11 Million People, But Just Three Choices

Whether or not it can be said that Donald Trump is pushing the Republican presidential field “to the right” on immigration policy, there’s zero question he is making it much harder for them to play games with it, as Greg Sargent points out at the Plum Line after watching Scott Walker and Carly Fiorina squirm through questioning on the Sunday shows.

When the GOP candidates are pressed on what they would do about the 11 million, the results tend not to be pretty. For instance, on Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked Carly Fiorina about Trump’s call for ending birthright citizenship -which Fiorina rejected far more forcefully than Walker did. But then Todd sensibly followed up with this:

TODD: What do you do with the 11 million?

FIORINA: My own view is, if you have come here illegally and stayed here illegally, you do not have an opportunity to earn a pathway to citizenship. To legal status, perhaps. But I think there must be consequence.

Fiorina says that “perhaps” undocumented immigrants should have a path to legal status — provided it precludes any chance at citizenship. Okay, if you’re not willing to support legal status, then what should be done instead? Walker, for his part, has declined to endorse mass deportations, but doesn’t think we should even talk about legalization until the border is secured.

There are really just three legitimate answers to Todd’s question: deportation, self-deportation, or legalization (though it’s possible to have a combination of the three). “I don’t want to talk about it until the border is secured” is a non-answer. Arguments over the remote possibility of repealing “birthright citizenship” are non-responsive, too. And if deportation–which presumably is what “just enforcing the law” would involve–is in the cards, we need frank talk about how to defray the incredibly high costs and whether the police state atmosphere it would involve could have some collateral effects on little matters like who we are as a nation.

Until Trump started talking about deportation, there was a tacit agreement within the GOP to keep it all vague so as to satisfy the people who really would like to see children herded onto cattle cars and sent to the border without alarming everyone else–you know, kind of like the tacit agreement not to discuss Carly Fiorina’s qualifications to be president, which Trump also broke. But journalists really need to stop letting these birds avoid the key questions or have it every which way or change the subject.

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.