Interpreting Donald Trump’s tough immigration proposals

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., August 31, 2016.   REUTERS/Carlo Allegri     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX2NR45

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GWEN IFILL: The talk on the campaign trail today focused largely on one issue, immigration, and the new words from one candidate, Donald Trump.

Lisa Desjardins reports.

AUDIENCE: Build the wall~! Build the wall~!

LISA DESJARDINS: The scene today was Southwestern Ohio.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Nominee: Don’t worry, we’re going to build that wall. That wall will go up.

LISA DESJARDINS: But the big applause lines for Donald Trump were the same as last night in Phoenix: talk of a Mexican border wall and fighting illegal immigration. That speech was Trump’s most comprehensive yet on his signature issue.

DONALD TRUMP: Let me tell you about my plan.

LISA DESJARDINS: Tell, he did, for an hour and 15 minutes. Much was familiar, but on the topic of deportation, something new.

DONALD TRUMP: I am going to create a new special deportation task force focused on identifying and removing quickly the most dangerous criminal illegal immigrants in America.

LISA DESJARDINS: That’s an important shift, as, in this speech in Florida last year, previously, Trump pledged to deport every undocumented immigrant.

DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to take people that are here illegally, and we’re going to move them out. Got to move them out.

LISA DESJARDINS: But last night, the Republican nominee said he would target only some, those who commit crimes and those who overstay their visa.

DONALD TRUMP: There are at least two million — two million, think of it — criminal aliens now inside the country. We will begin moving them out day one.

LISA DESJARDINS: This leaves the question of what happens to everyone else, millions of others here illegally who haven’t committed crimes since arriving. Trump answered the question two ways. First, he said, those who stay will remain Outside the Law.

DONALD TRUMP: For those here today illegally who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and only one route: to return home and apply for reentry, like everybody else.

LISA DESJARDINS: But later, near the end of the speech, Trump indicated that someday that could change.

DONALD TRUMP: In several years, when we have accomplished all of our enforcement and deportation goals and truly ended illegal immigration for good, including the construction of a great wall, then and only then will we be in a position to consider the appropriate disposition of those individuals who remain. That discussion can take place only in an atmosphere in which illegal immigration is a memory of the past.

LISA DESJARDINS: Trump also launched a plan to limit all legal immigration, proposing a commission with these goals.

DONALD TRUMP: To keep immigration levels, measured by population share, within historical norms, to choose immigrants based on merit, merit, skill, and proficiency. Doesn’t that sound nice? And to establish new immigration controls to boost wages and to ensure that open jobs are offered to American workers first.

LISA DESJARDINS: The speech brought repeated thunderous applause in the arena, but in the aftermath, multiple members of Trump’s Hispanic Advisory Council resigned from that group.

Today, Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine slammed the speech as anti-immigrant.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), Vice Presidential Nominee: It is a deportation nation, and they’re all criminals, and they’re doing terrible things. That is not going to make our country great.

LISA DESJARDINS: Kaine also charged that Trump choked in yesterday’s meeting with Mexican President Pena Nieto by not repeating his demand that Mexico pay for a border wall.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Lisa Desjardins.

GWEN IFILL: Digging deeper into the politics and policy of the immigration debate, we turn to Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who helped author Donald Trump’s immigration policy, Marielena Hincapie, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, and Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside. He writes extensively on immigration issues.

Professor Ramakrishnan, how did immigration end up being or at least appear to be so central to this political debate right now?

KARTHICK RAMAKRISHNAN, University of California, Riverside: Well, it all started with the launch of Donald Trump’s campaign. It was a signature issue. It was the thing that got him a lot of attention, some would say a lot of negative attention in the beginning, but he used that publicity and that notoriety to jump to the top of the Republican heap, and he has never looked back since.

GWEN IFILL: Marielena Hincapie, how do you interpret Donald Trump’s approach?

MARIELENA HINCAPIE, National Immigration Law Center: I think Donald Trump is a very smart man who knows how to use the media, and he’s using immigration as a wedge issue.

He understands that there are low-wage white voters, for example, who are feeling a lot of economic distress and a lot of economic pain. And rather than focusing on the true issues, which is that those workers deserve a living wage, collective bargaining, safety net programs, he instead is using their fear of the other, their fear of immigrants and scapegoating immigrants and fear-mongering in order to get elected.

GWEN IFILL: Kris Kobach, she said a lot of things there. I want to start about the part about who he is speaking to. Who is his audience?

KRIS KOBACH, Secretary of State, Kansas: You know, I think he’s speaking to the American people generally.

He’s talking — in his speech last night, he’s talking about putting American interests first, putting Americans first, whether we talk about the resources of our country or whether we’re talking about crime.

And to the point that was just made about speaking to individuals who are competing with illegal labor for those jobs and are seeing wage depression in their workplace, illegal immigration, the impact of it falls disproportionately upon African-American U.S. citizens and Hispanic U.S. citizens and legal immigrants of Hispanic ethnicity.

So, you know, really, he’s talking to — in terms of the wage depression effect of illegal immigration, he’s talking to individuals who are often not white, and I think this is part of actually broadening the base, and making that point that you know your wages have suffered because of illegal immigration, and I want to do something about it.

GWEN IFILL: Professor Ramakrishnan, how often is an immigration debate about economics and how much is it, as Marielena Hincapie was saying, is about fear-mongering?

KARTHICK RAMAKRISHNAN: Well, there’s a little of both. Right?

