Where Do the Presidential Hopefuls Stand on Immigration?

Billionaire businessman Donald J. Trump, who is the Republican Party’s nominee for president, has an immigration plan based on three core principles: that the U.S. must build a wall across the southern border, that current immigration laws must be fully enforced, and that the interests of American citizens must be put first. In crafting his plan, Trump sought advice from true immigration reformer Senator Jeff Sessions, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest.

FAIR disclaimer: Since securing the GOP nomination in late July, Trump has made a series of remarks that suggest he is open to changing his original positions on several immigration issues, including amnesty. However, his rhetoric has been extremely contradictory, raising serious questions about what he would actually do if elected.

Hillary Clinton, who is the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, plans to extend and defend President Obama’s immigration policies. While her published plan lacks many specifics, Clinton supports many of President Obama’s immigration policies and wants “comprehensive immigration reform.”

Where do the candidates stand on...


Amnesty is not immigration reform. The 1986 amnesty granted legal status to 3 million illegal aliens. It did not end illegal immigration, but encouraged more. Today, our illegal alien population is approximately 12 million.

The core of Clinton’s immigration plan is mass amnesty for the 12 million illegal aliens in the country. According to the plan, Clinton supports “comprehensive” immigration reform that provides a “full and equal path to citizenship” and “brings millions of hardworking people into the formal economy.” According to Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine, they have pledged that she will submit a plan for comprehensive immigration reform to Congress within her first 100 days in office. Clinton’s plan contains no mention of the criteria for amnesty or the factors—if any—that would disqualify an illegal alien. In the absence of legislation, Clinton vows to take extensive executive action to protect illegal aliens from removal. First, she promises to defend President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and extended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) amnesty programs. Additionally, Clinton would grant deferred action to other illegal aliens with a “history of service and contribution to their communities.”

While his published plan does not explicitly mention it, Trump and his surrogates have repeatedly called for a form of “touchback amnesty,” in which illegal aliens are deported and those without criminal records are allowed to quickly return to the country legally. In an interview with CNN, Trump stated that he would “get people out and then have an expedited way of getting them back into the country so they can be legal.” It is worth noting that the idea of “touchback amnesty” was once championed by Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Ten years ago, while still a member of Congress, Pence said, “The only way to deal with these twelve million people is to insist that they leave the country and come back legally if they have a job awaiting them.” It is unclear, however, what form of status Trump-Pence would reward these illegal aliens with: citizenship; legal status with no path to citizenship; or nonimmigrant temporary visa.

Legal Immigration

The U.S. currently admits over one million legal permanent residents every year—the equivalent of adding a city the size of Dallas, Texas annually. Because mass immigration has such a significant impact on our lives, experts have long urged the federal government to adopt reasonable limits on immigration. FAIR believes that a sustainable level of immigration is no more than 300,000 annually.

In his plan, Trump notes that “the influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans – including immigrants themselves and their children – to earn a middle class wage.” Trump calls for a “pause” in the issuance of green cards during which “employers will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers.” According to Trump, “this will help reverse women’s plummeting workplace participation rate, grow wages, and allow record immigration levels to subside to more moderate historical averages.” Trump would also increase the prevailing wage for H-1B visas to “force companies to give coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas.” He would also institute a requirement for companies to hire American workers first, as “many visas, like the H-1B, have no such requirement.” Finally, he vows to end birthright citizenship, welfare abuse by legal immigrants, and the J-1 visa jobs program for foreign youth. The J-1 visa program would then be “replaced with a resume bank for inner city youth.” While his plan takes a tough-stance against legal immigration, Trump – who has admitted to using the H-1B program as an employer – continues to waver. “I’m changing. I’m changing. We need highly skilled people in this country, and if we can’t do it, we’ll get them in,” he said in a debate last March. “I’m softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country.”

Clinton’s plan does not indicate the level of legal immigration she supports but does claim that immigrants have “spurred economic growth” and “fueled innovation.” She supports increasing the number of H-1B visas because these skilled workers contribute greatly to U.S. technological development. “Our immigration system is plagued by visa backlogs and other barriers that prevent high-skilled workers and entrepreneurs from coming to, staying in, and creating jobs in America,” her plan states. Clinton aims to “’staple’ a green card to STEM masters and PhDs from accredited institutions” and supports increasing the number of low-skilled visas. She also believes that legal immigrants should be able to bring their family members to the U.S. quickly and without limit.

National Security

The ability of the 9/11 hijackers to enter and remain in the U.S. undetected underscores that immigration law — the regulation of who enters our country, under what conditions, and for what length of time — is an integral aspect of national security policy. It is essential that our nation’s law enforcement agencies develop and implement the infrastructure and technology that will further secure U.S. borders along with new methods for screening and admitting aliens to the country.

