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What Are The Presidential Candidates' Views On Immigration?


Election Day is less than three weeks away, and we're going to spend the next few days digging into the candidates' positions on some of the key issues. We begin with immigration. It has been a consistent policy priority since Day 1 of the Trump administration.


And, indeed, President Trump continues to crack down on immigration, closing the southern border to migrants and slashing the number of foreign workers allowed into the country. But on the campaign trail, he rarely brings the topic up. Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, promises to systematically undo nearly every one of the changes Trump has made to the nation's immigration system. NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration, and he's going to give us more detail about how each man would handle immigration policy.

Hey, Joel.


CHANG: So tell us what President Trump has been saying about immigration in the closing weeks before the election.

ROSE: Well, it has come up but not as much as you might expect. Remember; immigration was one of Trump's signature issues in 2016. He kicked off his campaign five years ago talking about Mexican immigrants as rapists and rolled all the - rode all the way to the White House on chants of, build the wall. In a second term, we could expect more of the same. He's still using that kind of rhetoric, painting immigrants as a threat and a burden. Here he is talking a few weeks ago in Minnesota, which has the country's largest population of Somali refugees.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Biden will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp - and he said that - overwhelming public resources, overcrowding schools and inundating your hospitals. You know that. It's already there. It's a disgrace what they've done to your state. It's just - it's absolutely - it's a disgrace, OK?

ROSE: But that was only one line in a long speech. And often, immigration is not a major focus in his stump speeches.

CHANG: Why do you think that is?

ROSE: Well, for one thing, it's just not a burning issue for voters anymore. Polling shows that it's been overshadowed by the pandemic, by the economy and by racial inequality. There is also a theory among immigrant advocates that the Trump administration's immigration crackdown has not been popular with moderate suburban voters that he needs to win over in some crucial swing states, especially the family separation policy of a few years ago.

I talked to Marielena Hincapie, who's with the Biden campaign, who's - sorry - who's worked with the Biden campaign - excuse me. She's also the director of the National Immigration Law Center.

MARIELENA HINCAPIE: On any given day, he's still scapegoating immigrants. And most importantly, we're seeing the policies are still - anti-immigrant and xenophobic policies are still being put in place. What's different now is that his attacks don't seem to be resonating as much as they have in the past.

CHANG: Interesting - well, what about the president's most fervent supporters? I mean, what do they think of his relative silence on immigration right now?

ROSE: Well, immigration restrictionists seem a little surprised. They think the president is missing an opportunity to tout his successes here. Overall, immigration plummeted by almost half in the first three years of his presidency. And since the pandemic began, he has cracked down even more. The administration is also racing to construct hundreds of miles of border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

I talked to Dan Stein. He's the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports lower levels of immigration.

DAN STEIN: Trump, in a sense, is a victim of his own success between the travel ban and the security lockdowns and the suspension of various categories. For a lot of reasons, the immigration issue has dissipated as the administration has made these needed changes. And yet, for whatever reason, the campaign has decided not to move this issue front and center.

ROSE: Stein thinks that Trump has a great story to tell American workers about how he is protecting their jobs. But Stein is concerned because a lot of Trump's accomplishments have come through executive actions, so they could be reversed by a President Biden.

CHANG: OK, so that's President Trump's side of the immigration issue. What is former Vice President Joe Biden saying about how he would handle immigration?

ROSE: Well, he has indeed promised to undo as much as he can of Trump's immigration agenda. Biden would end the travel ban on people from majority-Muslim countries, put a 100-day moratorium on deportations and stop building Trump's border wall. Here's Biden addressing a group of Latinx elected officials.


JOE BIDEN: Trump fails to understand the basic truth of immigrants - that they're the incredible source of our nation's strength, and they always have been. On Day 1, I'm going to send Congress a bill - immigration reform. We'll focus on keeping families together. It's about families, including providing a clear road map to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.

CHANG: Wow, a roadmap to citizenship - so Biden's agenda is not just about dismantling what Trump has done.

ROSE: That's right. It's actually a very long and ambitious platform that would not only provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants here illegally, including the so-called DREAMers, but would also expand the number of visas that the U.S. issues and would end the use of for-profit immigration detention centers. In other words, Biden's agenda really has moved to the left a lot, even from the Obama platform of a few years ago. Remember; President Obama deported more than a million immigrants in his first term, far more even than President Trump. And immigration hardliners want to see Biden challenged on these positions, which they call amnesty and an invitation for more Central American migrants to flood the southern border. But so far, immigration just hasn't come up at either of the debates.

CHANG: That is NPR's Joel Rose.

Thank you, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose
Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.
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