Will Trump Really Clear Up All The Unknowns About His Immigration Plan?

It’s been a long time coming, but Wednesday Donald Trump’s campaign is promising the candidate will unveil a new and detailed immigration plan that will clarify a year of flip-flops, ambiguity and policies that even many in his own party dismissed on their face as unserious.

What we know is that Trump plans to continue talking about his border wall, as well as ending sanctuary cities, but there are still big blanks to fill in including the very serious question of what Trump plans to do with the estimated 11 million immigrants still living in this country illegally.

In recent days, Trump’s surrogates have remained vague about what Trump will actually say. Asked repeatedly if Trump will continue to continue to promote his deportation force in Wednesday’s speech, his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told Bloomberg Monday that Trump “has not talked about that in a very long time,” but that voters will have to wait until the speech to know for sure.

Some early reporting indicates that we might not get much clarity at all from the much-hyped speech. CNN’s Jim Acosta reported that a senior aide told him that Trump plans to secure the border now and postpone conversations about what to do beyond that for a few years.

But, let’s pretend for a second that Trump is indeed going to fill in the blanks. Here is what you will want to be watching for.

Will Trump Deport The 11 Million Immigrants Already Here?

Donald Trump’s insistence that he would remove 11 million immigrants living in the shadows was a major part of his appeal during the Republican Primary. Using a “deportation force,” Trump insisted he would be able to replicate President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1954 program “Operation Wetback” even when fellow Republicans blasted that position as untenable.

In recent days, however, Trump’s plan for a “deportation force” seems to be in flux, as does his overall plan for what to do with the existing undocumented population. The reality is there are few concrete options available to lawmakers when they really get down to it. These are millions of who have been in the United States for a long time –people with U.S.-born kids, people contributing to the economy. The cost of removing them has been estimated to be between $400 and $600 billion and could send millions of U.S.-born kids into foster care and leave industries like agriculture without workers. Even Republicans on Capitol Hill who support Trump have dismissed mass deportation as an “impossibility.”

During a meeting with Hispanic leaders just more than a week ago, it was reported that Trump was considering allowing immigrants to earn legalization if they paid back taxes and got right with the law.

“We work with them,” Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity after the meeting on Aug. 24, a shocking statement given Trump’s entire campaign.

But a day later, Trump backtracked once again and told CNN that “there is no path to legalization unless they leave the country and come back.” By Saturday, Trump said he would deport “criminal illegal immigrants” within the first hour of being sworn in as president.

So, what is he going to do with 11 million immigrants? If Trump demands they all leave before they can earn a path to legalization or ultimately citizenship, then he will need to answer how he is going to ensure they actually leave the country. Who is rounding them up? How will he transport them? What will become of their U.S.-born children? If he promises to give undocumented immigrants already here a chance at legalization without returning to their home countries, then Trump will be presenting a plan that is no different than those Sen. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush pushed in the primary. In fact, that plan isn’t much different than the one President Barack Obama signed in an executive order in 2014.

Is Trump Going To Support Legalization or Citizenship?

Let’s say that Trump declares that he is going to support a path to legalization for immigrants in the country illegally, the conditions of that legalization are worth paying attention to.

Legalization means a lot of things. It can be the end of the road or a stepping stone to eventual citizenship. In the Senate’s 2013 bill, undocumented immigrants were able to attain green cards (legalization) and while they were not made citizens overnight, after a period of time and after the border was secured, they were eligible to apply for citizenship. If Trump says he supports legalization, a natural question is whether he would be open to allowing those immigrants to eventually earn citizenship if they wanted it.

But legalization could also be just that, legalization. Some Republicans, have tried to make legalization the end game for undocumented immigrants. During the Senate’s immigration debate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) offered an amendment to the Senate bill that would have barred legalized immigrants from applying for citizenship at all.

What Becomes Of Trump’s (Invisible) Wall?

Trump’s big, beautiful border wall, which he insisted would be financed by Mexico, became an early symbol of his bluster and rejection of the traditional rules of politics. It also catapulted him to the front of the Republican primary. No estimate of how costly such a barrier would be could deter Trump from promising he’d get the job done. The Republican Party included the wall in its 2016 platform, but Wednesday it will be key to watch if Trump is still insisting on it in the same way he did early in his campaign.

The wall is a place where Trump can serve up the immigration red meat to his base, but it too has been clouded in ambiguity throughout his campaign.

Back in May, one of Trump’s top surrogates Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) told the Buffalo News that he had always imagined Trump’s physical barrier was always more of a “virtual wall.” If Trump says the phrase “virtual wall” Wednesday that would be a major reversal.

What we do know is that Trump plans to embrace other enforcement mechanisms within the United States. Trump has talked about expanding E-verify, a program which requires employers to verify the immigration status of workers. He also has said he wants to better track immigrants coming in and out of the country. Both of those ideas are widely embraced by Republicans and Democrats. They also were both part of the Senate’s immigration bill.

What Will Trump Do To Actually Fix The Broken Immigration System?

It gets less attention than the highly polarized issues of border security and legalization, but what a candidate will do to actually reform the visa systems that the U.S. already has in place, will have a major impact on the candidate’s ability to actually curb the flow of illegal immigration in the future (failing to do this is partly why Reagan’s immigration reforms gave way to a rise in illegal immigration in the 1990s.)

The country has several visa programs, including one for high-skilled workers, farm workers and seasonal workers, but it does not have a program for year-round work for less-skilled workers. Immigration experts argue that has been one of the key drivers for illegal immigration. Without family in the U.S. or a lesser-skilled worker visa to apply for, there are few opportunities for individuals to come into the United States legally. Revising the visa system in the United States remains crucial and yet it is one of the most tedious and complicated pieces of immigration reform.

A border wall can only do so much. An estimated 40 percent of undocumented immigrants never walked across a border. They overstayed visas. If Trump is serious about immigration reform, he’ll talk about that.

Beware Of The Word Amnesty

Trump is probably going to attack Hillary Clinton’s immigration plan on Wednesday. It’s a political speech, after all. But beware of his use of the word “amnesty.” It’s an intellectually lazy word that has evolved to have negative connotations.

“Amnesty,” is pretty subjective. During the 2013 immigration debate, the word was often used to describe the Senate’s immigration bill, which hardly gave undocumented immigrants a free pass to stay in the country. The Senate bill required undocumented immigrants to pay back taxes and they had to show they had no criminal record, but a few of the right people slapped the word amnesty on the plan and behold, the conservative wing of the party cued a collective freakout.

Trump himself, accused Bush and Rubio of supporting amnesty. Heck, he even accused Cruz – who had tried to stop the immigration bill in its tracks– of supporting amnesty.

Amnesty, in other words, doesn’t mean a darn thing.

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