November 4, 2015

PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS: A Year Out: Immigration Issues Leading the Debate

By Tim Linden


Largely because of Donald Trump’s surprising lead in the polls and his brash comments about Mexicans, the issue of immigration has been front and center in the early debates for the 2016 presidential election.

Though the agricultural community—Western Growers in particular—has been fighting for immigration reform to be dealt with for many years, this latest attention is not really what the industry has had in mind.  Many of the candidates have been trying to out-trump Trump by talking tough and continually emphasizing border security.  Rather than thoughtfully suggesting solutions to the two most important issues—America’s falsely-documented working class and the continuing need for immigrant labor—most of the rhetoric are sound bites urging an unrealistic kick-them-out philosophy.

With several months before the first primaries and one year until the general election, we present here the views of those running for the highest office in the land.  On the Democrat side, we have limited participation to the top two announced candidates—Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.  On the Republican side, we limited participation to the top contenders, according to a compilation of polls on Oct. 11.  We arbitrarily put the cut-off line at 3 percent, which meant seven contenders qualified, listed here with their poll numbers in parenthesis:  Donald Trump (23.7%), Ben Carson (18.4), Marco Rubio (9.9), Carly Fiorina (8.9), Jeb Bush (7.1), Ted Cruz (6.7) and John Kasisch (3.3).

In presenting each candidate’s views on immigration reform, what to do with undocumented people currently in the United States, border security and a guest worker program, we tried to use their own words, taken from their official websites, published interviews, bylined columns or YouTube sound bites.

We suspect that movement on this issue will change over time, especially when the two parties pick their nominees and those two standard-bearers do the normal dance moving toward the middle to appeal to more voters.  This information represents our best summarization of where the candidates stand one year out on the most important issue for production agriculture.




Donald Trump

Trump has been talking about immigration with several inflammatory statements since he first began campaigning.  His website articulates his viewpoints.

The three core principles of Trump’s immigration plan from his website

1. A nation without borders is not a nation.  There must be a wall across the southern border.

2. A nation without laws is not a nation.  Laws passed in accordance with our constitutional system of government must be enforced.

3. A nation that does not serve its own citizens is not a nation.  Any immigration plan must improve jobs, wages and security for all Americans.

Trump believes Mexico should pay for building the wall.  He said the flow of Mexicans into the United States has been a very costly endeavor with U.S. taxpayers picking up the tab on hundreds of billions of dollars in healthcare costs, housing costs, education costs, welfare costs, etc.  He believes the impact on unemployment and crime has been very significant.  “In short, the Mexican government has taken the United States to the cleaners.  They are responsible for this problem, and they must help pay to clean it up,” he writes on his website.  “Mexico must pay for the wall and, until they do, the United States will, among other things: impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages; increase fees on all temporary visas issued to Mexican CEOs and diplomats (and if necessary cancel them); increase fees on all border crossing cards …and increase fees at ports of entry to the United States from Mexico.”

He also calls for the tripling of the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices, nationwide E-Verify, and the ending of birthright citizenship.  He believes the influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans to earn a middle class wage.

Trump advocates increasing the prevailing wage for H-1Bs, but believes applications for foreign workers should be mailed to unemployment offices so that Americans can be hired first.  “Before any new green cards are issued to foreign workers abroad, there will be a pause where employers will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers.  This will help reverse women’s plummeting workplace participation rate, grow wages, and allow record immigration levels to subside to more moderate historical averages.”


Ben Carson

He has seven issues that he expounds upon on his website but none of them are immigration reform.  He did byline an article on the subject in the National Review in Nov. of 2014, which forms the basis for this review.

