What part of “Enforcment First” don’t you understand?

As Powerline notes, the press has been flummoxed by Trump’s immigration speech of last week: Should they trash him for “shelving” his mass deportation plans or for not shelving them? After initially flirting with the former they seemed to settle on the latter, only to backslide into tactical sparring over whether Trump has been explicit enough about the full details of his shelving. (Is it “2 to 3 million” or 5 million that he’d prioritize for deportation?)

The idea that Trump might indeed have shaved some of the less sensible edges off his previous positions and wound up with a coherent and detailed-enough approach seems to have been unthinkable from the outset. But that’s what he did.

Here are the edges that have been shaved off:

1) We now know that Trump doesn’t think he can deport 11M (or 20M, or however many) illegals now in the country. He will focus on

removing criminals, gang members, security threats, visa overstays, public charges. That is those relying on public welfare or straining the safety net along with millions of recent illegal arrivals and overstays who’ve come here under this … administration.

The “public charges” category could be smaller or larger depending on whether Trump counts illegals whose households receive, say, food stamps because they have kids who were born on US soil (which makes the kids citizens under existing law). But, either way, the clear implication is Trump wouldn’t try to deport all illegals and wouldn’t get around to the low-priority cases (though all remain subject to deportation the way all speeders are subject to speeding tickets).

2) For the illegal immigrants who aren’t deported, and stay ‘in the shadows,’ Trump dangled the possibility of an amnesty at a future date, if control of the borders is in fact achieved:

Importantly, in several years when we have accomplished all of our enforcement and deportation goals and truly ended illegal immigration for good, including the construction of a great wall, which we will have built in record time.

… And the establishment of our new lawful immigration system then and only then will we be in a position to consider the appropriate disposition of those individuals who remain.

That discussion can take place only in an atmosphere in which illegal immigration is a memory of the past, no longer with us, allowing us to weigh the different options available based on the new circumstances at the time.

This wasn’t a promise of future amnesty. It ‘s saying that the policy (of amnesty, or no) will be decided later. I would have maybe done a bit more dangling — but, for Trump, admitting that amnesty’s a possibility is a big deal. And it’s obvious why he might not want to hang a bigger lantern on it — explicit mention of the possibility would itself attract more illegal immigration and raise the pressure to fudge enforcment goals.

You can disagree with this policy or not, but it’s a policy.  It’s not” incoherent,” just as it’s not incoherent to say “I’ll decide what to eat when we reach Cincinatti.” (“No, you have to tell us now,” the press demands.)  What part of “later” doesn’t the press understand?

3) Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban” has now been permantely turned into a much more anodyne plan to “suspend the issuance of visas to any place where adequate screening cannot occur.” That would include Syria and Libya, Trump said, but beyond that the DHS and DOJ are tasked with developing “a list of regions and countries.”

This completes the evolution away from a religious test that Trump began after Orlando, even though the New York Times and others strenuously attempted to deny it. (Trump also advocates an “ideological” screening test,  directed at detecting “views about honor killings, about respect for women and gays and minorities.” Presumably many Muslims would pass this test, and many Christians would flunk it.)

4) Trump’s feared “deportation force” has now been reduced to a mere “task force” within the existing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureaucracy and “focused on identifying and quickly removing the most dangerous criminal illegal immigrants,” (a goal Obama, for one, agrees with). It’s not focused on rounding up non-criminals. In other words, it’s no longer anything remotely controversial. Forget about it.

More important, if you value coherence, is the conceptual shift the speech announced. Trump’s original idea, remember, was that every illegal had to leave and the “good ones” would be allowed back in in “expedited” fashion. This plan really was vague — was it another attempt to use the “touchback” gimmick to efficiently give amnesty virtually all who are here? Or would only a small minority count as “good ones” and be allowed to return? Did all this happen before or after the wall, etc.?  In any case it’s a bit of a wacky idea.

There wasn’t much left of it in last week’s speech.** It’s been replaced by a sturdier, more conventional, less gimmicky, “Enforcement First” structure. The idea is that we’ll do what we have to do to control who comes in — including a border wall, a system to check on legal status at the point of hiring, and a system to track visa overstays — plus deporting the categories of people Trump says he’ll deport. Then we can talk about amnesty for those who are left here. Do it the other way around — “Amnesty First,” as in the 1986 Reagan “reform” and the now-dead Senate “Gang of 8 bill” — and you’re  inviting the immigration lobby to undermine enforcment efforts in the courts and bureaucracy at the same time the amnesty is attracting another wave of illegals.

That’s what happened after ’86. It’s what might happen in some pro-amnesty versions of Trump’s earlier “touchback” scheme. Instead, Trump said, he was determined to

break the cycle of amnesty and illegal immigration.

Doesn’t seem that hard to understand.


** — Trump did mention that those who leave might then be able to return “under the rules of the new legal immigration system that I have outlined,” and subject to forthcoming “caps and limits.” Those rules and caps would presumably include his plans to  “keep immigration levels measured by population share within historical norms.” Taken together, these restrictions seem to throw cold water on the Pence “touchback” amnesty, which involves special treatment and few limits. But I admit Trump didn’t totally close the door.