By Sarah Wheaton
August 23, 2016
The GOP nominee has been praising some of Obama’s immigration policies. But even Obama’s harshest critics say there’s no comparison.
Donald Trump has accused President Barack Obama of overseeing a dismal immigration situation, declaring earlier this year, “We have no border. We have no control. People are flooding across. We can’t have it.”
But as Trump softens his hardline immigration talk, he is suddenly sounding simpatico with his bitter enemy in the White House.
"What people don't know is that Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country,” Trump told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly on Monday, as he tried to explain his latest views on immigration. “Bush, the same thing. Lots of people were brought out of the country with the existing laws. Well, I'm going to do the same thing."
Trump's new campaign manager also complimented — in a backhanded way — Obama's immigration policies. "The other thing is, we think on immigration, there are very few issues where Hillary is actually to the left of Barack Obama," Kellyanne Conway said on Fox on Tuesday.
Like Trump, Obama has made enforcement the linchpin of his immigration policies, earning him the nickname “deporter-in-chief” from reform advocates who believe the president has focused too much on kicking out undocumented immigrants while not finding enough legal paths for them to stay.
Obama’s record of deporting around three million people, more than any other president, “stains his legacy,” said Frank Sharry, founder of the immigration reform group America’s Voice. And in Trump’s latest description, Sharry said, “there’s just a kernel enough of truth.”
But Sharry and other critics of Obama’s enforcement policies say there’s still no comparison with Trump’s mission.
Obama’s ultimate goal was to help millions of immigrants to stay in the country, while Trump has highlighted his plans to build a wall, ban Muslims, send back Syrian refugees and deport entire families of undocumented immigrants – even if U.S. citizens are in the mix.
“Trump is trying to name-check Obama in service of a mass deportation strategy, and Obama was ramping up in service of a comprehensive reform strategy,” Sharry said. Obama’s efforts to create political space for a path to citizenship by showing he could secure the border “didn’t work, by the way,” Sharry added. “But there were very different motivations.”
Kevin Appleby of the Center for Migration Studies dismissed the comparison to Obama as a way for Trump to make his extreme approach sound incremental. "He is trying to put lipstick on a pig he already let out of the pen,” Appleby said.
The White House wouldn’t weigh in on Trump’s position, but when asked about Obama’s immigration legacy, an official noted the president’s “record is about being smart and strategic about enforcement while doing everything we can to try to reform the overall system.”
During Obama’s first year in office, most of the 390,000 people he deported did not have a criminal history. But beginning in 2010, administration officials started refining their targets even as they deported more people. Deportations peaked in 2012, with 55 percent of the 410,000 deportees convicted of crimes other than immigration violations. In 2014, Obama further narrowed down the priorities to emphasize criminals and people who had recently arrived, and last year, deportations were the lowest of his term: around 235,000, with six in 10 having a criminal background and virtually all of the others falling under the recent arrival category.
It’s Obama’s refined approach that Trump has lately seized on.
"The first thing we're going to do if and when I win is we're going to get rid of all of the bad ones," Trump said Monday, adding, "As far as the rest, we're going to go through the process, like they are now, perhaps with a lot more energy, and we're going to do it only through the system of laws.”
Trump has long promised to triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers. But unless he retracts some existing pledges, it’s not the case that Trump would merely enforce existing law. He’s pledged to revoke Obama’s deportation relief for 1.2 million so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought into the U.S. as children. And the immigration policy paper on his web site includes a plan to revoke birthright citizenship.
Monday wasn’t the first time Trump has cast himself as following in Obama’s footsteps.
"President Obama has mass deported vast numbers of people -- the most ever, and it's never reported,” he said in June. “I think people are going to find that I have not only the best policies, but I will have the biggest heart of anybody.”
But immigration reform proponents are newly agog at how far Trump has gone to invoke Obama’s legacy.
Obama gave immigration advocates “a lot of heartburn in the first term,” said Angela Maria Kelley, executive director at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, “and a lot of applause in the second term.”
Some still haven’t fully forgiven Obama for not getting immigration legislation done during his first two years — when Democrats held both the House and the Senate — or for his heavy-handed approach during that period. Since House Republicans refused to take up Senate-passed legislation in 2013, Obama has looked to executive branch actions.
His high-profile bid to let 5 million parents of American citizens and permanent residents come out of the shadows was blocked by the courts, but his administration has hosted lower key gatherings of local officials to make communities more welcoming to newcomers. It’s also behind a major push to encourage eligible immigrants to become citizens — and register to vote.
Obama still hasn’t won over some of the communities hit hardest by his deportation efforts, and they’ve only grown more incensed by the targeting of women and children who have recently arrived from gang-ridden Central American countries.
So by tying himself to Obama, Trump is just reminding some groups devoted to mobilizing pro-immigrant voters why they want to defeat him in November (not that they needed it).
“He’s going to be taking a bad, unjust, out of control system and make it worse,” said Cristina Jimenez, co-founder of United We Dream Action. “The question for the next president is are you going to continue on the legacy of Obama and either be the same or much worse… or are you going to be different than Obama and be better at dealing with immigrant communities?”
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com