“We have all heard it said many times that America is a land of immigrants—some voluntary and some involuntary, but immigrants nevertheless.  We have plenty of space in our country, but insufficient resources to support everyone who wants to come here…

“It is time for Congress to act, and to do so in a bipartisan fashion that engenders the confidence of the American people.  There are many common-sense prescriptions within reach of our government.  It is time to seize them…

“Right now, we have very porous borders and unenthusiastic and inconsistent enforcement of immigration laws.  Further incentives for illegal immigration are easy enrollment in public schools, easy employment for those willing to take jobs others don’t want, easy access to health care and easy acquisition of public support through welfare programs.  Yet this population cannot participate in the formal workforce, which means they cannot contribute fully to their local economies.  Any discussion of immigration reform should include bipartisan solutions that both address the undocumented population here today and discourage illegal immigration going forward…

“A national guest-worker program makes sense and seems to work well in Canada. Non-citizens would have to apply for a guest-worker permit and have a guaranteed job awaiting them.  Taxes would be paid at a rate commensurate with other U.S. workers, and special visas would allow for easy entry and egress across borders.  Guest-worker status would be granted to individuals and not to groups.  People already here illegally could apply for guest-worker status from outside of the country.  This means they would have to leave first.  They should in no way be rewarded for having broken our laws, but if they are wise, they will arrange with their employer before they leave to immediately offer them a legal job as soon as their application is received.  When they return, they still would not be U.S. citizens, but they would be legal, and they would be paying taxes.  Only jobs that are vacant as a result of a lack of interest by American citizens should be eligible for the guest-worker program.  In return for greater certainty on immigration, employers must bear some responsibility for making sure that no illegal immigrants are hired.  Employers who break the rules should receive swift, severe, and consistent punishment that constitutes a real deterrent and not a mere inconvenience.  A second infraction should be a criminal offense and treated as such…

“We must create a system that disincentivizes illegal immigration and upholds the rule of law while providing us with a steady stream of immigrants from other nations who will strengthen our society.  Let’s solve the problem and stop playing political football.”


Sen. Marco Rubio

Sen. Rubio has been identified with the issue for many years in Congress.  He co-authored a Senate bill on the subject and has talked about immigration reform in many interviews, which are mostly quoted from here.

Often Sen. Rubio has said he supports comprehensive reform, but believes it will have to be accomplished through individual bills instead of a larger legislative package, noting “the votes aren’t there” for the comprehensive approach.

Rubio has said that the United States has to deal with immigration.  “We have a broken enforcement system on immigration.  We have a legal immigration system that’s outdated and needs to be modernized so we can win the global competition for talent.  We have millions of people living in this country illegally, many of whom have been here for a decade or longer.  We need to find a reasonable but responsible way of incorporating them into American life.  Last year we tried to do that through a one-size-fits-all comprehensive approach; it didn’t work.”

He believes the situation on the border is “unsustainable.”

Rubio believes in strict border security and a universal E-Verify system.  He also believes the entry/exit tracking system needs to be overhauled “because 40 percent of illegal immigrants are people that came legally and they overstayed.”

He believes that illegal residents should be forced to leave the country and apply for legal status through legal channels.  Rubio’s Senate bill did support a guest worker program for agriculture.

In a 2014 speech to a Hispanic group, he said: “The people who are against illegal immigration and make that the core of their argument view it only as a law and order issue.  But we know it’s much more than that.  Yes, it is a law and order issue, but it’s also a human issue.  These are real people.  These are human beings who have children, and hopes and dreams.  These are people that are doing what virtually any of us would do if our children were hungry, if their countries were dangerous, if they had no hope for their future.”

In his book, he argued that English is the de facto official language and the United States should recognize that as its official language.  He argued that “knowledge of English is necessary to the economic progress and social assimilation.”


Carly Fiorina

Fiorina’s campaign website does contain several statements on the immigration issue, but she has not talked extensively about the subject.

Fiorina emphasizes the need to secure the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada.  “It’s not rocket science to do it, we just haven’t done it, northern borders and southern borders.  I think we need to fix the legal immigration system, which has been broken for decades, under both Republicans and Democrats.  You know we talk about it but somehow it never gets done.”

She is opposed to giving citizenship to those who have come to the United States illegally.  “My own view is, if you have come here illegally and stayed here illegally, that you don’t get a pass to citizenship.”

On further questioning, she said “Well, I think legal status is a possibility for sure.  I think their children maybe can become citizens.  But my own view is, it isn’t fair to say to people who have played by the rules—and it takes a long time to play by the rules—that, you know, it just doesn’t matter.”

She believes the use of technology is superior to building a wall to curb illegal immigration.

