How Immigration is Shaping Up as a 2016 Campaign Issue

Microphones at the podiumMany Republican candidates in Thursday night’s debates have shifted positions markedly to the “better controls” position on immigration of late – although John Kasich is still hard to pin down. Bush has moved toward a “border security” first position. Rubio mentioned E-verify prominently and an entry-exit system, along with the tough sounding remark that “we are being taken advantage of….” His positions are markedly different than when he was a lead sponsor of the “Gang of 8” bill in 2013. Walker explained his position as an evolution toward border security – he “heard America” – and a professed concern for making U.S. working families a priority. Cruz is always tough, though he confined his comments primarily to discussing the need to outlaw so-called “sanctuary cities” and he still misses the issue of labor displacement in his analysis. (Cruz admonished that the United States does “not want to enforce the law” because of special interest pressure and this provided an unusually candid analysis of why it’s so hard to get things done.)

In contrast to Cruz, Santorum earlier in the day also made a robust defense of the American worker and the need to cut immigration. Both he and Scott Walker are invoking the national interest in labor integrity with greater frequency.

Bush continues to insist more immigration is an essential component in job creation. And here is the emerging divide that bears watching. Can Bush continue to traffic in the age-old bromide that without mass immigration there will be no job creation? In 1980, Ronald Reagan said “We always with normal growth and increase in population increase the number of jobs.” But what we are doing is not normal. The always conservative Census Bureau projects we will have 90 million more people in just 45 years. Population growth will happen even with steep reductions in annual immigration owing to natural increase and the impact of four decades of historic highs. Can Bush sustain his position that more immigration is essential and make it through the primaries?

Why so much attention to immigration – one of the big issues in these debates? Is all this due to Donald Trump’s role in the race? He wants to “build a wall” but make a big, open door in the wall. He doesn’t tell us what that means. Credit Trump for elevating an issue that the Bush-wing of the Party wanted to minimize this election cycle. They might be talking about it without Trump, but Trump has certainly forced the rest of the field to stake out more concrete positions that they might otherwise have avoided; he brought it out front. But is something deeper happening?

Are we beginning to see a wholesale rethinking of immigration’s role in America’s future? The answer is yes. It is rooted in concern about labor competition, overcrowding, water, assimilation and related a well-placed fear that the Obama Administration has let the borders spin out of control at a time when America faces growing external threats.

Missing from the campaign discourse, however, is still a real understanding of how, at its core, the United States has let lapse its ability to manage, control and choose the levels and criteria governing overall immigration. The Obama Administration has refused to reduce immigration to match the actual labor and financial conditions of the country. No future chief executive can succeed unless immigration limits and controls are properly restored. Deep down, the American people are beginning to recognize the lack of any definable public interest in our immigration policies. All that is needed now is a messenger who can articulate the vision.

avatar About Dan Stein

Dan is FAIR's President after joining the organization in 1982. He has testified more than 50 times before Congress, and been cited in the media as "America's best known immigration reformer." Dan has appeared on virtually every significant TV and radio news/talk program in America and, in addition to being a contributing editor to, has contributed commentaries to a vast number of print media outlets.


  1. avatar Cici says:

    Until Republicans get a divorce from the religious right, they’re in trouble in other issues. Re gays, it all boils down to the fact that two people of the same gender, having sex together, are not harming anyone. They don’t deserve to be discriminated against in jobs, housing, or anywhere else. It’s way past the time when we need to get past it, and deal with vital issues like the huge damage of mass immigration and overpopulation worldwide.

  2. Japan is the Biggest Debtor Nation in the World

    Unlike Greece and America, they owe the money to Japanese investors. We don’t have that debt protection.

  3. avatar SecBorders says:

    Notice not one question in the debates about how we will increase our country’s population by 90 million more people in 45 years if current trends continue. What can affect all aspects of life in the United States more that increasing its population by this huge amount. Why aren’t the candidates in both parties discussing this issue and whether we want to do this to our country, instead of just pretending it isn’t happening. I would bet that no other serious major industrialized country would increase their population through mass immigration by such a huge amount without first considering the horrific damage it would do to their nation.

  4. avatar Unicorn73 says:

    The mode of questioning where they tailored questions to the individual,candidates history made it difficult to compare positions. Some candidates like Trump wound up in a steady defensive posture with inadequate time to state their positions on the various issues. Sure it was entertaining, but that is not what debates are for. For us citizens, this was not a good debate to get a handle on who is the better candidate. Too many candidates and a mishmash of questions. The earlier second tier candidates debate was better.

  5. avatar Richard A. says:

    We have a growing guest worker problem. This needs to be debated out in the open.

  6. avatar Leland says:

    Paul A. Reyes wrote this in an article for “It is wrong to attack sanctuary cities because their policies actually make our cities and towns safer”.

    Huh? Tell that to the family of Kate Steinle, who was murdered in front of her father in San Francisco. Or the many many others who are the victims of crimes by illegals. Her attacker, five times deported Juan Lopez-Sanchez, admitted that he wanted to be in San Francisco because he knew it was a sanctuary city.

    And then Reyes, who must do stand up in his spare time, says: “It might surprise people to know that sanctuary cities do not provide a haven for immigrants who are here illegally.” ???? Yeah, that would be a surprise, because it’s a flat falsehood.

  7. avatar B34R51 says:

    Where did the Donald go in your caricature of candidates? If he’s in here it’s a crappy job. Also a very poor job on Governor Huckabee. Poorly done altogether, L would expect this from someone at a Country or State Fair not from a syndicated cartoonist. “Piss poor.”

  8. avatar steve henderson says:

    Several things i did not here was what physical improvements they would make to process “legal Immigration” applicants,where the money went for a biometric entry/exit visa control system was at ? and lastly will any of them go after any past DHS employee at any level for allowing any and all violations under the following laws that are inclue in this site

    Thanks for all you do…I regret living a very fixed income i can’t do anything but to share and repost the information you publish ..thanking you in advance

    steve henderson
    winston salem,nc


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