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In what has to be one of the greater ironies of the 2016 presidential campaign so far, 11 Republican candidates gathered in the Reagan library on September 16 in order to try to outdo each other in renouncing Ronald Reagan's immigration legacy. One after the other, of course without mentioning Reagan's name, they lined up behind the extreme ideology of building a wall along the Mexican border and mass deportation for 11 million mainly Latino unauthorized immigrants currently in the United States - the antithesis of Reagan's beliefs and actions as president.
The other Republican candidates, with few exceptions, not only adopted Donald Trump's extreme view that Latino immigrants are at the root of most, if not all, of America's problems, but they tried to trump Trump in their immigrant-bashing.
Ousted HP CEO Carly Fiorina, for example, accused American politicians of having done nothing about illegal immigration for the past 25 years, implying that there is nothing new or original about Trump's views. She is right. Trump is merely repeating the anti-immigrant line that Republican politicians have been taking for the past two decades, but more loudly and crudely, with even greater racial overtones.
These racial overtones were also obvious in Trump's repetition of his previous attacks on birthright citizenship, another thinly veiled effort to exploit anti-Latino prejudice, since most of the "anchor-babies", to use what has now become just another anti-immigrant racial epithet, are born to Latino parents. Again Trump insisted that while not everyone agrees with him, some "very good" lawyers believe that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution does not protect birthright citizenship for all US-born children, regardless of ethnic background or parent's immigration status.
Once again, he did not name these "very good" lawyers, because no lawyer who opines on this subject without having read and understood the landmark Supreme Court decisions of U.S. v Wong Kim Ark (1898) and Plyler v. Doe (1982), which together completely explode Trump's contention, could possibly be called a good lawyer, or even a competent one. I have written about these decisions, especially Wong, in more detail previously.
To return to mass deportation, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, while challenging Trump over the feasibility of mass deportation as a logistical matter, added his own police-state style proposal to track legal immigrants in the US with temporary visas in order to deport them more efficiently as soon as they overstay.
Illegal immigration was not the only target of their attacks. Several candidates also called for a "merit-based" legal immigration system that would put greater emphasis on attracting skilled and educated workers as opposed to family-based immigrants. While there is nothing wrong in principle in attracting more skilled immigrants, how much support have most Republicans, for example, given to attempts to raise the H-1B cap?
A bill sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to do this was denounced by other influential senators within his own party such as Charles Grassley (Iowa) and Jeff Sessions (Alabama). It has gone nowhere. And why should attracting skilled immigrants require reducing or eliminating family reunification, which happens to benefit large numbers of Latino immigrants?
All this posturing and hypocrisy was a far cry from Ronald Reagan's inclusiveness on immigration. Randy Borntrager, a Huffington Post writer and Political Director of People for the American Way, writes about the sad contrast between today's extremist Republicans and their idol, Ronald Reagan, concerning this issue as follows. See: On Immigration, Republicans Have Turned Their Backs on Reagan (September 15).
In Borntrager's words:
"We are a nation of immigrants, but the current Republican field refuses to embrace our rich heritage. That's not how it always was for Republicans. In the 1980 GOP debate, Ronald Reagan spoke of the shared humanity of all people in this country, regardless of immigration status. He said: 'Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don't we work out some recognition of our mutual problems?' As president, Reagan signed an immigration reform bill that allowed a path to citizenship for almost 3 million undocumented immigrants. Think anyone on stage will bring up that?
On immigration, the party of Reagan is now the party of Trump."
The above does not mean that the Republicans are the only ones responsible for our broken immigration system today. The Democrats are on the defensive on this issue. They are more concerned about trying to protect themselves against Republican charges that they are "lax" in "protecting the jobs of American workers", standing up for the "rule of law" and promoting "border security" when it comes to immigration than they are in standing up strongly against Republican appeals to anti-Latino, anti-Asian, anti-black and anti-Muslim bigotry.
Just as a final note, with regard to prejudice against Muslims, President Obama should be commended for inviting a 14-year old Muslim American citizen, Ahmed Mohamed, to the White House after he had been arrested by local officials for designing a clock and bringing it to school. It would also be nice if the president would offer refuge in the US to a meaningful number of Syrian refugees from Assad's barrel bombs, ISIS butchers, or both.
Instead, the President is offering to take in the absurdly trivial number of 10,000, compared to Germany, a smaller country, which has offered to take in a million of these desperate people. When will the president find the courage to stand up to anti-Muslim prejudice and admit far, far more Syrian refugees, most of whom are women and children, so thousands more primarily Muslim children, many of them younger than the one who was arrested in the US for showing his talent as an inventor, will not have to drown at sea while fleeing for their lives from the intolerable conditions in their own countries?
Roger Algase is a New York immigration lawyer and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. For more than 30 years, he has been helping mainly skilled and professional immigrants obtain work visas, green cards, and US citizenship. His email is email@example.com
Updated 09-17-2015 at 04:10 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs