It would be easy to dismiss Trump’s plan, since its proposals are so fantastical that they will never, ever be implemented: deporting every single one of the U.S.’s roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants, repealing the birthright citizenship provision of the Fourteenth Amendment, constructing a giant southwestern border wall (and sticking Mexico with the bill). This isn’t an immigration plan; it’s a primal shriek from the far right id. It will be informative for what it reveals about GOP primary voters (a new national poll has Trump far in the lead), and valuable for how it forces other GOP candidates to clarify their immigration stances.
The biggest question mark remains Jeb Bush, who has been stubbornly vague about whether he would continue or undo President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. If he elects to stay quiet until the Trump farce is over, he loses an opportunity to send a more conciliatory message to Latino voters. This is not a question of optics: The beneficiaries of Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—a kind of substitute for the DREAM Act—have a compelling moral case for remaining in the United States. To qualify for the temporary relief provided by DACA, these immigrants must have come as children. They must also show continuous residence and other evidence of what political theorist Joseph Carens calls “social membership”—community ties which structure their life and demonstrate their place in American society, even if they lack formal legal status.
People who were brought to the United States as children, who have become parts of American communities, and who (in many cases) have no other home expose the moral absurdities of a rigid mass-deportation mindset. Their examples show that our immigration policy must be guided by other considerations. And research suggests that in addition to peace of mind, DACA is bringing them tangible benefits: higher paying jobs, access to forms of state ID, new educational opportunities, greater financial stability for their families. Given the millions of undocumented immigrants whose spouses and children are U.S. citizens, this policy cannot be characterized as simply a “handout” from U.S. citizens to mooching outsiders—it is enmeshed, like immigration policy more broadly, within American society. A 2,000-mile wall may hold symbolic appeal for some conservatives, but it doesn’t change that reality. It’s an open question whether any of Trump’s rivals will take this opportunity to say so.