Trump’s Immigration Gymnastics

As the Olympics came to a close, I couldn’t help but to marvel at what has taken place over the last few weeks. Immigrant athletes making their new countries proud. The refugee team competing for medals and hearts. And, Donald Trump closing out the Games with a triple-double immigration back flip.

Saturday afternoon Buzzfeed was the first to report on Trump’s meeting with his new Hispanic Advisory Council. A handful of Council members told press Trump asked for ideas on how to deal with the undocumented immigrant community in a “humane and efficient” manner. Which quickly became a series of breathless articles wondering if Trump was reconsidering his mass deportation proposal.

Of course, in the updated version, a campaign spokesperson disputed participants’ claims and called the article “clickbait journalism.”

But . . . less than 24 hours later, Trump’s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, who co-authored a 2014 pro-reform immigration memo for, said on Sunday morning’s CNN State of the Union, a formal plan for a “deportation force” was “to be determined.”

And, Senator Jeff Sessions told CBS’ Face the Nation, Trump was “wrestling” with how to remove those in the country illegally.

All this after the Trump campaign released its first general election television ad on Friday that, wait for it, focused on spurious crime and security risks related to immigration.

This, America, is Donald Trump’s “immigration week.”

For the sake of argument, and assuming the internet doesn’t remember, well, everything, let’s say Trump is serious about finding a “humane and efficient” manner of dealing with the undocumented.

And, let’s assume Trump no longer believes a deportation force can deport 11 million people “humanely” — as he told MSNBC last fall.

From a policy perspective, what are the questions he needs to answer?

Let’s agree a Trump legalization plan will first require, “that our borders are secure.”

Okay. How would a Trump administration measure border security? Historic low numbers of border apprehensions? (Check.) More money on immigration enforcement than all other federal law enforcement functions? (Check.) The border region safer than any other part of the country? (Check.)

So, just more of the above? (See enforcement sections: Eight, Gang of.)

Having met all these measures (already!), through what process should the undocumented register for legal status?

Return to their countries of origin? Or, how Trump put it last summer, remove everyone, but let “the good ones” re-enter. So 2007. (I thought we were making America great again?)

Pay a fine? Pass a criminal background check? Learn English? (See legalization sections: Eight, Gang of.)

You get the drift.

Trump has two paths. One, is a path to moderately acceptable, very conservative, policy proposals that provide legal status for the undocumented. The second is to cast immigrants as drains on public programs and services, security threats, and economic threats here or abroad. So far, Trump has been much more the latter than the former.

My bet is that, for a day or two, he tries to do both.

If he manages to walk both paths, Trump would be in contention for a balance beam gold medal. The first ever won by a male.

But a slip would be awfully painful.

President and CEO of National Immigration Forum, author of “Crossing Borders” (April 2022, Rowman & Littlefield), host of the podcast, Only in America.

President and CEO of National Immigration Forum, author of “Crossing Borders” (April 2022, Rowman & Littlefield), host of the podcast, Only in America.