From a common sense perspective, Donald Trump is weak on immigration. He is weak because he’s more focused on rabble rousing and being a blowhard rather than actually creating a humane solution consistent with American principles. A competing GOP candidate could easily get to the right of Trump while getting more of the Latino vote. All it takes is being an ordinary human being that looks at these people as equal to everybody else.
A candidate can say the ugly truth that unaccompanied minors from Latin America are victims of child abuse by US standards. Cooperating with originating-country governments to open and manage a child abuse case would be a primarily federal responsibility due to the international nature of the case, though there would be room for a strong state role. Just think about it. If a mother from Miami, FL put her 12 year old on a freight train, destination, San Francisco, CA there is no question that child endangerment and abuse would be on the prosecutor’s menu when the kid’s caught. It would be unthinkable to have different treatment if the point of origin were Boston, MA. This is America and we believe in equal treatment under the law. So why is the legal treatment different when the kid’s from Guatamala, Mexico, or Panama? Their children are not inferior to ours and their treatment should be held to the same standards when they are within our borders. Trump’s plan doesn’t do this. That is weakness. For the general election, this line has the additional advantage of setting up Hillary Clinton as soft on child abuse.
On the larger issue of immigration, the US civil war provides lessons. The destruction of slavery and the plantation system left an enormous pool of labor at loose ends and in desperate need and we mobilized to meet that emergency during the war. Today, the mitigation and end of several types of economic slavery has put the whole world in the same boat. The Deng reforms mitigated the Maoist economic slave system and unleashed hundreds of millions of people in search of jobs. The end of the Permit Raj in India released hundreds of millions more. The end of the Soviet system unleashed yet more within both Eastern Europe and all over the third world. As Republicans we rejoice in the mitigation and the ending of human bondage whether it’s outright slavery, serfdom, or goes under some modern label like communism. But the problems of how such recently liberated people are integrated into the world economy are just as daunting today as they were during our own civil war.
While much of the adjustment to that tidal wave has already taken place, the global political class is failing to create enough work to occupy all those idle hands which will put pressure on wages so long as the failure continues. In desperation many seek to enter the US illegally and our system for welcoming and integrating newcomers is swamped, something that is as dangerous as swamping a boat, or overfilling a house to the point of collapse.
We should not forget that for the vast majority of these economic migrants, plan A is getting a good job in their own society. Migration, especially illegal immigration is pretty far down on the list of preferred life plans for the vast majority of illegal immigrants.
So long as large pools of unemployed and underemployed exist anywhere that connects with the global economy, wages will continue to have downward pressure and Americans will feel the economic pain. A wall on the border is a single layer of defense. It is not enough.
The best defense is a defense in depth. While we build the wall, we need to significantly increase the number of jobs we create so that we drive unemployment down to its frictional rate of 3% and keep pressing on with job creation even after that so that jobs on the other side of the border increase and migrants stop there instead of here. The ideal is for people to have jobs in their own countries, in their own hometowns.
This can only be accomplished by getting government out of the way in terms of job creation and encouraging people to become part time or full time capitalists where they can.
Trump’s plan is weak because it is reactive and offers nothing in terms of reducing immigration pressure beyond our border where the first level of defense should be.