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Could Immigration Be the Issue Trump Uses to Make Good on Promises to Unify the Country?

9 Nov

With the election results in, it’s no surprise that half the country is going to work and school this morning deflated.  In a sense, that was bound to happen no matter the final outcome, largely due to the polarized nature of American politics and the current American electorate.  During the presidential campaign that polarization was reflected more in the candidates’ opposite views on immigration than perhaps any other single issue.

Immigration is a complex issue in American politics, because it often transcends party lines.  Immigration proponents find strange allies when Congress takes up issues like Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  Remember how Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined Democrats Chuck Schumer (NY) and Richard Durbin (IL) as part of the now infamous “Gang of Eight” to draft a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill in 2013?

Generally, polling has consistently indicated that a majority of Americans favor reasonable immigration reform that would fairly address the matter of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.  The voice for immigration reform and a pathway to legalized status was so loud during parts of the presidential campaign that even then-Candidate Donald Trump felt the need to back away from his original pledge that all 11 million would be deported in a Trump presidency.

On the other hand, despite distaste for heated rhetoric and chants such as “BUILD THE WALL,” it appears that there is at least some support on both sides of the aisle for further strengthening the security of our border with Mexico.  With Republican majorities in both the House and Senate still intact, it may not take much support from across the aisle to push forward with some version of a wall, though it might be made up, as some have suggested, of a patchwork of technology, increasing border agents, and remote monitoring as well as at least some number of miles of additional physical barrier.

These two issues offer a picture of what may come together in some form of compromise to address the population of undocumented workers, but what of the broken system of long lines for lawful immigration to the United States?  Ironically, the notion of adding new H-1B numbers to the annual quota, exempting dependent family members from the employment-based immigrant quota, or taking further steps to reduce the lengthy wait times for employment-based immigrants may be a trickier proposition.  These concepts seem to buck the trend of the populist opinion that drove new and infrequent voters to the polls to vote for Donald Trump, who promised to bring jobs back to America, put American workers first, and roll back what he called unfair trade deals such as NAFTA.

Predictions for the next four years?  This election cycle has taught us that making predictions is a risky proposition.  But hope springs eternal, so here are two aspirations that may not be out of the realm of possibility:

First, despite the rhetoric of Candidate Trump, a President Trump cannot deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.  It is not logistically possible.  Realizing this, he has left some room to walk back this hardline campaign promise and may retreat even further from that position.  It is not out of the realm of possibility that President Trump will insist that in crisscrossing the nation in the campaign and after, he has listened to the American people and now understands the hardship that mass deportations would cause to so many good, hardworking people, and he just can’t do it.  Crazy?  Maybe, but it wouldn’t be the first time he reversed a prior position.

Second, President Trump should be well aware that a majority of Americans did not support him, and it seems he may be concerned enough with his popularity that we may see him resurrect the concept that he is a successful businessman who compromises to make good deals in order to get things done.  From his desire to appeal to more Americans, supported by his previous statements regarding the role of compromise in his success, we may hope for a compromise to emerge that yields some form of guest worker program or even an earned legalization program.  And despite the obvious flip-flop on this issue, it is entirely possible that a President Trump would claim the victory for finally being able to do what so many others before him had tried and failed – to reform immigration policy.