Weeks after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last November, Trump called for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. Trump stated, "Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.” However, Trump has since pivoted away from a blanket ban on Muslims to a new policy of stopping immigration "from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism.” He has also specifically addressed the need to stop admitting Syrian refugees into the country, stating "We don't know who they are. They have no documentation and we don't know what they're planning." After initially rejecting a blanket ban on Muslims last December, Governor Pence indicated he is “very supportive” of his running mate’s call to suspend immigration from terror states. This stance does not come as a surprise, as Pence repeatedly attempted to stop Syrian refugee resettlement in Indiana.

Clinton's immigration plan continues President Obama’s decision to significantly increase the admission of Syrians as refugees. “We're facing the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II and I think the United States has to do more,” Clinton said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I would like to see us move from what is a good start with 10,000 to 65,000 and begin immediately to put into place the mechanisms for vetting the people that we would take in.” Clinton calls proposals to ban Muslim immigration offensive and counterproductive. “Our open, diverse society is an asset in the struggle against terrorism, not a liability,” Clinton said.

Border Security

A fundamental step to solving our illegal immigration problem and ensuring our national security is to secure the borders and ports of entry. Until sufficient resources, infrastructure, and manpower are placed at the border, these problems will persist.

The first core principle of Trump’s plan is to build a wall along the U.S. southern border, supposedly to be paid for by Mexico because “they are responsible for this [border security] problem, and they must help pay to clean it up.” Until Mexico pays for the wall, a Trump administration would seek to “impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages, increase visa fees for Mexican CEOs and diplomats, increase fees for border crossing cards, increase fees for NAFTA worker visas, and increase fees at ports of entry to the U.S. from Mexico.” It is worth noting that Mexico’s president has said that his country would not cooperate with Trump’s plan.

In a March CNN/Univision Democratic debate, Clinton said “we have the most secure border we’ve ever had… we enhanced the border security… that part of the work is done… let’s move to comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship.” Clinton’s immigration plan—which only has six points—lacks any provisions on border security or ways to deter future illegal immigration.

Interior Enforcement

There is an overwhelming consensus that most illegal aliens come to the U.S. for economic reasons, which makes worksite and interior enforcement programs a vital step toward true immigration reform. These programs must be renewed and expanded in order to guarantee a legal workforce, protect American workers, and restore the rule of law.

According to her immigration plan, Clinton believes family detention for parents and children who arrive at our border in desperate situations should be stopped. According to Clinton, “we have alternatives to detention for those who pose no flight or public safety risk, such as supervised release.” Clinton will contain President Obama’s approach to interior enforcement, saying she will only focus resources on “detaining and deporting those individuals who pose a violent threat to public safety.” Clinton has called for more attorney representation for illegal aliens, saying “I would give every person, but particularly children, due process and have their story told.”

On the campaign trail, Trump has repeatedly vowed to deport the 11 million people living in the country illegally. However, in off-the-record talks with the New York Times, Trump admitted that this is only a starting point for negotiations and he might not deport illegal aliens as promised. While his official immigration plan does not offer any specifics on mass deportation, it does call for increased interior enforcement. He would triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to “enforce immigration law against the 11 million illegal aliens already in the interior of the United States.” He would also end the harmful “catch-and-release” policy and return all criminal aliens to their home countries. To protect American lives, he would seek to defund dangerous sanctuary city jurisdictions by “cutting off federal grants to any city which refuses to cooperate with federal law enforcement.” Regarding workplace enforcement, Trump would institute nationwide E-Verify to “protect jobs for unemployed Americans.” Finally, he would institute enhanced penalties for overstaying a visa and ensure completion of a visa tracking system.

Benefits to Illegal Aliens

Granting benefits to illegal aliens uses taxpayer dollars to reward illegal behavior and only serves to encourage more illegal immigration. With the exception of emergency medical care, illegal aliens are ineligible for most federally administered benefits. However, the Obama Administration’s deferred action and parole policies have made those illegal aliens eligible for taxpayer-funded benefits such as Social Security and Medicare.

Clinton has repeatedly said that she supports giving Obamacare to illegal immigrants. She has said that we need to “expand access to affordable health care to all families regardless of immigration status. Illegal aliens should be able to buy into the Obamacare Act exchanges.” Furthermore, DAPA and the expansion of DACA reward illegal aliens with Social Security Numbers, making them eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, unemployment benefits, Social Security benefits, and Medicare.

According to Trump, “the costs [of illegal immigration] for the United States have been extraordinary: U.S. taxpayers have been asked to pick up hundreds of billions in healthcare costs, housing costs, education costs, welfare costs, etc.” In his plan, Trump stresses the importance of a border wall in reducing the financial burden of illegal immigration on taxpayers. “The cost of building a permanent border wall pales mightily in comparison to what American taxpayers spend every single year on dealing with the fallout of illegal immigration on their communities, schools and unemployment offices,” he says. Trump goes on to say that he will readily “accept the recommendation of the Inspector General for Tax Administration and eliminating tax credit payments” to illegal aliens. Additionally, Trump pledges to end welfare abuse by legal immigrants, requiring them “to certify that they can pay for their own housing, healthcare, and other needs before coming to the U.S.”


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