With regard to a guest worker program, she has said it must be crafted “intelligently” and she has admitted using H-1B when she was CEO of Hewlett Packard, however, she has no position statement on the subject.



Bush has long been identified as the Republican candidate that is most moderate on the immigration issue.  In this campaign season, Bush has reiterated his belief in immigration reform, saying that his plan “also includes a path to legal status.”

He has noted his differences on this subject to many within the Republican Party.  Though he prioritizes security along the nation’s border, he believes the GOP could also broker an agreement on other immigration reform possibilities, including some path to legal status for the 11 million people already here.  “Let’s do it.  Let’s control the border.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  There’s nothing that holds back the Republicans from putting a comprehensive plan in place to do it,” he has said.

He recently was in South Texas talking about the issue: “I spent time with local civic, law enforcement and political leaders in the border communities near McAllen, Texas.  It was a good discussion and I learned a great deal about the challenges they face.  On the border, people know firsthand the realities of our broken immigration system.”

He noted that he was opposed to any idea (put forth by other candidates) that boils down to the “mass deportation of 11 million people at a cost of as much as $600 billion, massive new federal powers to step on the civil liberties of ordinary Americans, and a border plan that could be best described as a fantasy.”

He continued:  “That plan is not something a small-government conservative would put forward.  It requires the federal government to manage the exorbitantly expensive mass deportation of millions of people.  It also requires a massive public works project unlike anything we’ve seen since the construction of the Hoover Dam.”

He also said he was opposed to plans that would “punish legal trade and commerce between the U.S. and Mexico” which he believes “would devastate border cities” that depend on that trade.

Bush has authored a book titled “Immigration Reform: Forging an American Solution.”  He says the book “relies on a different way of thinking. I rely on insights from people who live on the borders—as well as people who deal with the immigration issue in our schools, businesses and communities.”

He calls for securing the border as well as “a practical solution to the status of the 11 million people here illegally today.  We need a vigorous path to earned legal status where people are required to learn English, pay a fine and taxes, pass a criminal background check, work and not receive federal government benefits.”

Bush is generally considered a proponent of guest worker programs.



As the son of a Cuban immigrant, Sen. Cruz celebrates legal immigration, but has not shown an affinity for those who have entered the United States through non-legal channels.

His quotations on the subject include the following:  “Americans, and particularly Texans, have witnessed the harmful effects of an unsecure border, endangering the lives both of citizens and those who enter illegally.  President Obama’s policies have encouraged drug smugglers, child abusers, murderers, and other dangerous criminals to traffic immigrant children into our nation under life-threatening conditions.  In the summer of 2013 we witnessed a humanitarian crisis at our Southern Border, propelled by promises of amnesty from the White House.  Immigrants deserve a better system in which they will be welcomed to the United States safely and with dignity.”

In 2014, Sen. Cruz proposed legislation to prevent the President from expanding amnesty.  A similar bill was passed by the house of representatives but did not get through the Senate.  In 2013, Sen. Cruz proposed amendments to an immigration reform bill that would strengthen border security, expand green card opportunities, increase highly-skilled “H1B” visas, prevent illegal aliens from receiving welfare benefits, and enforce the rule of law.

When discussing guest worker programs, Sen. Cruz typically supports those involving highly-skilled technical workers without saying much about the type of guest worker program agriculture supports and needs.


John Kasich

As Governor of Ohio, Kasich has been relatively silent on immigration reform.  Ohio was one of the state’s challenging President Obama’s executive actions on immigration but he did not individually speak out on the issue.  Since announcing his run for the presidency he has clarified some of his positions.

In November 2014 at a forum for Republicans, he said, “My sense is I don’t like the idea of citizenship when people jump the line, [but] we may have to do it… Everybody in this country has to feel as though they have an opportunity.”

At one point, within the past six months, he said he would rather not offer such immigrants a path to citizenship, but noted that it needs to be an option on the table to open negotiations.  “If they’re law-abiding and they register, I think they ought to be able to stay… They may have to pay a penalty. … You don’t ditch the line … and if you do, you don’t get rewarded for it.”

He tends to argue for border security but allows that it would be virtually impossible to deport the roughly 11-12 million people without documentation currently living in the United States.  He advocates that these people pay a fine, but “I’m not for putting them on a school bus, driving them to the border, opening the door and telling them to get out.”

