In his seminal essay “How to argue effectively,” humorist Dave Barry had some advice for what to do “when your opponent is obviously right and you are spectacularly wrong.” The answer, he wrote, is simple: “Compare your opponent to Adolf Hitler.”
That is precisely what Hillary Clinton did Friday. A day after comparing her GOP opponents to terrorists, Clinton played the Hitler card, declaring that Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans want to “go and literally pull [illegal immigrants] out of their homes and their workplaces . . . Round them up, put them, I don’t know, in buses, boxcars, in order to take them across our border.”
Clinton’s comments reeked of desperation — a candidate willing to say anything to distract us from the FBI investigation into her e-mails. They also reeked of hypocrisy. Recall that it was her husband, Bill Clinton, who sent federal agents with semiautomatic weapons to bust down an immigrant’s door and drag away a terrified, screaming child — Elian Gonzalez — and forcibly deport him to communist Cuba. If Hillary Clinton is concerned about jackbooted thugs “literally pulling people out of their homes” to deport them, she ought to talk to her husband.
But her outrageous comments raise another question: Is there any Republican candidate, including Trump, who is seriously proposing forcible mass deportations of illegal immigrants?
The answer is no. And therein lies the secret even many of Trump’s most ardent supporters don’t even realize. While Trump speaks with a lot of bombast, his immigration plan is actually quite moderate — a form of amnesty that has been endorsed by the New York Times editorial page and nearly passed the U.S. Senate, where five Democrats senators voted for it.
Listen closely to what Trump is actually proposing. In an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, Trump explained his plan this way: “I would get people out and then have an expedited way of getting them back into the country so they can be legal. . . . A lot of these people are helping us . . . and sometimes it’s jobs a citizen of the United States doesn’t want to do. I want to move ’em out, and we’re going to move ’em back in and let them be legal.”
What he is describing is a policy called “touchback,” and it’s not new or especially controversial. In 2007, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Tex.) — a moderate Republican — offered a “touchback” amendment that would have required illegal immigrants to return to their home countries to apply for a special “Z visa” that would allow them to reenter the United States and work indefinitely. Her amendment lost by a relatively close margin, 53-45. It got five Democratic votes — Sens. Claire McCaskill, Max Baucus, Jon Tester, Byron Dorgan and John Rockefeller all supported it.
The idea was considered so reasonable that in an April 22, 2007, editorial entitled “Progress on Immigration,” the New York Times declared “It’s not ideal, but if a touchback provision is manageable and reassures people that illegal immigrants are indeed going to the back of the line, then it will be defensible.”
So what Trump is proposing today — sending illegal immigrants back to their home countries and then allowing the “good ones” to return in an “expedited” fashion — was not considered a radical idea back in 2007. In fact, the idea even got the support of — wait for it — illegal immigrants. In 2007, the Los Angeles Times did the first telephone poll of illegal immigrants and asked whether they would go home under a “touchback” law that allowed them to return with legal status. Sixty-three percent said yes, 27 percent said no and 10 percent were undecided. If they were promised a path to citizenship when they returned, the number who said they would leave and return legally grew to 85 percent.
In other words, the vast majority of illegal immigrants would voluntarily cooperate with Trump’s plan. Sorry, Hillary Clinton, no “boxcars” necessary.
If anything, the “touchback” plan was attacked by conservatives. In a 2007 editorial, National Review called the senate’s touchback bill a “fraud” that gives illegal aliens “their own privileged pathway” ahead of “applicants who have complied with U.S. immigration laws.” So if you get past Trump’s bluster, the plan he is proposing is so liberal that it earned the support of the New York Times and the opposition of National Review.
The reason is simple: Trump’s plan is in fact a form of amnesty — you just have to leave the country briefly to get it.
So when Trump says of illegal immigrants “they all have to go,” don’t forget that under his plan almost all would be able to immediately return.
That’s hardly the final solution Hillary Clinton makes it out to be.