And, in fact, it’s important to correct the record that Kris Kobach just laid out. The National Academy of Sciences in a consensus report among social sciences — it’s very difficult to get a consensus among social scientists — found no evidence — this was back in a report 20 years ago and also a more recent report from last year — no evidence that there is any significant wage depression effect.

More generally, when we talk about America being strong, it’s important to remember that immigrants are Americans, too. And, in fact, when you have seen instances like Riverside, New Jersey, for example, which passed a law trying to cut down on undocumented immigrants in the city, they actually lost economically.

You have cities and states throughout the country that are trying to get immigrants, including low-skilled immigrants, because they are so vital to sectors like construction and agriculture.

GWEN IFILL: I’m going to let Kris Kobach respond to that, and then I will get to you, Marielena Hincapie, in a moment.

KRIS KOBACH: The wage depression effect has been well-researched by economists who have looked specifically at it.

And I would note George Borjas of Harvard University has talked about it. And, look, it’s just commonsense. Anyone who is familiar with the industries of, like, meatpacking or hotel janitorial service knows that those wages have gone down not only in real terms, but in absolute dollars, because of illegal immigration.

And the point about the economies of places that crack down on illegal immigration, look at the states of Arizona and Georgia, two states that have cracked down on illegal immigration at the state level and have E-Verify requirements in place. Their economies are booming.

So, clearly, pushing illegal labor out of the labor market doesn’t mean that a state’s economy collapses, and the same is true for the country.

GWEN IFILL: Marielena Hincapie, let’s talk about one of the specific proposals in Donald Trump’s speech last night where he talked about deportation.

Immediate — he seemed to suggest he was talking about eventual deportation, perhaps self-deportation, which sounded very much like something we heard from Mitt Romney four years ago. How different is his deportation plan, assuming there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country? How similar is it to what is already in place and what other Republican candidates in the past have proposed?

MARIELENA HINCAPIE: I think there are a couple of things to what Trump said last night.

So, one is, he appeared to be — at least before the speech yesterday, he appeared to be trying to tone down the rhetoric, but, in fact, yesterday, he made very clear that although not everybody will — all 11 million will be deported on day one, he did say that within the first hour of his first day of the presidency, he would immediately push to have all individuals — and I think he referred to the number two million individuals — anyone who’s been convicted of crimes and bad people, is the way he is referring to us as immigrants — that they would be deported.

And what that really means in practice, Gwen, one is, it’s an extreme position, and it’s an expensive position. In order to deport and have a deportation force that would result in the deportation of 11 million immigrants, we’re talking about over $6 billion — or $60 billion.

One of the things in terms of the current policies that many people don’t understand is, current administration, Obama administration’s policy is to deport criminal — individuals with criminal convictions. And, in fact, here in Los Angeles, organizers are fighting the deportation of a grandmother who was convicted of shoplifting as a misdemeanor over 30 years ago.

Is that really who Donald Trump thinks are bad people that should be deported? She’s the grandmother of four U.S. citizen children. She’s raising, helping support her family.

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Kris Kobach about what that happened today.

After his speech last night, several of Donald Trump’s Hispanic Advisory Council resigned in disappointment. They said they would no longer support him.

A, why are they leaving, and are they justified? And, B, what was the point of yesterday’s visit to Mexico in the end, when there was such disagreement about what was said?

KRIS KOBACH: I can’t comment on the two individuals you talked about. I haven’t seen any statement from them or explanation. Or I’m really not familiar with what they have decided to do.

As far as the visit to Mexico, you know, I think that was really a pretty shrewd move by Mr. Trump. He was given an invitation. So was Hillary Clinton. She declined it, at least for the time being.

He took it and said, look, I’m going to go and I’m going to talk to the president of our neighbor, neighboring country. And, you know, they had an interesting meeting, by all accounts. We don’t know exactly what was said, but one of the interesting things I take out of it is, they came out of the meeting and both recognized that border security is important.

And the Mexican president seemed to be suggesting that he, too, thought a wall was justifiable. So, you know, that’s really interesting. Obviously, Mr. Trump is not the president yet. And he was in no position to argue.


GWEN IFILL: I’m not we listened to exactly the same press conference, because I think everybody agrees about border security, Democrats, Republicans, but I — but we don’t have time to debate all of that.

I do want to ask Professor Ramakrishnan, what is it about a zero-tolerance argument that seems so effective, or at least keeps coming back in our debates about immigration?

KARTHICK RAMAKRISHNAN: Well, it’s important to recognize, Gwen, that Donald Trump’s position is actually a minority position, not only in the general electorate, which he needs to win, but even within the Republican Party.

So, it’s a bit surprising that he doubled down on the kind of rhetoric that he did early in the primary season. This was a real opportunity for him to potentially pivot, right, and maybe not go as far as many of his advisers were thinking about.

But he used the kind of language. And we know in our research on framing — we have a book coming out on framing, and as it involves immigrants. We know that frames like using the word amnesty or talking about the criminal aspect, which is actually — all the evidence shows immigrants are much less likely to commit crimes than the native-born.

But using that kind of language can fire up the base. Well, he needs to grow that base. And I’m not sure that he did that last night.

GWEN IFILL: Professor Karthick Ramakrishnan and Kris Kobach and Marielena Hincapie, thank you all very much.



KRIS KOBACH: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: Our analysis of Donald Trump’s stance on immigration continues online, where Lisa Desjardins explores his plan, and finds six new key points from his speech. That’s at

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