Trump's immigration speech: Illegals must leave the U.S. for legal status, but we'll figure out what to do with those who remain later

It wasn’t Churchill, but if you’re a border hawk there’s little more you could have wanted from last night’s speech than what you got. It was almost pure Grade-A red meat. Build a wall, end catch-and-release, block funding for sanctuary cities, implement biometric visa tracking — that’s high-five material for anyone to Chuck Schumer’s right on border enforcement. Even the big-picture stuff was good. Whatever else nationalists and conservatives disagree on, they should be able to agree on this:

Immigration reform should mean something else entirely: it should mean improvements to our laws and policies to make life better for American citizens

For instance, we have to listen to the concerns that working people have over the record pace of immigration and its impact on their jobs, wages, housing, schools, tax bills, and living conditions. These are valid concerns, expressed by decent and patriotic citizens from all backgrounds.

We also have to be honest about the fact that not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate. It is our right as a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish here.

American immigration policy should benefit Americans, not immigrants, first and foremost. That won’t answer every amnesty fan’s objections — the left and libertarian right will tell you that more immigration is always better for Americans — but it’ll answer the ones whose grasp of the topic doesn’t run much deeper than memorizing a few lines of Emma Lazarus. The fact that the speech was very good overall, though, doesn’t mean that it answered the mystery that lingered before the curtain went up last night. Namely, what does Trump plan to do with the many millions of nonviolent illegals who are already here? He’s been teasing a “softening” on that for the past two weeks, once mentioning the possibility of them paying “back taxes” — a staple of amnesty proposals — and then asking Sean Hannity’s audience what he should do about sympathetic cases like a hard-working illegal with a family who’s been here for 15 years. Would he conclude that they need to go too, or would he punt on legalization until after his enforcement priorities are met?

The answer, as Byron York noticed, was somehow “yes” to both questions:

For those here today illegally who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and only one route: to return home and apply for re-entry under the rules of the new legal immigration system that I have outlined above. Those who have left to seek entry under this new system will not be awarded surplus visas, but will have to enter under the immigration caps or limits that will be established.

We will break the cycle of amnesty and illegal immigration. There will be no amnesty…

In several years, when we have accomplished all of our enforcement goals – and truly ended illegal immigration for good, including the construction of a great wall, 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 who remain. That discussion can only take place in an atmosphere in which illegal immigration is a memory of the past, allowing us to weigh the different options available based on the new circumstances at the time.

I don’t understand. If the only path to legal status is leaving the U.S. and applying for legal entry, and an illegal immigrant decides to ignore that and to stay put here in America, what possible “appropriate disposition” could there be except deportation? Trump’s basically incentivizing nonviolent illegals to defy him here by hinting that they might be allowed to stay legally even if they don’t follow his orders to self-deport.

And if that’s not confusing enough for you, here’s what he told Laura Ingraham just within the past few hours this morning:

The violent ones have to go, but as for the rest, there’s been “quite a bit of softening” and “we’ll make a decision at a later date once everything is stabilized.” Where does that leave us? Why the continued mixed messages on this? If he wants to punt on legalization and say that that topic is irrelevant until the border is secure, he could just do that. That was Chris Christie’s position during the primaries; before that, it was Ted Cruz’s position. Instead, last night he insisted that everyone who wants legal status will need to go — and then he made it ambiguous again this morning with Ingraham. Huh.

One reporter on Twitter wondered after his speech what the point was ultimately of all the “softening” blather these past two weeks: Why did Trump attempt to moderate his hardline image on immigration, only to double down on hardline enforcement last night? One possibility is that the “softening” was a trail balloon, to see if the public would tolerate him shifting decisively on amnesty, and that the trial didn’t go well. Except that … it did go well to all appearances. The only Trumper who criticized Trump publicly was Ann Coulter, and even that was tepid. She was left at one point defending him by insisting, surreally, that maybe it’d be good for America if some illegals were allowed to stay. Trump’s polls have improved a bit over the last two weeks too. If the trial balloon on “softening” failed, how exactly did it fail? Were Coulter and Ingraham screaming at Trump behind the scenes that he’d sold nationalists out? Hard to believe.

A more plausible theory is the one floated by WaPo a few days ago that Trump tends to be heavily influenced by whichever advisor was the last one to whisper in his ear on a subject. The “softening” was likely a response to the meeting he held with his Hispanic advisory council on August 20th, with several attendees pitching him on a more moderate legalization stance. The more recent un-softening probably happened after Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, and Stephen Miller began pushing back. Drew McCoy theorized last night that because Trump has no deep base of policy knowledge on immigration, his public shifts may have been little more than him inadvertently broadcasting the dispute within his own campaign. I think that’s likely right; his recent “softening” wouldn’t even be the first time a direct pitch from amnesty fans has allegedly caused him to moderate his views. Whatever the explanation, members of the Hispanic advisory council are reportedly angry, with one having already resigned over last night’s speech:

I gave Donald TRUMP a Plan that would improve border security, remove hardened criminal aliens and most importantly give work authority to the millions of honest, hardworking immigrants in the US. He rejected that tonight and so I must reject him. He was moving toward a resonable, pro business and compasionate immigration plan. Tonight he was not a Republican but a populist, modern day Father Coughlin who demonized immigrants.

He must want to lose. He can do that without me. Jacob MONTILIJO Monty

Here are two highlights from the speech via RCP. If you’re looking for the full video, that’s embedded in Larry’s post. One note in closing: According to yesterday’s Fox News poll, which had Hillary up just two points in the four-way race, voters split 77/19 in favor of setting up a system for illegals to become legal residents of the U.S. Just because I liked Trump’s speech doesn’t mean the bulk of swing voters will.