Trump’s immigration ‘flip’ more nuanced than media claims
© Getty Images

The political class has been abuzz with claims that President-elect Trump is softening his tone on immigration. The hullabaloo stems largely from an interview with Time in which Trump called immigration enforcement a “tough situation.”


Has Trump truly changed his position on immigration, or have liberals and Trump’s detractors in the press exaggerated the issue?


“I want Dreamers for our children also. We’re going to work something out. On a humanitarian basis, it’s a very tough situation,” Trump said in the interview. “We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud. But that’s a very tough situation. 

“They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen,” he added.

Trump was referencing the class of illegal aliens aged 35 and younger who would have qualified for a form of amnesty under failed legislation called the DREAM Act. Trump’s statement, that the situation is a tough one, isn’t quite the bold claim you might expect to see underlying the controversy being stirred up by the press.

It’s clear that Trump wanted to sound more compassionate in his interview with Time, a pro-amnesty publication. But he did not clearly reverse course on any of his campaign promises. 

Over the course of his presidential campaign, Trump was able to overcome almost insurmountable obstacles to winning the White House. He did so by promising American voters he would secure the borders, stop dangerous refugee resettlement, and enforce our existing immigration laws while canceling unconstitutional directives promulgated by Obama.

Should he change his position on such an important issue, the outcry would come from anti-illegal immigration groups that were fighting the battle long before Trump's relatively recent emergence as a border hawk.

Of course, it’s still nice to see the newfound enthusiasm from Time and other mainstream media outlets that seem to be seeking to hold Trump to his promises on the issue. 

Still, Trump must tread very carefully.

Our existing immigration laws say that justice for all illegal immigrants is humane repatriation back to the nations in which they hold citizenship. Changing our laws to accommodate those in the country illegally would only serve to attract more illegal aliens. That would come at the cost of many U.S. jobs, taxpayer resources, and lives. 

If Trump were to go back on any of his key campaign promises, such as building a border wall, stopping refugee resettlement, and deporting illegal immigrants, it’s possible he could become even less popular than President George W. Bush towards the end of his second term.

One thing he could do to reassure Americans of his commitment on the issue would be to appoint strong voices to leading positions in his administration. Those could include immigration hawks such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Ann Coulter, or Michelle Malkin. They would reassure his base supporters that he intends to stay the course on his immigration enforcement promises.

Trump did not cross the line in his comments to Time, though he did dance close to a position that would have serious repercussions for him among his core supporters. Those repercussions will come if, and only if, he reverses or “softens" the promise to adequately enforce America's existing border and immigration laws.

William Gheen is president of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC.

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