Donald Trump’s controversial immigration comments have been the subject of much debate over the last week or so. Trump said when announcing for President:
When do we beat Mexico at the border?…
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting. And it only makes common sense. It only makes common sense. They’re sending us not the right people.
It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably— probably— from the Middle East. But we don’t know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don’t know what’s happening. And it’s got to stop and it’s got to stop fast.
Trump’s statement is inartful at best. In the full context of his speech, particularly the reference to border guards, he’s referring to illegal aliens, particularly the references to crossings from people in the Middle East. Where Trump is clearly wrong is the ratio. He throws out the idea that there might be “some good people,” among the rapists, drug dealers, and terrorists crossing the border. The way Trump tells it, if we have twelve million illegal aliens in the country, probably 11.75 million are rapists and drug dealers, and maybe 250,000 are good people who only violated the law by crossing the border illegally, something that is patently absurd to anyone who has had any encounters with illegal aliens.
Trump is unlikely to last as a serious presidential candidate. His surge to the lead in a national poll, and into second place in New Hampshire is irrelevant more than six months before people vote. History indicates the GOP’s love affairs with inexperienced candidates are short-lived. Trump has more baggage than most, including issues of ethics and personal relationships, as well as a string of contradictory political statements particularly back in 1999 when Trump was positioning himself for a potential run as the candidate of Ross Perot’s Reform Party. The question is who has done the best job responding to the issue Trump has raised.
Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, and Marco Rubio have been quick to condemn Trump’s statement while Ted Cruz has jumped to Trump’s defense. Both options are fraught with peril. Simply endorsing Trump’s comment is foolish as he made a rambling and ill-drafted comment that has been easily twisted and can be read not only as a criticism of illegal immigration, but as a criticism of Mexican legal immigrants, which would be offensive.
On the other hand, going to war with Trump is also a bad idea. Trump did touch a nerve of legitimate anger, particularly in the wake of the killing of a woman in San Francisco due to that city’s Sanctuary City policy. Let’s imagine that instead of 11.75 million criminal illegal aliens, we have 250,000 criminal illegal aliens in the United States (or around 2% of the total illegal alien population), that’s still a huge problem. That’s a quarter of a million dangerous people who we know little about and who the federal government is taking a “catch and release” approach to. These felons have menaced people across America, and of course that number could be more. Perhaps 5-10% of the illegal population, though certainly not the majority as Trump suggests.
America has its own share of bad actors born at home. However, that’s not the point, certainly not to those who have been victims of criminals who would have been kept out of the country by a sane immigration policy. Those criticizing Trump are in danger of being seen as discounting these victims, of discounting the concerns of those who are alarmed by the inability of our government to protect its people and showing a lack of concern for the lives of American citizens. While Rick Perry’s actions on the border as Governor of Texas will help blunt some of that criticism, it’ll only fuel suspicion and distrust of Bush and Rubio.
On CNN’s State of the Union last Sunday, Mike Huckabee showed the most sense in handling this issue. He declined to criticize Trump, saying Trump didn’t need his help to get free publicity. Huckabee said, “What I’ve been doing is focusing on what my own views of immigration happen to be rather than weighing in or getting into this battle of are we with Trump or are we against Trump.”
Huckabee agreed there was a dangerous element among illegal aliens, but the way he said it was quite different: “Are there some people who come with nefarious goals? Yes, that’s why we need to secure the border … But I would never besmirch all the people who come here.” He also said of immigrants he’d met, that they are “some of the hardest-working people … and some of the most conservative, family-oriented and faith-based people I’ve ever witnessed.”
In essence, Huckabee reversed Trump’s ratio while not denying and not discounting the victims of the American government’s failure to act and those who expect it to. Nor did he fall into the trap of coming off as anti-immigrant. More important, perhaps is Huckabee’s plan to secure the border within his first year in office. It’s a sound plan and the only part that really needs any congressional assistance is the effort to cut off to sanctuary cities.
The President does not need a new law passed to enforce existing immigration laws. The executive branch is fully empowered to do so. However, the last few Administrations have opted not to secure the border as a way of gaining leverage in a push for “comprehensive immigration reform.” In essence, the safety and security of the American people from criminal aliens has been held hostage by politicians who want amnesty given on the promise of border security, a promise they’ve too often broken in the past.
The message from Huckabee is clear: If he’s elected, the hostage crisis will be over, the border will be secured. He did that while avoiding the pitfalls other candidates fell into on this issue. This is why Huckabee will likely once again surprise pundits and have more staying power than many other candidates in this field.