Immigration was barely covered in the debates
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Immigration has been a central issue of the 2016 presidential campaign. Perhaps no other issue presents as sharp a contrast between the visions of the two leading candidates as immigration.

Yet, inexplicably, this driving issue of the 2016 campaign was entirely absent from the first two debates between Donald TrumpDonald TrumpNew Capitol Police chief to take over Friday Overnight Health Care: Biden officials says no change to masking guidance right now | Missouri Supreme Court rules in favor of Medicaid expansion | Mississippi's attorney general asks Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade Michael Wolff and the art of monetizing gossip MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonJill Biden takes starring role at difficult Olympics Club for Growth goes after Cheney in ad, compares her to Clinton Sanders to campaign for Turner in Ohio MORE. It was not until the third and final debate, just 20 days before the American people head to the polls, that this issue was addressed head-to-head by the candidates.


Even more inexplicably, when finally given the opportunity to address the public’s deep-seated concerns about the economic, social, cultural and national security impact of a rudderless immigration policy, both candidates reverted to vague generalities and platitudes. With the attention of nearly everyone who will cast a vote on Nov. 8, neither Trump nor Clinton made a compelling case for how they would reform immigration in a way that serves identifiable national interests.

In the end, the forum and the candidates left voters with more questions about immigration policy than were answered during the debate.

In contrast to his Aug. 31 speech in Phoenix, in which he laid out a detailed plan for how he would reform immigration policies to ensure that they serve the interests of the American people, Trump omitted the core concerns that have made this his signature issue. His position on immigration during Wednesday evening’s debate could be summed up as: build the wall, get rid of the bad guys and kick the can down the road on what to do with the vast majority of the people who are living here illegally, occupying American jobs and straining public resources.

Improving border security and deporting criminals are fine ideas, but they hardly constitute the sort of real immigration reform most Americans are hungering for. Moreover, they are hardly the ideas that propelled him to a virtual tie with Clinton in most polls after his Phoenix address.

While he obviously could not present the full scope of ideas for reforming immigration policy in the limited time provided, Trump could have reached undecided voters by reaffirming the sound policy ideas he raised in Phoenix. These ideas – asserting the primacy of the American public’s interest in immigration policy, selecting immigrants based on an objective assessment of their likelihood to succeed economically and assimilate into the cultural mainstream, and sensibly enforcing our laws by discouraging illegal aliens from remaining here by removing the incentives of jobs, public benefits, and the prospect of a general amnesty – are widely embraced by a large swath of the American electorate.

Trump also missed an opportunity to point out that his opponent consistently fails to even acknowledge that the American public are stakeholders in their nation’s immigration policy. That omission was once again on display Wednesday as Clinton expressed concerns about the potential impact of immigration enforcement on those who have broken our laws, but said not one word about the impact this wholesale lawlessness has on the lives and security of the people they were meant to protect.

Clinton’s vision for immigration reform, as she laid it out in last night’s debate, could be summed up as mass amnesty designed to “bring [illegal aliens] out from the shadows,” without ever acknowledging their own culpability for putting themselves and their families in the shadows in the first place, or empathize with Americans who have been harmed by their actions. Much like President Obama, beyond “getting rid of any violent person,” (a minimal goal the current administration has not come close to) she indicated no real interest in removing anyone who is here illegally.

Even more egregious, Clinton failed to present a viable plan for preventing the next wave of illegal aliens from entering the country. Aside from six words, the legislation she intends to propose would include a plan to “protect our borders and national security,” she did not even articulate future enforcement as a goal – perhaps because it isn’t really a goal for her or for the leadership of the Democratic Party.

Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerBiden administration stokes frustration over Canada Schumer blasts McCarthy for picking people who 'supported the big lie' for Jan. 6 panel Biden's belated filibuster decision: A pretense of principle at work MORE, who stands to become the new majority leader should the Democrats retake the Senate, has indicated that one of his first orders of business will be to revive the Gang of Eight bill that would grant amnesty to virtually all illegal aliens in the country and vastly increase future immigration. In addition, newly leaked transcripts of a speech Clinton made to Goldman Sachs in 2013 indicate that she sees immigration policy as a tool to dramatically transform the country in ways that she has not revealed to the public.

In that speech, Clinton told Wall Street executives the views of those who oppose massive expansion of immigration, i.e. the overwhelming majority of the American public, “have to be rejected because they are fundamentally un-American.” She further asserted that opposition to her vision of unchecked immigration is rooted in “reasons that have to do with the past, not the future.”

According to a recent national opinion poll conducted by Zogby Analytics, only about 12 percent of the American public supports her “private position” of vastly increased immigration that she laid out in her Goldman Sachs speech, compared with about 72 percent who want immigration levels to be reduced or remain at current levels.

Concern about the future is at the core of public discontent about unchecked immigration in this country and in virtually all Western democracies. Yet, the fundamental questions about immigration and how it will affect the future of the nation were neither raised by the moderator, nor addressed by the candidates as they faced the voters for the last time.

What is the public interest objective of immigration policy in the 21st century? Should we continue to admit immigrants at current historically high levels, or bring them down to levels supported by the American people and recommended by a blue ribbon commission appointed by President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonCourt dismisses GOP suit over proxy voting in House Trump is a complication for Republican hopes in Virginia Pence v. Biden on China: Competing but consistent visions MORE? Should we maintain chain migration as the basis for selecting people to come to this country, or should we adopt a merit-based system that seeks out people who are likely to make the greatest contributions to our national enterprise? Are we successfully assimilating millions of newcomers into a cohesive mainstream, or are we sowing the seeds of irreparable divisions in our society?

These are questions that needed to be addressed last night, but were not. In the closing 19 days of this endless campaign, both candidates still have the opportunity to address these important issues that truly will determine the future of the nation.

Dan Stein is president of Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.