliens who were brought to America as children in exchange for ending chain migration and the diversity visa lottery and beginning to fund a border wall, was greeted with predictable howls of indignation on the left. But while Nancy Pelosi and her media enablers may see Trump’s immigration framework as “an act of staggering cowardice which attempts to hold the Dreamers hostage to a hateful anti-immigrant scheme,” it is Pelosi and her Democratic brethren who are dangerously out of touch with American public opinion.
While I personally favor a policy much tougher than the one espoused by the president, there is little doubt that Trump is correct when he notes that “the Republican position on immigration is the center mainstream view of the American people.”
According to a recently-released Harvard-Harris Poll of registered voters, Trump’s framework encompasses the popular position on every major immigration issue. Democrats and open-borders Republicans are stuck with the political losers — and that’s likely even more true in the ten states that voted for Trump but have Democratic senators up for election in 2018. Amnesty for illegal aliens with no real border security or legal-immigration reform may gather a lot of sympathy in New York and California news rooms, but it is not going to win elections in Montana, West Virginia, or Missouri.
Let’s remember that giving any amnesty at all to DACA recipients already marks a walk-back from a campaign promise. Trump promised to “immediately terminate” DACA in his announcement speech, a promise he repeated on several occasions during the campaign.
But judging both from his comments on Twitter and from his remarks at the recent GOP congressional retreat, Trump appears to be pursuing a risky but potentially shrewd strategy on immigration: Offer Democrats a generous deal knowing that they will reject it, thus energizing Trump’s base, exposing the Democrats’ extremism, and helping the GOP going into the 2018 midterms. If that is indeed the poker game Trump is playing, there may well be a method to the madness of his amnesty offer.
It bears repeating that it’s not Republican partisans who have shifted radically on immigration; it is the Democrats — with a particularly abrupt shift coming since 2012. About 80 percent of Republicans have long said they’re dissatisfied with current immigration levels, with 70 to 80 percent of the dissatisfied saying they’d like to see levels reduced, not increased. Democrats, by contrast, are increasingly likely to say the status quo is fine, and those dissatisfied are less and less likely to say they want immigration to fall. In this year’s Gallup poll on the question, half of respondents were satisfied with the way things are, and among the rest, just a quarter wanted to reduce immigration. With this shift the Democrats have become radically out of sync with public opinion in the rest of the country.
The Harvard-Harris poll showed that while there was strong support for giving DACA recipients work permits and even a pathway to citizenship, 60 percent of Americans reject giving preference to parents and relatives of amnestied DACA recipients, including four out of five Republicans and two out of three independents — but only two out of five Democrats.
Meanwhile, 80 percent of registered voters in that same survey rejected the premise of chain migration in favor of skills-based migration. Those numbers include 90 percent of Trump voters, 79 percent of independents, and incredibly even 72 percent of Democrats. An absolute majority, 63 percent (including 51 percent of Clinton voters!), want to admit fewer than 500,000 immigrants per year — last year we admitted 1.3 million — while only 12 percent want 1.5 million or more. Even a majority of Hispanics want annual immigration below 500,000, versus 8 percent who want 1.5 million or more.
Meanwhile 83 percent of Trump voters and 58 percent of independents think border security is inadequate. And while Trump’s border wall has just 54 percent overall support, it was 89 percent among Trump voters and 54 percent among independents. The people who hate the wall aren’t voting for Trump anyway. Sixty-eight percent oppose the diversity visa lottery that Trump has proposed eliminating, including 76 percent of Trump voters and 65 percent of independents.
In competitive states and districts in 2016, these numbers are doubtless even better. Pro-enforcement numbers in the Harvard-Harris poll were consistently stronger for these proposals in suburban areas (which constitute the vast majority of swing territory), while pro-amnesty numbers were inflated by large margins in urban areas with few competitive house seats. Likely voters tend to be more conservative than registered voters, further suggesting that Harvard-Harris underrates pro-enforcement sentiment.
The polling numbers illustrate the central reality of the weakness of the Left’s immigration position. Its viability depends almost entirely on gauzy sob stories put forth by left-wing activists and the liberal media. The more we talk about the actual reality of U.S. immigration policy, the more we win. The more we talk about immigrants with skills we actually need, the more we win. The more voters are informed, the more we win.
The GOP should be pressing ahead on all fronts.
In the meantime, the GOP should be pressing ahead on all fronts — for example, dramatically speeding up the deportation process, rooting out the funding for far-left “refugee resettlement” agencies (most of which receive the vast majority of their funding from the federal government, and which regularly engage in political rallies to the adoration of the left-wing media), and putting pressure on lawless judges who have substituted their own personal views on immigration for U.S. law
The GOP should also expand the immigration debate to include affirmative action and quotas: Under current legal precedents (which emphasize “diversity,” not historical oppression in the U.S.), as well as standard practice at many colleges and corporations, more than 90 percent of DACA recipients will immediately be eligible for racial preferences in education and hiring over approximately 90 percent of Trump’s voters. Republicans should ask how that helps Americans of any race.
The informed conservative perspective on immigration continues to be: No amnesty — and if amnesty does become a necessary evil in an immigration deal, it must be sequenced after enforcement and legal changes have taken place and are shown to be effective.
Right now the best thing for conservatives would be for Trump’s offer to fail and for the Democrats to pay for it at the ballot box in 2018. In the meantime, if the president stands firm on his offer, he is in a good place politically — he’s made the Democrats an offer they shouldn’t refuse — but in thrall to their radicalism, they probably will.