The single issue that Donald Trump used most effectively to win the national election was immigration.
For decades, Democrats have entirely failed to understand how many citizens feel about illegal immigration, offering almost no serious plan to secure our border and instead irresponsibly suggesting that open borders and a welfare state are a fiscally responsible policy.
Now don’t get me wrong — I absolutely do not agree with everything Trump has said on the issue of immigration.
But the honest reality is that he has tapped into the fear and anger that many citizens have. They feel that illegal immigrants, many of whom are simply searching for a better life, come into this country, immediately receive government benefits and begin illegally working at lower hourly rates than the market should offer to qualified citizens looking for work. This is how they feel — and Trump understood that.
The issue of immigration is complex and deeply political. The far left wants every illegal immigrant to vote. The far right wants no new immigration. They are both wrong.
The opportunity facing President-elect Trump is to find a way to cut through the political paralysis over this issue to deliver a solution that would benefit the country.
The first step is border security. I do not believe we need a 2,000-mile, 10-foot wall across the southern border, which would necessarily be placed in the middle of a river and at the top of the 4,000-foot Davis Mountains.
Instead, we must first focus on the urban border crossings where the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrant transport occurs. We saw how effective secure fencing was along the San Diego portion of the southern border a decade ago, when former Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, got that done and illegal crossings plummeted.
The Trump transition effort appears to be exploring securing the southern border through executive authority, since the U.S. Senate is unlikely to get on board with the 60 votes that its rules currently require. It is entirely reasonable to require border security before any new policy regarding the current illegal immigrant population is released. After all, you plug a hole in a boat before you begin removing the water coming overboard.
After border security — or perhaps beforehand — the Trump administration likely will begin a sweeping deportation effort to remove criminal immigrants. I suspect this will focus on violent criminals first, as it should.
Some will claim that the Obama administration was already doing this — and to some extent they were — but they will not have done it with the speed and focus of the new Trump administration.
Consider that in 2013 alone, the Obama administration released criminal immigrants into the public with a total of 88,000 total convictions, including 193 with homicide convictions, 426 with sexual assault convictions and more than 16,000 with drunken or drugged driving convictions, according to a report by the Homeland Security inspector general.
What crimes did those immigrants go on to commit? Does anyone know? Keep one thing in mind: Every crime committed by an illegal immigrant is a preventable crime. The sheer emotional weight felt by victims of these crimes is immeasurable.
Securing the southern border and immediately removing all criminal immigrants are two good first steps. Then the next question: What do you do with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants who are already here? This has neither a simple answer nor a bipartisan consensus.
Ultimately, conservatives will want to close off a path to citizenship for anyone who entered the country illegally, as citizenship would be “fruit of the poisonous tree” in legal terms. Amnesty today brings the promise of amnesty tomorrow. The rule of law must mean something or we will have anarchy.
Most Americans do not want all illegal immigrants deported. The size and cost of government necessary for such a task is impossible to estimate.
No one wants to see children who were brought here by their parents separated from them. But we do need an orderly and efficient immigration system, so our country may decide who comes through our system legally based on what our country needs. We must be able to take stock of who is already here and what the security concerns are.
This is entirely responsible. In fact, to not do this is entirely irresponsible.
Immigration has been an enormously difficult policy issue for decades. Is Donald Trump the man who finally can break through with a real, actionable solution?
Mackowiak is syndicated columnist, an Austin-based Republican consultant and a former Capitol Hill and Bush administration aide.