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Immigration Is Not The Winning Issue Trump Thinks It Is

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump resumed his war on immigrants with a vengeance this week, broadening his mass deportation plan for illegal Hispanics and promising to build a massive wall along our border with Mexico.


After much speculation that he would be "softening" his fiery anti-immigration policies, Trump doubled down on the issue to reassure supporters who feared he was about to pull back from his get-tough agenda.

"There will be no amnesty," he declared Wednesday at a rally in Phoenix, adding that "no one will be immune or exempt from enforcement." He would force Mexico to pay for the 2,200-mile wall whose estimated costs would be in the tens of billions of dollars.

He would cut off federal funds to any "sanctuary city" in the United States that seeks to protect illegals. He would create a "new special deportation" police force, triple the number of federal agents who enforce immigration laws, and sharply reduce all existing legal immigration levels.

There would be tough new regulations on businesses to more tightly screen employers for any illegals on their payroll. And while he focused on going after any illegals who committed crimes, he made it clear he will also go after undocumented migrants who had never been in trouble with the law.

"If we only enforce the laws against crime, then we have an open border to the entire world," he said.

And he isn't going after just the adult illegals who sneaked across the border, but also parents of children who were born here and thus are legal citizens, and the DREAMers who were on their high school honor roll and planned to go to college.


Clearly, Trump's change in tone from a week ago, when he and top aides talked of a less severe approach toward illegal immigrants, was an attempt to reassure his legions of fans as polls showed him losing support in key states.

But there were huge holes in Trump's presentation that raised profound questions about delivering on his plan to deport between 11 million and 12 million illegal migrants and build his Berlin-style wall.

First and foremost, he ignores Congress' role in all of this. Not only does it have sole constitutional authority to reform our immigration laws, it has repeatedly attempted to legislate a path to legalization for law-abiding migrants, though it failed to muster a majority in either chamber.

Is Trump planning to impose his get-tough immigration plan through an executive order or decree, like some dictator, ignoring Congress? He doesn't say so, but it sounds like he sees Capitol Hill as irrelevant.

And what about Trump's repeated pledge to build a wall across our southern border and force Mexico to pay for it?

"And who's going to pay for this wall?" he asks his fans at all of his rallies. "Mexico," they reply in lockstep, without questioning how he's going to force a sovereign nation to pay for a huge and costly barrier that it opposes.

There's an old saying that if a claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and that certainly applies to Trump's preposterous boast that Mexico will do what he tells them to do.


After Trump's hasty, one-hour meeting Wednesday with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, a reporter asked the bombastic billionaire at a joint news conference if they had talked about his plan to make Mexico foot the bill for the wall.

"We didn't discuss that," Trump replied.

That isn't exactly true. After their meeting, Pena Nieto tweeted, "At the beginning of the conversation with Donald Trump I made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall."

Later, Trump confessed, well, yes, "We did discuss the wall. We didn't discuss payment of the wall. That'll be for a later date."

But it did enter the discussion, because Pena Nieto said he brought it up right off the bat. Maybe, to paraphrase a famous Clintonian quote, Trump thinks "It all depends what the definition of 'discuss' is."

The national news media haven't delved into Trump's payment threat in any detail, but the former reality TV star has the screwy idea of seizing billions of dollars that many illegals regularly send to their families back home. And he would continue doing so until Mexico agreed to pay for the wall.

I think that's called extortion.

"We will build a great wall along the southern border," Trump declared once again at Wednesday night's rally to thunderous cheers and applause. "And Mexico will pay for the wall."

Before Trump declared his presidential candidacy last year, he sought out a small band of hard-core conservative strategists to come up with a package of issues that would catapult him to the front-runner in the race.


No issue tested more strongly than illegal immigration among the GOP's conservative base, and that has become Trump's dominant issue throughout this campaign.

But among the American electorate at large, every poll still shows that the overall economy, jobs, government mismanagement and a $20 trillion national debt remain far and away the leading concerns of most Americans.

And there are new signs that Trump's over-the-top focus on illegal immigration isn't the winning issue he thinks it is.

Those signs came in Tuesday's Republican primaries where Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. John McCain of Arizona -- each of whom was challenged by GOP hard-liners -- handily won their renomination contests. Both of them are pro-immigration reformers who have kept their distance from Trump.

Prediction: When all the votes are tallied in November, exit polls will show that hard-working illegal immigrants were not the winning issue Trump thought they would be.

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