This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.
Trump’s supporters loved his promise last week to create a “deportation force” to remove all 11 million illegal immigrants living in America, and his repeated declaration that everyone here illegally will “have to go.”
But his supporters tend to overlook his other promise—repeated in the Fox Business debate in Milwaukee on November 10—that under his immigration plan “they will come back.”
That’s right. Under Trump’s immigration plan, almost all of the 11 million illegal aliens (save for a small minority with criminal records) will get to return and get permanent legal status to stay here in America.
Trump supports amnesty.
On Fox News on November 12, Trump’s son Eric expressed frustration that the media overlooks this:
The point isn’t just deporting them, it’s deporting them and letting them back in legally. He’s been so clear about that and I know the liberal media wants to misconstrue it, but it’s deporting them and letting them back legally.
Eric Trump is right. His father has been crystal clear that he wants all the illegals to return and live in America.
Listen closely to what Trump is actually proposing. In an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash earlier this year, Trump explained his plan this way:
I would get people out and then have an expedited way of getting them back into the country so they can be legal…. A lot of these people are helping us … and sometimes it’s jobs a citizen of the United States doesn’t want to do. I want to move ’em out, and we’re going to move ’em back in and let them be legal.
This is a policy called “touchback” and it was first proposed in 2007 by moderate Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas). She offered a “touchback” amendment on the Senate floor that would have required illegal immigrants to return to their home countries to apply for a special “Z visa” that would allow them to re-enter the United States in an expedited fashion and work here indefinitely.
Her amendment lost by a relatively close margin, 53-45. It was supported by most Republicans and even got five Democratic votes—senators Claire McCaskill, Max Baucus, Jon Tester, Byron Dorgan and John Rockefeller all voted for it.
The idea was considered so reasonable that in an April 22, 2007, editorial entitled “Progress on Immigration,” The New York Times declared:
It’s not ideal, but if a touchback provision is manageable and reassures people that illegal immigrants are indeed going to the back of the line, then it will be defensible.
So what Trump is proposing today—sending illegal immigrants back to their home countries and then allowing the “good ones” to return in an “expedited” fashion—was endorsed by the liberal New York Times!
In fact, the idea even got the support of—wait for it—illegal immigrants.
In 2007, the Los Angeles Times did the first telephone poll of illegal immigrants and asked whether they would go home under a “touchback” law that allowed them to return with legal status. Sixty-three percent said yes, 27 percent said no and 10 percent were undecided. If they were promised a path to citizenship when they returned, the number who said they would leave and return legally grew to 85 percent.
Donald Trump’s detractors were aghast at his invocation during the Fox Business debate of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback,” which forcibly removed 1.5 million illegal immigrants, and his promise the following day to establish a “deportation force” to remove the 11 million illegal immigrants living in America today.
Never mind the fact that we already have a “deportation force”—it’s called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The fact is, Trump won’t need a “deportation force” or an “Operation Wetback” to get illegal immigrants to go home—because he has promised that they can return quickly with legal status.
The vast majority of illegal immigrants say they would voluntarily cooperate with Trump’s plan.
If anything, the “touchback” plan Trump endorses was attacked by conservatives back in 2007. In an editorial, National Review called touchback a “fraud” that gives illegal aliens “their own privileged pathway” ahead of “applicants who have complied with US immigration laws.”
That is precisely what Trump is proposing. Under his plan, illegal aliens don’t have to go to the end of the line behind those who have complied with our immigration laws. They get an “expedited way of getting them back into the country so they can be legal.” They get to cut the line and then stay in America.
So if you get past Trump’s bluster, the plan he is proposing is so liberal that it earned the support of The New York Times and the opposition of National Review.
The reason is simple: Trump’s plan is in fact a form of amnesty—you just have to leave the country briefly to get it.
So when Trump says of illegal immigrants “they all have to go,” don’t overlook the fact that under his plan almost all would be able to immediately return—and stay.
This means there is very little difference between his plan and what John Kasich and Jeb Bush are supporting.
And most of his supporters don’t even realize it.
Marc Thiessen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.