Trump Hits His Marks With Illegal Immigration Policy Speech


After a big win this afternoon in Mexico, Donald Trump traveled to Phoenix, Arizona to deliver his much-ballyhooed address on illegal immigration. For a week and a half, the media have anticipated the much-fabled Trump Pivot™ — the moment he would abandon his supposed plans to deport 11 million people and shift over to a more practical immigration policy. They’ve been salivating at the prospect that by doing so, Trump would lose his base.

That was always a fantasy – Trump’s base isn’t moving.

What’s more, Trump’s speech was actually quite good.

This shouldn’t be surprising at this point. When he’s on script, Trump’s text is usually quite good. His ISIS speech was first rate. So was his speech on race and crime. This is the third straight speech that has worked for Trump – and this one was on the most critical issue of his campaign, the central issue that supposedly drove his success.

Trump surrounded the speech with gobs of Trumpian hoopla: Rudy Giuliani donning a hat reading, “MAKE MEXICO GREAT AGAIN ALSO,” cheering crowds booing John McCain and chanting “LOCK HER UP!” about Hillary Clinton.

But the speech read like it was written by policy experts (it was) and political experts (it was).

Trump began by touting his meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who was simultaneously telling the press that Trump fibbed when he said the topic of payment for the Trump Wall™ never came up. Trump had nothing but kind words for Nieto: “a man I like and respect very much, and a man who truly loves his country, just like I am a man who loves the United States.” He said that he’d reached agreement with Nieto on critical issues ranging from “the illegal flow of drugs, cash, guns and people across our border” to the wonderful contributions of Mexicans to America. “It was a thoughtful and substantive conversation,” Trump continued, belying the Hillary spin that he’s unstable and unwilling to engage in conversation. “This is the first of what I expect will be many conversations in a Trump Administration about creating a new relationship between our two countries.”

Then he launched into his critique of current immigration policy.

As I’ve said ad nauseum, Trump’s political critiques are often excellent – it’s his prescriptions that generally stink. But in this speech, both worked. Trump began by stating that our current immigration system “serves the needs of wealthy donors, political activists and powerful politicians,” not the American people. “When politicians talk about immigration reform, they usually mean the following: amnesty, open borders, and lower wages,” Trump explained.

Fact check: true.

He then dropped a series of politically incorrect truths that many politicians have avoided for years: the impact of illegal immigration on “jobs, wages, housing, schools, tax bills, and living conditions”; “the fact that not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate.” Trump stated, absolutely correctly, “It is our right as a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish here.”

Then he moved on to security: “Countless innocent American lives have been stolen because our politicians have failed in their duty to secure our borders and enforce our laws. I have met with many of the parents who lost their children to Sanctuary Cities and open borders. They will be joining me on the stage later today. Countless Americans who have died in recent years would be alive today if not for the open border policies of this Administration.”

This is great politicking. The left has utilized the victim narrative for years for its own purposes. Trump turned that on its head effectively. Trump has always understood the power of villains in political morality plays, even if he hasn’t always taken the right side. Here, he took the right side.

He talked about the financial side of illegal immigration too, pointing out that “illegal immigration costs our country more than $113 billion dollars a year. For the money we are going to spend on illegal immigration over the next ten years, we could provide one million at-risk students with a school voucher.” That’s an explicit appeal to black voters – and one he could have cribbed from Ann Coulter’s Adios, America!, which openly pits black American citizens against illegal immigrants in economic terms.

Finally, Trump contrasted his own perspective with that of Hillary Clinton:

Instead, the media and my opponent discuss one thing, and only this one thing: the needs of people living here illegally. The truth is, the central issue is not the needs of the 11 million illegal immigrants – or however many there may be. That has never been the central issue. It will never be the central issue. Anyone who tells you that the core issue is the needs of those living here illegally has simply spent too much time in Washington. Only out of touch media elites think the biggest problem facing American society today is that there are 11 million illegal immigrants who don’t have legal status. To all the politicians, donors and special interests, hear these words from me today: there is only one core issue in the immigration debate and it is this: the well-being of the American people. Nothing even comes a close second….We will treat everyone living or residing in our country with dignity. We will be fair, just and compassionate to all. But our greatest compassion must be for American citizens.

