Five burning questions about Trump’s immigration plan

Donald Trump on Wednesday offered the most detailed version yet of his plan to tackle illegal immigration, telling a crowd in Phoenix that he was giving them “the truth” on “a very complicated and very difficult subject.”

{mosads}But Trump’s 10-point strategy, self-described as “a detailed policy address,” omitted several specifics, leaving both supporters and critics with lingering questions about the immigration strategy that’s been the signature issue of his campaign. 

Here are five areas where experts and advocates say they’d like more clarity.

1.) Who would Trump deport?

The businessman has been all over the map when it comes to deporting people who are living in the country illegally.

After Mitt Romney suffered with Hispanic voters four years ago, Trump ripped the GOP nominee for his “maniacal” push for “self deportation” and suggested Republicans should adopt a more lenient approach or risk alienating “everybody who is inspired to come into this country.”

As a presidential candidate he took a harder line, accusing Mexico of sending its worst lot across the border, vowing to erect “a great, great wall” — at Mexico’s expense — to keep the “rapists” and criminals out, and proposing a “deportation force” to handle those already in the country illegally. 

That message has fluctuated through the campaign. Last month, he floated the notion of “softening” his deportation stance, but his Phoenix speech featured a tough law-and-order approach. 

Trump in the speech vowed to put an end to President Obama’s deferred action programs and emphasized that “anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation.” Those convicted of crimes — more than 2 million, by his telling — would be the first to go, removed “in joint operations with local, state and federal law enforcement.”  

But his plan for the other 9 million undocumented immigrants remains nebulous, leading to plenty of conflicting interpretations as to the nominee’s intentions.

Immigrant rights advocates see a harsh and immediate plan “to drive all but a handful of undocumented immigrants out of the country,” in the words of Frank Sharry, head of America’s Voice.

But Roy Beck, head of NumbersUSA, which advocates for a reduction in immigration, said the speech reinforced Trump’s “softening” tack, and the GOP nominee is “no longer supporting mass round-ups and mass deportations of non-criminals.”

“Implied in his statement is that most people will still be here a few years from now,” Beck said.

Whatever the case, Ivan Garcia-Hidalgo, a Republican strategist, said the lack of clarity is a problem.

“He didn’t say what was going to happen to the rest of undocumented people in the country,” Garcia-Hidalgo said, “and we need to know, and we need to know right now.”  

Trump muddied the waters further on Thursday when he told Fox News that, after deporting “the bad players” and erecting an “impenetrable” border wall, he plans “to sit back and assess the situation.”

“It will be a process that won’t go that quickly,” he acknowledged. 

2.) A litmus test for legal immigrants? 

Trump used the Phoenix speech to promote a reduction in current levels of legal immigration — a position “unique among major party nominees, at least in the last 60 years,” according to Beck — but he didn’t specify how sharply he’d cut the numbers beyond vowing to keep levels “within historical norms.” 

“Trump’s big pivot in the speech was to come out against legal immigration, hinting at major reductions in visas and new restrictions that guarantee that illegal immigration will skyrocket,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) charged Friday in an email.

Trump also promised tougher screenings for legal immigrants to include “an ideological certification” to ensure that those admitted “share our values and love our people.” Immigrants would be selected “based on merit, skill and proficiency,” he said. 

How to test for acceptable merit and ideology, though, was left unmentioned. Immigrant rights advocates say it’s a dangerous idea likely to disqualify untold numbers of eligible immigrants.

“What are the questions?” asked Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum Action Fund. “And would a President Trump, much less the members of his Cabinet, be able to pass it?” 

Ben Johnson, head of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, warned that the “merit” stipulation could block thousands of low-skilled workers, like those working in the agriculture sector, from entering the country.  

“What does that mean?” he asked. “You can’t have an economy based solely on high-skilled, college-educated workers.”

Immigrant screenings should gauge an applicant’s threat to security, Johnson added, but introducing ideological barometers — like one’s position on U.S. foreign policy –— is a step too far.

“That’s frightening and disturbing [and creates] lots of questions about how to pull that off any differently than we do now,” Johnson said.  

3.) Where would Trump find the money?

Trump’s argument for removing all 11 million undocumented immigrants is framed largely in economic terms. “They’re hurting a lot of our people that cannot get jobs under any circumstances,” he said. 

But he hasn’t specified how he’d pay for such a massive operation, which wouldn’t come cheap. An analysis conducted last year by the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, estimated the cost to apprehend, detain, process and deport that many people would run between $400 billion and $600 billion. 

“The biggest question is: How are you going to pay for this? How are you going to pay to deport 11 million people?” Noorani said. “It’s clear that Trump’s policy team … is only looking at [the enforcement] side of the ledger without any plans to pay for it.”

There are other economic considerations. A more recent American Action Forum study, released in May, found that removing the 11 million undocumented immigrants — more than half of whom are employed — would cut the U.S. economy by 2 percent. 

4.) Would he push to end birthright citizenship? 

Trump’s website makes clear the nominee’s approach to those born in the U.S. to undocumented parents, calling birthright citizenship “the biggest magnet for illegal immigration” and promoting an immediate “end” to the benefit. 

But Trump did not broach the issue in Phoenix Wednesday, and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, caused a stir a day later when he suggested there’s little a Trump administration could do to change the status quo without congressional action.

“I think the law is very settled on that question for generations of natural-born American citizens,” Pence told CNN Thursday. 

Pence emphasized that Trump is pushing to create “a new commission that will look at all of our immigration laws, including the whole question of ‘anchor babies.’ ” 

But cooperation from Capitol Hill is unlikely, with Democrats loath to change citizenship law.

5.) How would he follow through on building a wall?

Trump in Phoenix doubled down on his vow to make the Mexican government pay for solidifying the southern border wall. 

“They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for it,” he said. “On day one, we will begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, power, beautiful southern border wall.”

But the claim was undercut by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who, after meeting with Trump in Mexico City just hours earlier, said Trump is deluding himself.

“I made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall,” Peña Nieto tweeted. 

Trump has vowed to force Mexico’s hand, threatening to block some remittance payments and hike visa fees (or cancel them altogether) for Mexican dignitaries, among other steps. But the sharp pushback from Peña Nieto has raised questions about the feasibility of Trump’s chief immigration plank, which the New York Times on Friday dubbed “an engineering fiction.” 

Beck said his group supports some structural reinforcement, but doesn’t endorse construction of a continuous physical barrier. And some Texas Republicans have warned that the border is simply too wild for law enforcers to plug all the gaps in the fight against illegal immigration.  

With that in mind, immigration reformers worry that Trump’s vow to delay action on undocumented immigrants until the border is fully secure will leave millions of people forever stuck in limbo. 

“That essentially means we’re never going to deal with [them],” Johnson said.

Rafael Bernal contributed.

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