Trump on illegals: To become a citizen you'll have to leave, but if you don't want to become a citizen, we'll see

An interesting way of splitting the difference between border hawks and amnesty shills. If this ends up being the plan, though, an illegal who wants citizenship would be nuts to leave.

When asked if some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants could stay, Trump replied, “It could be but what’s going to happen is if you’re going to be a citizen, you’re going to leave and you’re going to have to come back.”

Muir followed up, asking about undocumented immigrants who did not want to become citizens of the U.S.

“They have to make a determination what happens when the border is secure,” Trump said.

“So you’re open to them staying here undocumented?” Muir asked.

“I’m going to make a decision, or somebody will. Whether it’s me or somebody else because by that time we’ll have a secure border, we’ll have a wall,” Trump said.

Imagine you’re an illegal immigrant, you’ve been here five years or so, you have a job, and you’d like to stay and eventually become a citizen. Question: Is citizenship enough of an inducement to get you to self-deport? You’ll have to quit your job, uproot your family, head back across the border, and then get on a line to gain legal admission to the United States followed many years later (as in, 10-20) by citizenship. You might be waiting years to be readmitted, too: Trump said this weekend that he doesn’t support “touchback,” so presumably anyone who leaves will be out of the country for awhile. Forced to choose between staying put here in the U.S. and heading home so that they can qualify for citizenship, the vast, vast, vast majority of illegals will decide they’re better off staying put, keeping their job, and not voting instead of leaving, losing their job, and, er, not voting. The nice thing about Trump’s plan in theory is that it forces illegals to choose between legalization and citizenship, which, if they choose the former, weakens their moral claim on the latter. If you’re looking to strengthen the argument that illegals can become permanent residents but shouldn’t be permitted full voting rights, that’s a shrewd way to do it. You’ve got a path to citizenship right now, buddy. If you don’t want to avail yourself of it, that’s your call.

Back in the real world, though, the political debate won’t play out this way. Illegals who choose to stay and forfeit their chance at citizenship will have kids, build businesses, and grow roots in their communities. The Latino population of the U.S. will also continue to grow and become a larger share of the electorate. Sooner rather than later, some who forfeited their shot at citizenship by refusing to leave will demand to know why they shouldn’t be granted citizenship anyway. Democrats, eager to solidify their hold on the growing Latino vote, will want to know that too. Republicans, panicked at the thought of alienating Latinos and becoming a perpetual minority party by forcefully opposing the citizenship push, will waver. Legalized illegals will get their citizenship in due time. Which is to say, if you’re worried about illegals eventually gaining voting rights, legalization is as much of a threat as citizenship. All Trump’s plan would do is delay the inevitable, and illegals would presumably wise up to that pretty quickly. Possession, as the saying goes, is nine-tenths of the law. You’d be nuts as an illegal immigrant to give up a fragile nascent right to remain in the U.S. legally that you currently possess (or might soon possess, even under President Trump) for the crapshoot of returning home and then playing a long game to become a citizen.

At least this helps clarify, though (I hope), what Trump really has in mind in the weeks-long game of “they have to leave”/”maybe they get to stay” that he’s been playing. The momentum appears to have shifted this weekend, perhaps decisively, back to “maybe they get to stay.” Said Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway on Sunday:

Rudy Giuliani, who rose to national fame as mayor in the 1990s as a big softie on illegals, also sees some “softening” in Trump’s position:

One question that’s still unanswered in all of this: If the nonviolent ones maybe get to stay, what does that mean for the future of E-Verify? Telling illegals they can’t work and therefore they have to self-deport is one way to go. Letting them stay and letting them work while they’re here is another way. Letting them stay and not letting them work seems designed to create welfare cases. If E-Verify does its job in driving illegals back over the border because they can’t find work, there shouldn’t be many nonviolent illegals to worry about by the time Trump is done deporting the criminals. Maybe he should make that a talking point. Or would it be too harsh for the wary moderate Republicans he’s been trying to woo?

Via the NYT, here’s a sneak preview of the coyotes’ strategy for coping with “the wall” if and when it’s ever built. Tunnels are already used extensively for drug smuggling across the border.