by Calvin Prashad
Unsurprisingly, immigration is a flashpoint in this year’s presidential election, particularly with the Republican nominee Donald Trump’s signature policy goals of “border walls” and sweeping country and religious-specific bans on immigration.
The party’s rhetoric has waffled paradoxically between accusing immigrants of not working and living off social services, but also working and taking jobs from Americans. Yet a cursory read of both parties’ platforms indicate their positions have much in common, particularly focusing on “law-abiding” immigration, facilitating paths to citizenship by cutting bureaucratic red tape and embracing America’s historic role as a refuge.
The Republican platform is still arguably the strictest platform on immigration in recent history, striking a hard line against amnesties, guest worker programs and protections from deportation. Yet, the first few lines of the platform’s preamble tout the United States as exception for its historic role as a refuge, while affirming in several places the “inalienable rights of people,” including political and economic freedom. Notably, the preamble does not mention immigration at all, instead referring vaguely to border security and charging President Obama with “refusing to enforce laws he doesn’t like.”
Despite its outsized role in the election, immigration policy is just a page in the over 50-page document.
The Republican platform affirms in a number of places the value immigrants add to the country and their necessity for the United States to continue to compete as a world power. Such an admission is anathema to Trump’s candidacy, which seems determined to ride anti-immigrant sentiment to the presidency.
Yet, the vaunted “border wall,” the cornerstone of the Trump candidacy, is an afterthought, a measly 40 words in the platform. It simply states, “We support building a wall along our southern border and protecting all ports of entry,” which must “stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.” The “border fence” built during the Bush administration proved too onerous, even while covering just under a third of the U.S.-Mexican border. The platform contains no language on the wall’s timetable or implementation. The platform immediately pivots to actual policy, such as expansion of e-verify, revoking federal funding from “sanctuary cities” and a “reform” of the guest worker program.
The Democratic platform mirrors the Republicans’ in describing the role of immigrants to the United States. However, it goes into significant policy detail about “the broken immigration system,” including support for the Dream Act and calling for an end to deportation raids, calling such practices “inconsistent with our values” and inhumane. The Obama administration has deported more immigrants than any other in history. Immigration activists have protested that the charges against these deportees are intentionally excessive to justify deportations.
The platforms differ in notions of granting asylum for refugees. The Democrats favor an expansive system to represent and vet refugees fleeing violence not only in the Middle East, but also in Central America. The Republicans, on the other hand, demand high level vetting from the FBI to approve asylum requests and have then pointed to the onerous burden to do so as indicative of why refugees should not be admitted.
Yet, despite the rhetoric, the Republican platform includes language that indicates support for Puerto Rican statehood and the further expansion of constitutional rights to residents of U.S. territories, including Guam, American Samoa and the American Virgin Islands. However, the platform rejects statehood for the District of Columbia,
Democrats and Republicans, in theory, think of immigrants in the same ways—valuable to the nation and their inclusion part of our national identity. They differ in how to regulate immigration, which is to be expected and grounds for bipartisan compromise. Those voting this November with hopes of building walls and banning immigration will find that the GOP party establishment has no plans to do so.