His most recent comments on the subject came in October at a Q&A session hosted by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.  Kasich did advocate a desire to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, but broke ranks with other GOP hopefuls on the concept of challenging birthright citizenship.  “We’re not going to change the 14th Amendment.  If you’re born here, you’re a citizen.  Period.  End of story.”

During that same meeting he also spoke about a guest worker program.  “I believe we ought to have an effective guest worker program.  I think people ought to be able to come in and work and be able to go back home.  I just don’t think you want to reward people who do the jump.”



By and large, the Democrats favor immigration reform and a path to legalization, but there are some differences.


Hillary Clinton

On her website, Clinton spells out her views on the main topics of immigration reform, which are quoted from below.

On a fair and just immigration system:  Every family should feel like they belong in this country.  Instead of breaking up law-abiding immigrant families who have enriched America for years, Hillary will offer them a path to citizenship.”

On comprehensive immigration reform: The American people support comprehensive immigration reform—not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it strengthens families, our economy, and our country.  Congress must pass comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship, treats every person with dignity, upholds the rule of law, protects our borders and national security, and brings millions of hardworking people into the formal economy.”

On defending executive actions: Hillary will defend President Obama’s executive actions on immigration from partisan attacks that would put DREAMers at risk of deportation.  And if Congress continues to refuse to act, she will do everything possible under the law to go further.  She will put in place a simple, straightforward, accessible way for parents of DREAMers and others with a history of service and contribution to their communities to make their case and be eligible for the same deferred action as their children.”

On conducting humane, common-sense enforcement:  Immigration enforcement must be more humane, more targeted, and more effective.  We will focus our limited resources on those individuals who pose a violent threat to public safety.  Hillary will also phase out private immigrant detention centers.”

There is no mention of her stance on a guest worker program, but she broached the subject when running for the presidency in 2008.  At that time, she was opposed to a general guest worker program but supported carving out a “special program” for agriculture.  She defended that position stating: “This is a sector of the economy that over decades has been demonstrated to be very difficult to attract legal workers.  That is not true yet in the hotel industry and the hospitality industry.  So I would like to solve what is clearly a shortage-of-labor problem in the agricultural sector.  I’d like to see it be a part of comprehensive immigration reform.  In the absence of that, what’s happening is that farmers in California are starting to move their production facilities to Mexico and Latin American.  It’s going to be a lose-lose for us if we don’t get that agricultural problem fixed.”



Senator Sanders was criticized early after his announced candidacy for not having an immigration reform policy.  He has since clarified his views on the topic.

He has announced that as President, he would push for immigration reform and go even further than President Barack Obama in expanding deportation relief.  As President he would use executive action to give deportation relief to the parents of U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and so-called Dreamers.

“Despite the central role that undocumented workers play in our economy and in our daily lives, these workers are too often reviled by many for political gain and shunted into the shadows.  Let me be very clear as to where I stand.  It is time for this disgraceful situation to end.”

Sanders did support the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013, as well as the never-passed Dream Act to provide legal status to undocumented young people who came to the United States as children.

Sanders is not a fan of guest worker programs, as he has said they could cost Americans their jobs and lead to lower wages.

In this discussion, he has focused on the exploitation of immigrants who “have been routinely cheated out of wages, held virtually captive by employers who have seized their documents, forced to live in unspeakably inhumane conditions and denied medical benefits for on-the-job injuries.”

Sanders has also said that another of his priorities is to ensure that workers are not exploited by employers who think their undocumented status will prevent them from speaking out.

Sanders is strongly in favor of legalization and citizenship for the current unauthorized immigrant population, which will raise wages and lift labor standards for all workers, and he’s against expanding U.S. temporary foreign worker programs, which he believes allow employers to exploit and underpay so-called guest workers.

It is Sanders’ strong advocacy of workers’ rights that clearly drives his views on immigration reform.  He believes that having eight million people working in the U.S. labor market without labor and employment rights puts downward pressure on the wages and working conditions of all workers.  His desire for legalization of the unauthorized population is consistent with his broader view that wages for workers in the United States should be higher.