At this point, after over 14 months of relentless campaign coverage, what is left to say about Donald Trump’s immigration platform, arguably the cornerstone of his campaign? Plenty, actually, judging by the candidate’s multiple stances on the issue this week and the criticism of his views by Hillary Clinton.
Immigration is one of the few issues Donald Trump addressed head-on early in the election cycle, with his infamous vow last June to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. During the same speech—in which Trump declared he was running for president—he dubbed Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “drug peddlers.” Since then, Trump has gone on to propose a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S.” and endorsed mass deportations of illegal immigrants.
But this week, Trump wavered, suggesting that he was open to “softening” his bloviated assertions on immigration—a move that could cost him loyal supporters. Be that as it may, Hillary Clinton has taken an approach that is almost diametrically opposite to the intolerance that Trump has trafficked in for the past 15 months, seeking to shield immigrants from deportation and empower them with a path to citizenship.
Here’s a rundown of what a Clinton or Trump presidency could mean for immigrants who reside in the U.S. and those who wish to come here:
One thing Clinton and Trump seemed to agree on historically was the importance of secure borders. But Trump’s campaign rhetoric has been singular in its ambition and xenophobia. During this election, Clinton has opted to veer away from discussions of border security, preferring instead to focus on other immigration issues. As Clinton wrote of her immigration reform plan: “It will treat every person with dignity, fix the family visa backlog, uphold the rule of law, protect our borders and national security, and bring millions of hardworking people into the formal economy.”
Trump, on the other hand, wants to “compel Mexico to pay for the wall” by barring undocumented immigrants from making wire transfers to Mexico. “It’s an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of $5-$10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year,” Trump writes on his site. But here’s the thing: Of the $24 billion that Trump says is wired to Mexico annually (a number PolitiFact has backed up), it’s unclear what percentage comes from illegal immigrants.
It sounds implausible but Trump says the wall would be constructed with concrete and steel and reach up to 65 feet in height. (This number has inched up over the past year, first starting at 30 feet during a speech last August and ricocheting its way to 65 feet.) Initially, Trump argued the wall should span the entire 2,000-mile border, but he has since demurred and said just half that length could be enough.
According to the New York Times, the $10 billion Trump has cited is far lower than what a wall with those specifications would actually cost, which experts say is at least $26 billion, and that doesn’t include the maintenance costs that will follow. The workers hired to build the wall would need housing for the entirety of the project, and the wall would have to be erected in such a way that major waterways like the Rio Grande and Colorado River are not disrupted—while still ensuring the wall’s efficacy in keeping people out of the U.S. That’s a tall order.
Clinton is in support of selective deportation—as her platform reads, “detaining and deporting those individuals who pose a violent threat to public safety”—but she is not in favor of rampant deportation of illegal immigrants. Her proposed immigration plan is more lenient than that of the Obama administration, which drew criticism for returning thousands of women and children back to violent regions of Central America.
In a June ruling, the Supreme Court blocked Obama’s redemption plan to shield five million undocumented immigrants from deportation, by upholding the decision of a lower court that it was unlawful. Still, Clinton has resolved to continue pushing for the programs that were struck down: DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). If Clinton were to get elected, it is also possible the case may be appealed and sent to the Supreme Court again, following her appointment of Justice Scalia’s replacement.
Trump has built his platform on the claim that he would send all 11 million illegal immigrants back to where they hailed from—up until this week, that is. In an interview on Tuesday, Fox News host Sean Hannity asked if Trump might think twice about deporting illegal immigrants who “contribute to society, have been law-abiding, have kids here.”
“There certainly can be a softening, because we’re not looking to hurt people,” Trump said in response. “We want people—we have some great people in this country.” He then took this a step further, saying that while he would “get the bad ones out,” he may allow other immigrants to remain if they paid “back taxes.”
Perhaps Trump realized the proposal he set forth early in his campaign was not supported by tangible, realistic steps. He said the process of removing illegal immigrants would take about two years—but deportations in recent years have not exceeded more than about 400,000 annually, which means the government would have to significantly increase its current roster of immigration officials and judges to carry out Trump’s plan.
Police officers would have to randomly stop people and ask to see their papers to try and track down illegal immigrants; once found, they would have to be detained, and the U.S. government would also have to foot the bill to fly out immigrants who are not from Mexico. According to the American Action Forum, the entire project would run $400 billion to $600 billion even if it were spread out across 20 years. And what, exactly, would be the economic impact of losing 11 million people, when almost 62% of them are employed in the U.S.?
Clinton has not talked much about H-1B visas, and her immigration reform plan does not touch on the subject. But in an interview with Vox last month, Clinton said comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship was an issue separate from the concerns of tech companies wishing to keep poaching foreign workers. From Vox:
But I don’t want to mix that with other kinds of changes in visas and other concerns that particularly high-value technical companies have. In fact, I think keeping the pressure on them helps us resolve the bigger problem, and then we can look to see what else, if anything, can and should be done.
But I would also add one of the biggest complaints I hear around the country is how callous and insensitive American corporations have become to American workers who have skills that are ones that should make them employable. The many stories of people training their replacements from some foreign country are heartbreaking, and it is obviously a cost-cutting measure to be able to pay people less than you would pay an American worker.
That said, in keeping with her support of DAPA and DACA, Clinton endorses giving work permits to immigrants who qualify under either program.
In Trump’s immigration plan, he pooh-poohed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for hiring too many workers holding H-1B visas. His reform plan proposed raising wages for H-1B visas to strong-arm companies into offering those jobs to domestic workers instead.
Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas. This will improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program.
But in a debate last fall, he was singing a different tune: “As far as the visas are concerned, if we need people, it’s fine. They have to come into this country legally.” In March, Trump responded to a question about whether he had moved away from the proposal on his website—to which he said he was “softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country.” But immediately after the debate, he put out a statement repudiating what he had said, arguing that H-1B visas did not constitute “highly-skilled immigration.” At a debate the following week, Trump noted that he exploited the H-1B as a businessman and should not have been allowed to.
Trump’s stance on the H-1B program aligns with the opinion held by people who think it takes jobs away from American citizens. In his March statement, Trump added that he would “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program.”
This is a key piece of Clinton’s platform: If elected, she has promised “a pathway to full and equal citizenship within her first 100 days in office.” Clinton does not go into detail about how exactly she plans to do this, though she backs the aforementioned DACA and DAPA programs. Also on the chopping block if Clinton takes office: the three- and 10-year bars that keep immigrants who leave to get a green card out of the country for three or 10 years if they have previously been in the U.S. illegally.
Clinton has also been vocal in her opposition to one of Trump’s proposals—denying automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants, a right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. “This remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration,” Trump wrote on his website.
This is not a position held by many of the Republicans who ran against Trump—Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, for example—but it should come as little surprise given Trump’s feelings about even legal immigration. “When I’m elected I will suspend immigration from areas of the world where there’s a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe, or our allies until we fully understand how to end these threats,” Trump said during a speech soon after the Orlando shooting.
As with other controversial policy proposals set forth by Trump, many Republicans are split on the issue of birthright citizenship, since a change to the current policy would involve tweaking the Constitution itself.