New York Daily News, August 29, 2016
Fourteen months after launching a campaign based on immigration control, Donald Trump still doesn't know what he thinks about the subject.
Over the past week he's not so much flip-flopped from earlier positions as meandered aimlessly, "softening" and "hardening" his views seemingly based on little more than the views of the person he spoke to last. To Sean Hannity, he repeated Jeb Bush-style talking points about how legalizing illegal aliens isn't really amnesty if they pay "back taxes." Then when Anderson Cooper asked if illegal aliens will be sent back to their countries, Trump said, "There is a very good chance the answer could be yes."
As haphazard and even comical as this is, it's driven by a problem of Trump's creation: He has said that he wants a "deportation force" to quickly remove all 11 million-plus illegal aliens. This is not present in the immigration platform on his website. No immigration-control thinker has ever suggested it. He just made it up because it sounded good at the time.
The problem is that, unlike his other, sound, immigration proposals — better border enforcement, ending sanctuary cities, reducting Middle Eastern refugee resettlement — deporting 12 million people is neither practical nor politically sustainable.
But how to walk back from it?
Trump's comments suggest he's fallen for the belief that the only alternative to mass deportation is mass amnesty of all but hardened criminals. This is a false choice.
Instead, steady application of current law, plus some essential new tools, would result in fewer people settling here illegally and more who are here already leaving, whether through deportation or just going home on their own. This would cause the illegal-alien problem to shrink over time, which is what policy should aspire to.
Gradual shrinkage, or attrition, of the illegal population over time isn't some think-tank fantasy. There's a lot of churn in the illegal population. Census Bureau data suggests that during the first six years of Obama's presidency, the total number of illegal aliens remained roughly steady.
But that doesn't mean the situation was static. During those six years, roughly two-and-a-half million people stopped being illegal aliens, some finagling green cards, a few dying, but most leaving, voluntarily or not. The problem is that over that same period, about two-and-a-half million new illegal aliens moved to the U.S.
The answer is obvious: Let fewer people settle down illegally and get more of those already here to leave. Better border enforcement — Trump's much-hyped wall — would help. But most of the 1,000 new illegal aliens a day who move here actually arrive legally, then don't leave. A better check-in/check-out system for foreign visitors is badly needed.
In combination with that, we need nationwide use of the free online E-Verify system for employers to check whether new hires are legal, no federal funds for sanctuary cities that subvert federal law — and an end to policies that result in the Border Patrol releasing 80 percent of the illegal immigrants it arrests.
So what should Trump have said this week?
Folks, my call for deporting all 12 million illegal aliens was a gut reaction to our Swiss-cheese borders. Like you, I'm outraged that this administration and its predecessors have allowed things to get this bad. I confess, I have a little Archie Bunker in me, and I was basically yelling at the TV.
But once I looked into it more, I realized that this is not the way to achieve the goal we all want. Instead, we're going to stop new illegal immigration, deport all illegal aliens who get arrested, and make sure that only American workers, not illegal aliens, get hired.
Only once all that's up and running will we talk about what we might do with the remaining illegal aliens. Until then, we have no business even asking the question, let alone speculating about it, as I unfortunately did. You don't debate how to bail out a boat that's taking on water until you plug the hole first.