Donald Trump took up the offer of Mexico’s president to meet with either or both of the candidates for president. Hillary declined for whatever reason, but Trump thought it was an opportunity to take hold of the news cycle. In fact, this allowed him to get maximum exposure for his immigration plan speech yesterday while looking like there is room for negotiation.
The speech itself isn’t very exciting. Conservatives have been talking about enforcing existing immigration laws and using systems like E-verify to reduce the availability of jobs for illegal entrants. Things like “the wall” have also been talked about, but face interstate arguments, EPA regulations and states that would just rather see illegal Mexicans in the US. Reform can take many paths. but it has stalled because of the Reagan error.
Ronald Reagan wanted to deal with large numbers of Mexicans illegally coming to the US while still making it possible for people already in the country to be registered with productive employment. The Immigration Reform and Control Act, written 30 years ago, allowed about half of the people in the US before 1982 to remain as seasonal workers and required employers to only hire legal citizens.
When the bill was actually passed, 3 million illegals were made legal. On the other hand, employers had no obligation to verify legal work status, instead they were allowed to take people at their word and the federal government did not have a sufficient computer system to bother verifying eligibility. When E-Verify was introduced, employers again claimed using the system would cause too much disruption and it became voluntary.
In 1986, Democrats controlled the House and were about to get back the Senate. They essentially allowed the carrot of amnesty to pass, but made the stick of job refusals so weak that it basically did not exist. Reagan signed it with the hope that the voluntary system would help and that half a loaf was better than nothing. To this day, conservatives see the “comprehensive” in immigration reform as a scheme to bring about amnesty for another 10 million illegal immigrants while new illegals come right in.
This is not about Trump’s plan per se, but about Donald Trump. Presidents since Reagan have not been very interested in ending illegal hiring or residency. Since 1992, presidents have actually tried to make a legacy out of immigration plans that give specific amnesty but have vague promises of enforcement for the next generation of border jumpers. Conservatives have instead suggested that enforcement come first this time because it is hard, and save amnesty for when specific targets are met in that regard. The people who fight for those plans are few in Congress and virtually non-existent among Democrats.
As Obama has shown, the president can do a lot by himself in the way of immigration. Trump can certainly rescind Executive Orders with other Executive Orders. He can enforce E-verify for federal contractors. He can reserve federal land, much like Obama just did in Utah, along the path of the wall. He can also follow the example of Obama by not signing any bill until he gets specific immigration laws enacted by Congress. A new president usually gets one thing accomplished first without conflict and for Trump, it may be strict immigration laws.