The Immigration Question GOPers Keep Avoiding

This is hardly a new subject for debate (I mentioned it earlier today in terms of The Donald’s culture-war posture on the subject). But I appreciate Sahil Kapur’s (now with Bloomberg Politics) bulldog effort to get a clear answer from GOP presidential candidates: what, exactly, do you want to do with the 11 million or so undocumented people living in the country right now?

With few exceptions, Republican presidential candidates have lined up in strong opposition to legal status for undocumented immigrants. Not by executive action, not by legislation. “No amnesty,” said Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Donald Trump’s incendiary comments on Mexican immigrants as he entered the race has placed a renewed focus on the issue in the crowded primary contest.

But there’s one question that neither The Donald nor his fellow Republican candidates have been willing to answer: What should the U.S. do with the estimated 11 million people already in the country illegally?

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a fierce critic of illegal immigration, was asked that question five times in a Sunday appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press; each time he declined to answer.

There are really just three answers, other than the non sequitur of “controlling the border,” which has nothing to do with the people already here: (1) the “cattle car” approach of forced deportation, which, as Kapur notes, would cost an estimated $400-600 billion smackeroos; (2) “self-deportation,” the idea that we should make life so difficult for the undocumented (and anybody that looks like them) that they bear the expense of their own eviction from America–the position that fatally damaged Mitt Romney among Latinos in 2012; and (3) some sort of path to (a) citizenship or (b) legalization short of citizenship. As you may recall, the Republican presidential nominees in 2000, 2004 and 2008 were associated with the (3)(a) approach, but the 2000/2004 nominee’s brother is getting huge flack for supporting (3)(b), the permanent helot “guest worker” status that’s worked so well (snark!) in Europe.

Eventually the GOPers will have to deploy themselves among these options, or so you would think. It’s sometimes amazing how easy it is for presidential candidates to avoid questions their party is uneasy to confront.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.