Presidential Campaign Strategies Shaped Early By Immigration
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All this week, we have been looking at some of the major policy differences between the two major party candidates for president. And one issue that has remained at the center of the conversation is immigration. It was a cornerstone of Donald Trump's success in the primaries. But his message has also alienated some voters. We spoke about this more with NPR's Tamara Keith.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So I guess one thing to remember is Donald Trump brought up the issue of immigration from the very beginning. I mean, he almost launched his campaign with this.
KEITH: He rode down that golden escalator, and part of that speech was talking about immigration. Let's hear a little bit of that opening speech.
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DONALD TRUMP: I would build a great wall. And nobody builds walls better than me, believe me. And I'll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.
KEITH: Build the wall, it is by far Trump's most consistent policy proposal. On his website, in the position section, there are six issues listed. Two of them are related to immigration. One is headlined, Immigration Reform That Will Make America Great Again, the other, Compelling Mexico to Pay for the Wall.
And as Trump sees it, immigration takes jobs from Americans, it brings great social costs and it literally brings crime. He talks regularly about the cases of Americans being killed by undocumented immigrants - sort of rare cases, but they play a prominent role in his campaign.
GREENE: An argument that does not play a prominent role in Hillary Clinton's campaign when she talks about this issue.
KEITH: No. No, she has a fundamentally different view of immigration. She sees immigrants, including those that are currently in the country illegally, as contributing to American society and the economy. She thinks that the current immigration system is broken, but she accepts that there are 12 million or so people here in the country illegally. Many of them have American-born relatives, including children. And she doesn't believe that all of them should have to leave. Here she is describing her immigration policy recently at a conference of black and Hispanic journalists in Washington, D.C.
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HILLARY CLINTON: And in my first 100 days, I'm going to introduce legislation for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship. That's not only the right thing to do. Every independent analysis shows it will add hundreds of billions of dollars to our economy. It will also keep families together. We need to bring hardworking people out of the shadows.
KEITH: And she has said that if she can't get Congress to pass immigration legislation, she will go even further through executive action, further than President Obama.
GREENE: But overall, we have two candidates here who are staking out positions on immigration that do not seem very moderate at all.
CLINTON: No, they are in opposite directions. And they are playing to their bases. Donald Trump talks about eliminating birthright citizenship.
GREENE: You're born in the United States, doesn't mean you're automatically a citizen.
KEITH: That's what he's proposing. It would require a change to the Constitution. He wants to triple the number of border control officers. And his plan doesn't talk about how he would deal with the 12 million people who are in this country illegally now. But in an interview with Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC last November, he was pressed on what he would do, and here's what he said.
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MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Are you going to have a massive deportation force?
TRUMP: You're going to have a deportation force. And you're going to do it humanely, and you're going to bring the country - and frankly, the people - because you have some excellent, wonderful people, some fantastic people, that have been here for a long period of time. Don't forget, Mika, that you have millions of people that are waiting on line to come into this country. And they're waiting to come in legally. And I always say the wall. We're going to build the wall. It's going to be a real deal.
GREENE: Deportation force - he's actually saying he's going to have a - some kind of force kicking people out of the country.
KEITH: In later interviews, he seemed to soften his tone on that a little bit.
KEITH: He said he would not call it mass deportations. He also said he would have a heart, though he insisted that the wall itself is real and not some sort of metaphorical wall. And the way he talks about what Hillary Clinton has proposed, he describes what would be considered immigration reform as amnesty, cheap labor and open borders.
GREENE: Can't leave this conversation without bringing up Trump's well-known policy proposal to keep Muslims from coming into the country for some period of time. But what exactly does he say about that now, at this point?
KEITH: Well, what started out as a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the country has evolved. The language that his campaign has come to prefer is to say that it's a temporary ban on all immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism. This is an effort to avoid what was seen as a religious test in his original plan.
But Trump has also insisted in interviews that this isn't a softening of his position. He's also very critical of Hillary Clinton's position on refugees. She has called for a pretty dramatic increase in the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the country with proper screening. Donald Trump believes that is very, very dangerous.
GREENE: Tam, thanks a lot.
KEITH: You're welcome.
GREENE: That's NPR's Tamara Keith talking to us about the issue of immigration in the presidential campaign. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.