Where Would Trump Be If He Had Run as What He Is: the Amnesty Candidate?

One of the great ironies of the 2016 campaign is that Donald Trump, who has run as the immigration scourge, is actually the amnesty candidate.

Trump has expressly vowed to give legal status to millions of illegal aliens. For any other candidate, such a promise would have been the campaign death knell. To compare, John Kasich -- who is openly pro-amnesty -- has lost 38 of 39 primaries (the sole exception being his own state) and has never been a plausible contestant. When it comes to Trump, however, it seems that the all-important amnesty fine-print of his immigration position has been overlooked. This is no doubt due to his consciously controversial rhetoric: his fixation about building a wall on the Mexican border, his oft-repeated commitment to mass-deportation of illegal aliens, his disparaging comments about Mexicans, and his proposed moratorium on Muslim immigration.

Yet, Trump is the amnesty candidate. What’s more, the amnesty component of his immigration plan is the only part that has a realistic chance of happening.

Trump is not going to build his wall, much less make Mexico pay for it, as he has insisted our southern neighbor will do. Quite apart from the fact that much of the border is not suitable terrain for wall construction, his wall would be astronomically more expensive to build than he has estimated, and in any event, Democrats and many Republicans in Congress would block funding for it. (To be clear: I favor construction of walls and/or fencing where practical; but a wall is only one component, and not nearly the most critical one, of what must be a multi-faceted strategy if we are to be serious about border security.)

Trump’s categorical moratorium on Muslim immigration would also be rejected. It is foolish policy and the legal argument against it, though unpersuasive (aliens outside the U.S. do not have constitutional anti-discrimination rights or any claim on entitlement to admission into our country), would be treated as serious by the Left, the media, and those Republicans who similarly believe that anything foolish must perforce be unconstitutional.

The silliest component of the Trump plan is mass-deportation. There are approximately 11 million illegal aliens in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security does not have the resources to (a) round them all up, (b) conduct the required legal proceedings, and (c) send them all to their native countries. The funding required would dwarf the cost of Trump’s fantasy wall.

Trump fans might claim that it would be an expense worth bearing in order to rid our country of trespassers. But Trump is not saying, “Get out and stay out!”

He is saying: “You must leave … but then you will be welcomed back in.

Illegal immigration is essentially a law-enforcement problem (though it has some national security implications, as several law enforcement problems do). Law-enforcement problems are managed by effective allocation of finite resources; we seek to deter crime, we do not hope to obliterate it -- no one who aspires to liberty wants to live in a police state. To deal effectively with illegal immigration, it would not be necessary, practical, or desirable to incur the costs of hunting down 11 million people for the purpose of deporting them.

It would, however, be certifiably insane to incur the costs of hunting down and deporting those 11 million if the ultimate objective were to bring them back into the country.

But that is what Trump proposes to do.

And that’s not the half of it. The purpose of his pointless, ruinously expensive enterprise would be to grant legal status to the returning millions of illegal aliens.

So here is my question: What chance would Donald Trump have had in the race for the Republican presidential nomination if, at the start, he had forthrightly announced:

My plan is to give legal status to most of the many millions of illegal aliens in the United States by allowing them to return legally after we go to the trouble of deporting them. They would be permitted to live here as lawful immigrants, and would ultimately be given a path to American citizenship. While living here legally, they would be permitted to work legally. And they would have access to all the entitlements and other benefits available to legal aliens under federal and state law: Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare, Earned Income Tax Credits, unemployment benefits, public school education, housing assistance, food stamps etc.

I suspect Trump would have had no chance to win the nomination if he had explained his intentions clearly -- and if the media had given as much attention to the promise of touch-back amnesty as it did the specter of mass-deportations. Yet, touch-back amnesty -- with the alien required to go home and then come back in legally through an expedited process -- is the essence of his immigration plan. Moreover, Trump’s touch-back amnesty proposal makes a mockery of his campaign’s position paper on immigration. That paper laments “the influx of foreign workers [from illegal immigration]” because it “holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans -- including immigrants themselves and their children -- to earn a middle class wage.”

Nevertheless, his touch-back amnesty plan, by design, would orchestrate an influx of foreign workers on an unprecedentedly massive scale to compete for jobs with poor and working class Americans.

A final irony is worth mentioning. The campaign of Marco Rubio, who was the preference of many conservative Republican voters, was fatally undermined by his past, full-throated support for amnesty. Throughout his bid for the nomination, Senator Rubio spent most of his energy assuring GOP voters that he had learned his lesson. There could and should be no consideration of legalization or eventual citizenship for illegal aliens, he maintained, until the government sustained an effort, for as many years as it took, to prove Washington was serious about border security and immigration-law enforcement.

Though Rubio made these points forcefully, his prior iteration as the face of “comprehensive immigration reform” -- in effect, the face of amnesty -- made him incurably suspicious. Many GOP voters feared he was just saying what he thought he needed to say to be elected. Once in power, they suspected, he would proceed with the amnesty agenda. He could not overcome these doubts about his conversion.

Yet here is Donald Trump telling you that he will implement an amnesty program, and he is somehow the frontrunner.

Mark this down: Trump is running as the immigration scourge, but there is no way the wall is happening, and there is no way the Muslim moratorium is happening. If elected, after due hemming and hawing, Trump would state the obvious: It would be impractical and prohibitively expensive to arrest and deport 11 million people just so we can bring them back again. But he would also claim that his victory was a mandate for the ultimate objective of his immigration proposal: the granting of amnesty to millions of illegal aliens through a legal process. The Trump administration would thus dispense with any talk of deportations, and proceed promptly to the legalization part of the plan.

Donald Trump is the amnesty candidate. If he had made that clear to Republican voters at the beginning, he would already be out of the race.

(Disclosure: I support Ted Cruz for President.)