This is a brilliant reframing of the issue, and one that resonates with most Americans. And Trump’s assault on Hillary didn’t end there:

President Obama and Hillary Clinton have engaged in gross dereliction of duty by surrendering the safety of the American people to open borders. President Obama and Hillary Clinton support Sanctuary Cities, they support catch-and-release on the border, they support visa overstays, they support the release of dangerous criminals from detention – and they support unconstitutional executive amnesty. Hillary Clinton has pledged amnesty in her first 100 days, and her plan will provide Obamacare, Social Security and Medicare for illegal immigrants – breaking the federal budget. On top of that, she promises uncontrolled low-skilled immigration that continues to reduce jobs and wages for American workers, especially African-American and Hispanic workers. This includes her plan to bring in 620,000 new refugees in a four-year term.

Brutal. And accurate.

Trump then moved on to his own plan.

This is where Trump normally slips up. He rightly points out America’s problems, then recommends solutions that simply don’t wash.

Not tonight.

He laid out in concise order his plan for illegal immigration. Yes, it walked back his proposal to deport 11 million illegal immigrants. But for all that, it read as strong and coherent. He reiterated his desire to build a wall along the border, and make Mexico pay for it. He said that he would end catch-and-release – those detained would be deported. Criminal illegal immigrants would be deported, and ICE would be staffed up to do it (although Trump should have talked about hiring 20,000 agents, not 5,000 – even the rightly-maligned Gang of Eight bill talked about 20,000 additional agents). Trump talked of blocking funding for sanctuary cities, cancelling Obama’s executive amnesty, suspending visas from locations in which vetting is impossible, force home countries of deportees to accept deportees, create a biometric visa tracking system, reinforce E-Verify, cut off government benefits and deport those reliant on them, and lastly, resetting the standards for legal immigration to select those most likely to benefit the country.

All of this is spot-on. (It’s worth noting that every element of this was also part of Ted Cruz’s immigration plan, which Trump deemed far too weak during the primaries. But that’s rehashing the past, obviously.)

Then Trump got vague. He reiterated his touchback amnesty plan – deport everybody, then allow them to reapply for entry legally – while stating that he wouldn’t consider amnesty. “Our message to the world will be this: you cannot obtain legal status, or become a citizen of the United States, by illegally entering our country,” Trump said. “This declaration alone will help stop the crisis of illegal crossings and illegal overstays. People will know that you can’t just smuggle in, hunker down, and wait to be legalized. Those days are over.”

But Trump then acknowledged that there would be a path to legalization for the illegal immigrants present in the United States. “In several years, when we have accomplished all of our enforcement goals – and truly ended illegal immigration for good, including the construction of a great wall, and the establishment of our new lawful immigration system – then and only then will we be in a position to consider the appropriate disposition of those who remain,” Trump explained. “That discussion can only take place in an atmosphere in which illegal immigration is a memory of the past, allowing us to weigh the different options available based on the new circumstances at the time. Right now, however, we are in the middle of a jobs crisis, a border crisis, and a terrorism crisis. All energies of the federal government and the legislative process must now be focused on immigration security. That is the only conversation we should be having at this time.”

In other words, yes, there may be legalization – but Trump won’t talk about it now.

Which, by the way, is entirely appropriate. He should have said it during the primaries.

Trump concluded by stating that the illegal immigration issue would swamp the nation under Hillary, ending the topic once and for all. In that, he may well be right – both establishment Republicans and Hillary Clinton want an immigration reform bill.

He then performed a reverse-Khizr Khan: he invited the parents of victims of illegal immigration to speak. Calling them “Angel Moms,” as opposed to the Hillary “Moms of the Movement” who speak at her events while representing sons including attempted cop killer Michael Brown, Trump drew another contrast.

All in all, the speech was about as strong a speech as we’re likely to see a Republican make on the illegal immigration issue. Would that Trump had been making it all along, rather than distracting with myths about mass deportations and goon squads arriving in the night to separate families and full bans on all Muslims entering the country.

But better late than never.

And for the most part, Trump got it right.