One of the things that the meteoric rise of media mogul Donald Trump in the Republican primary has taught us is not that money or hair can buy good polling, but that there is a serious issue of major concern to many Americans that the other Republican candidates are completely failing to address: illegal immigration. After all, it was during his announcement speech that Donald Trump first made headlines by portraying — inaccurately, and offensively — most Mexicans immigrating to the United States as criminal evildoers.
While that inappropriate remark rightly generated an overwhelming amount of negative backlash, it raised the profile of illegal immigration in the 2016 race as an issue, which should be good for Republican candidates and good for the country. Despite the clownish comments that are often uttered by the far right (and the far left) on this issue, it is one that resonates among voters across the political spectrum in both parties.
The problem is not that a candidate is raising the issue; the problem is the candidate who is raising the issue. Though Trump is appealing to people’s base emotions on this problem, he is not proposing new solutions; instead, he is repeating talking points used by conservatives for years. Now, those talking points aren’t necessarily wrong: We absolutely need to do more to control the border. A literal wall may not be the most reasonable solution, but increasing defenses of all kinds along the Mexican border in a fiscally responsible way makes sense.
Similarly, we must change other policies to de-incentivize illegal immigration. We need to make it easier for local and state authorities to cooperate with the federal government to apprehend illegal immigrants. Those cities and states that blatantly flout federal law by refusing to assist in the enforcement of immigration laws — sanctuary cities — should absolutely lose federal funding. However, these changes must be done responsibly, and the discussion around this issue must be a level-headed one.
We cannot pretend that illegal immigrants are to blame for all, or even most, of the crime in this country, nor should we target particular nationalities in any way, shape, or form. However, we should not accept any level of crime perpetrated by illegal immigrants (just as we should not accept any level of welfare fraud). When someone is arrested for a felony, their legal status should be checked — and if they’re not here legally, expedited deportation proceedings should begin.
Indeed, someone’s legal status shouldn’t just be checked upon arrest, but more frequently. The first step in making it easier for federal and state authorities to help with the enforcement of immigration laws is to ensure a person’s legal status when they get a driver’s license or state ID. Then, if someone is arrested or applies for government benefits and is unable to produce an ID, that can be the trigger for a more thorough check of their legal status.
All of this has to be done in a fair and legal way, of course. People shouldn’t be profiled to have their immigration status checked merely because of their ethnicity: it should only happen for real reasons. Similarly, police should not be able to arrest people and have their immigration status checked just because they can’t produce an ID upon request. We cannot be draconian about our response to illegal immigration and maintain ourselves as a free country.
Illegal immigration is a serious issue, and it absolutely should be front and center in the presidential race. However, it should land there not because a celebrity candidate panders, but because serious candidates propose serious solutions addressing it. That’s the discussion that needs to happen around this topic, but unfortunately, one that occurs rarely in American politics.