Let’s accept that there is something seriously wrong with a pregnant woman sneaking into America from wherever… in order to give birth on U. S. soil, thereby to provide her baby with American citizenship. And it is even more wrong for the anchor baby to allow the rest of his family to immigrate to the United States. Very few other countries in the world allow such a practice. Were we to think rationally about the process we would end it tomorrow.
Donald Trump has raised the question and while we applaud his political courage, we must also note that, by shifting the political debate away from sanctuary cities and toward birthright citizenship, he has made a Republican election victory far less likely.
The question is not so much whether Trump makes a good point—he does—but how it will all play politically. Republicans had Democrats on the ropes about sanctuary cities. Now they find themselves in a defensive posture, on the subject of birthright citizenship.
Jonathan Tobin writes:
Last month the debate about illegal immigration shifted sharply against those who believed indifference or even resistance to attempts to enforce the rule of law. The murder of a San Francisco woman by an illegal immigrant who had been released by authorities acting on the authority of a sanctuary city law highlighted a serious problem. Liberals, including Hillary Clinton, found themselves on the defensive with no way to explain why Democrats had backed such clearly dangerous proposals.
A month ago Republicans were winning the debate on immigration. Now, it is not so clear:
But today Americans woke up to a new immigration debate and the 14thAmendment that has given the left back the moral high ground and put Republicans in the soup. Donald Trump has wrongly claimed credit for putting illegal immigration back on the nation’s front burner. But it must be acknowledged that he deserves all the blame for this one. By proposing an end to birthright citizenship and wrongly claiming that the courts have never ruled on whether it applies even to the children of foreigners born in the United States, he has led the GOP down a rabbit hole from which there may be no escape. Thanks to the Donald, Americans have stopped worrying about sanctuary cities or even how best to secure the border and instead are the astonished onlookers to a sterile debate about stripping native-born Americans of their citizenship and fantasies about deporting 11 million illegals.
The question is: would you prefer to be debating sanctuary cities or discussing the 14th amendment and mass deportation:
The element of Trump’s plan to deal with illegal immigration that has gotten the most attention is his proposal to strip the children of illegal immigrants born in the United States of their citizenship. Doing so involves overturning an interpretation of the law that goes back virtually to the beginning of the republic. Moreover, contrary to the assertions of Trump and his backers, the Supreme Court has ruled on the issue when it decided in 1898 that the 14th Amendment gave citizenship to all those born in this country even if their parents were foreigners.
But what those conservatives who have eagerly tumbled down the rabbit hole with Trump on the issue are forgetting is that we are in the middle of a presidential election, not a law school bull session.
Clearly, Trump has a point. And he has continued to express that point clearly and forcefully. People are swooning over his candidacy. And yet, this is a presidential election and we must ask ourselves how it is going to play in the general election. How good will feel for having vented your spleen while you watch the inauguration of President Hillary? Does the concept of a Pyrrhic victory register?
In Tobin’s words:
Trump’s popularity rests in his willingness to articulate the anger that many Americans feel about injustices or the failure of government to deal with problems. If there are 11 million illegals in the country, they want them all to be chucked out. If they have children here, who are, by law, U.S. citizens, they say, so what? Chuck them out too.
And, what about the cost:
Reasonable people can differ about possible solutions to the problem but there’s nothing reasonable or practical about a proposal that assumes the U.S. government is capable of capturing and deporting 11 million people plus the untold number of U.S. citizens to which they have given birth.
The notion that the American people will stomach such an exercise or pay what Politico estimates (probably conservatively) the $166 billion it would cost to pull off such a horrifying spectacle is a pure fantasy.
In this case, the issue is the politics:
What needs to be emphasized here is that wherever you stand on birthright citizenship or mass deportations, so long as it is these ideas that Republicans are discussing (as Trump did last night with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News), then they are losing the debate about immigration and very likely the next presidential election. No one is going to be elected president on a platform of depriving people born in this country of citizenship no matter who their parents might be. Nor, despite the cheers Trump gets from his fans, will the American people ever countenance the kinds of intrusive measures and the huge expansion of the federal immigration bureaucracy and police powers that would be needed to pull off a mass deportation.
Many people, and even many commenters on this blog, thrill to the fact that Trump is finally speaking truth to power. And, in fact, I and even Tobin agree with many of the points that he makes in his immigration plan. Yet, the plan is not practicable, and even if it were, it is probably a political loser.
The problem with non-politician candidates is that they are amateurs. Even when they receive the advice of professionals, they are still amateurs. And, presidential campaigns do not often look kindly on amateurs. If you don’t think that the Clinton campaign, which is falling apart as we speak, has not already commissioned the ads that will attack Trump for his proposal, you are not paying attention.
Writing in the Washington Post, Paul Waldman describes the scenario:
I promise you that next fall, there are going to be ads like this running all over the country, and especially on Spanish-language media:
“My name is Lisa Hernandez. I was born in California, grew up there. I was valedictorian of my high school class, graduated from Yale, and now I’m in medical school; I’m going to be a pediatrician. But now Scott Walker and the Republicans say that because my mom is undocumented, that I’m not a real American and I shouldn’t be a citizen. I’m living the American Dream, but they want to take it away from me and people like me. Well I’ve got a message for you, Governor Walker. I’m every bit as American as your children. This country isn’t about who your parents were, it’s about everybody having a chance to work hard, achieve, and contribute to our future. It seems like some people forgot that.”
When a hundred ads like that one are blanketing the airwaves, the Republicans can say, “Wait, I support legalimmigration!” all they want, but it won’t matter. Hispanic voters will have heard once again — and louder than ever before — that the GOP doesn’t like them and doesn’t want them. Will it be different if they nominate one of the candidates who doesn’t want to repeal birthright citizenship, like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio? Somewhat, but the damage among Hispanic voters could already be too great even for them to overcome.