By Daniel González and Dan Nowicki
March 13, 2016
A look at the socioeconomic and environmental impact of a 2,000-mile long wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Heyward Haltiwanger has nothing against immigrants. But he vehemently opposes immigrants who come to the United States illegally.
“The United States is a nation of immigrants,” said Haltiwanger, who traces his family’s roots in South Carolina back to the early 18th century.
“Illegal. That is the key word. If they are legal and they are participating in society, they are as welcome as anyone else,” said Haltiwanger, a 67-year-old retired auto mechanic from Chapin, S.C. “Illegal is breaking the law.”
His attitude is frequently echoed by supporters of Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner whose tough stance against illegal immigration has made it a key issue this campaign season and helped rocket him to the front of the GOP field.
Regardless of who wins the White House, the election could be decisive regarding the nation’s broken immigration system.The winner will be able to either push for reforms that bring out of the shadows the estimated 11.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States — as the Democratic candidates have promised — or order their deportation en masse, as Trump and fellow Republican Ted Cruz have vowed.
The next president also will have to address border security and the legal immigration system, either by pursuing enforcement - and restriction-heavy policies aimed at reducing the overall number of immigrants admitted into the U.S. or by pushing reforms that create more opportunities for low-skilled and high-skilled immigrants to enter legally.
Trump has driven the debate with intemperate comments about Mexicans and a promise to build a massive border wall at Mexico’s expense. In the process he has pushed his Republican rivals to take harder stances on the issue to appeal to their party’s most passionate voters.
However, almost paradoxically, some predict the nomination of a hard-liner could be the best thing for the prospects of immigration reform, or at least for Washington to take action on the long-festering issue.
Trump’s critics anticipate his alienation of many Latino voters could backfire at the polls on Nov. 8, possibly even flipping control of the Senate back to Democrats. Given the strong pro-reform positions of Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Republicans would welcome the opportunity to get the issue off the table once and for all, the Trump critics say.
But even if Trump or another Republican wins the White House, he would be expected to make immigration enforcement an early priority. When the time came to implement it, however, Trump likely would face a less-enthusiastic Congress and would have to negotiate to get as much of it through as he could.
“This is obviously his signature issue,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that pushes for more immigration enforcement and less overall immigration. “I don’t have any question, if he were elected, he would be pretty hawkish on immigration enforcement. If he weren’t, he would be undercutting a big part of his appeal for his voters.”
But some long-time immigration advocates are confident that Trump, as a 2016 Republican presidential nominee, would receive an even sounder thumping in the general election than Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, got in 2012.
The hard lines on immigration that Romney drew to win in the primaries, such as saying he would veto the Dream Act, seem quaint compared with Trump’s slamming of Mexican undocumented immigrants as drug-runners and rapists.
Romney won just 27 percent of the Latino vote in the 2012 general election. And Romney and other national GOP leaders subsequently conceded the harsh tone on immigration cost them votes. But Republican efforts to get immigration off the table before the current election led to a major, but ultimately unsuccessful, bipartisan push for reform in 2013.
“Believe it or not, the way this election is unfolding makes immigration reform more likely, because I think it’s going to be a replay of 2012, but on steroids,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that champions comprehensive immigration reform.
“What’s happening now is the Republican Party is swinging even further to the right in the primary, and it’s going to hurt them even more in the general election,” Sharry said. “... I suspect in 2017, you’re going to see the Republicans suing for peace on immigration reform.”
The GOP can’t continue to defy the demographic realities of the United States and prosper, Sharry predicted.
According to the Pew Research Center, 27.3 million Latinos, the most in U.S. history, will be eligible to vote in this year’s election. The Latino population also is young: 44 percent of the eligible voters are Millennials.
If Trump’s campaign crashes and burns in the general election, these advocates say, it could set the stage for congressional action on long-sought immigration reforms, including allowing many of the nation’s 11.3 million undocumented immigrants to gain legal status.
Rosalva Hernandez views Trump’s tough stance on immigration as a slap in the face to immigrants like her who she says perform jobs Americans are unwilling to do.
The 39-year-old Mexican immigrant came to the U.S illegally 13 years ago but is now a legal resident. She hopes to become a citizen in time to vote in the presidential race in November.
She earns $12.50 an hour milking cows at Maassen Dairy Farms in Maurice, a farming community in northwest Iowa.
She typically works five 8-hour shifts that start at dawn, followed by a 12-hour shift on Saturday. When she was pregnant with her third child, she worked two jobs, packing bacon at a processing plant from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. and milking cows from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. until the day she delivered.
“I did that every day with two to three hours of sleep,” Hernandez says. “Would White people do that? No, they would not do that.”
In addition to the long hours, the work is sometimes dangerous, she said. She removed a blue rubber glove from her left hand, exposing a crooked index finger. It was broken when a heifer kicked her as she tried to tie its leg. Cows have also kicked out her two front teeth and broken two ribs.
Krikorian, at the Center for Immigration Studies, agrees there will be a big push by Republicans to pass immigration reforms if Trump wins the nomination but loses in November, especially if he loses to Clinton.
“If it’s Hillary (Clinton) versus Trump and Hillary wins big, thumpingly big, you are going to see a real push to get this issue off the table,” Krikorian said.
Not that he thinks that’s how the race will turn out.
“The same people who are telling us that Hillary is going to win big are the same people who have been telling us that Trump was going to fizzle out in August,” Krikorian said.
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