Donald Trump and Amnesty

Alexander J. Segal's picture

Introduction: Donald Trump's Immigration Plan — Part One

Donald Trump's rise to the top of the Republican polls — where he sits with less than a week remaining before the first votes are cast — has been punctuated by his incoherent and inhumane immigration proposals. While I am loath to give Trump more attention than he already has, I will use my perspective as an immigration attorney and a Republican primary voter to analyze Trump's immigration platform. For this post, I will explain how Trump effectively supports immigration amnesty simultaneously with his proposal for mass deportation. Furthermore, I will look at how his views on how to handle people who are here illegally have shifted dramatically within the past five years. In the next post, I will analyze — as seriously as one can do so — the immigration “proposal” that is offered on Trump's campaign website.

Mass Deportations and… Amnesty?

Back in November, I said the following about Trump's immigration policies in my Presidential Candidate Profile [see blog] about him [see blog]:

I am not a fan of amnesty or policies that encourage illegal immigration, but I am no more a fan of ridiculous schemes that would indiscriminately tear families apart and make my entire party look like a refuge for bigots and wingnuts.

I am no more of a fan of amnesty and mass deportation schemes now than I was in November. However, Trump may in fact manage to support the worst of all possible worlds. Here is an interesting passage from the mouth of Donald Trump himself in the November 11 Republican debate:

[W]e're a country of laws. We either have a country or we don't have a country. We are a country of laws. Going to have to go out and they will come back but they are going to have to go out and hopefully they get back.1

If we are to take this as Trump's position, he simultaneously supports mass deportation and amnesty. In essence, Trump is advocating for a massive roundup of people staying in the United States illegally, only to subsequently welcome these same people back into the country. Trump supports amnesty as well as mass deportation. Was this a one-time proposal? Not quite. Here is Trump in the September 16 Republican debate:

We have a country of laws, they're going to go out, and they'll come back if they deserve to come back.

On one hand, the indiscriminate mass deportation of 11 million people is as implausible as it is inhumane. On the other hand, instantly granting lawful status and a path to citizenship without first addressing the myriad flaws in our immigration system simply perpetuates the same problem that we have now. In general, politicians will get only one of these things wrong. Trump somehow manages to get both wrong. First he would launch an absurd and amoral effort to deport people en masse. But then he would let the majority back into the country with lawful status. I would hope that even the most devoted Trump supporter could at least concede that it seems odd to invest substantial resources into a mass deportation scheme if the next step is inviting most of the same people who were deported back into the country.

However, let us not be too confident that this would be Trump's position as President. Within weeks of President Obama winning reelection in 2012, Donald Trump had this to say about Mitt Romney's comparatively mild immigration proposals:

[Romney] had a crazy policy of self-deportation which was maniacal. It sounded as bad as it was, and he lost all of the Latino vote…2

Unless we are to believe that Trump believed Romney's policy was “maniacal” because it relied on self-deportation rather than a massive roundup by immigration authorities, he seems to have changed quite a bit in just over three years. Trump's position on immigration has changed rapidly even by the standards of flexible politicians.

I do not want to be unfair and go back to very ancient history, but let us go back just one more year to 2011 where Trump answered a question from Bill O'Reilly about what to do with the people who are here illegally:

[I]t's hard to generalize, but you're going to have to look at the individual people see how they've done … and then make a decision.3

To recap, in just over four years, Donald Trump has apparently gone from believing that deportations should be decided on a case-by-case basis and that Romney's immigration proposals were “maniacal” to now supporting mass deportation combined with amnesty for the people who are deported.

Conclusion: Trump Supports Amnesty… For Now

I would forgive anyone who is more confused about Trump's positions now than before reading this post.

With regard to issues Trump has “evolved” on in general, he made an interesting comparison:

What I say to people is this, Ronald Reagan; he was a somewhat liberal Democrat and over the years he evolved and became a fairly conservative — not overly — but fairly conservative Republican. Now, he became a great president also.4

I agree with Trump… that Ronald Reagan was a great President. I will have to dissent from the rest of the quote insofar as he thinks it helps his cause. It is true that until 1962, Reagan was a Democrat. However, by the time voters chose him as President, Reagan had been a Republican for 18 years. Between his two terms as Governor of California and his 1976 Presidential campaign, Reagan established a clear and consistent political philosophy. To be clear, in the 1980 Republican Primaries, no one was unsure about where Ronald Reagan stood.

Trump, who is not even a conservative right now, is asking people to believe that his so-called evolution to his current terrible positions is akin to the evolution of one the political evolution of one of our greatest Presidents. Reagan was a reasonable man and a patriot who not only evolved, but put his beliefs in action for the betterment of his country. Trump is a narcissistic celebrity whose stated views only become stranger and more outrageous the closer we get to the election. Furthermore, Trump is not only having to explain the vastly different positions he took on immigration and other issues 17 years ago, but also positions that he took during the last presidential election season.

If my fellow Republican Primary voters make the catastrophic mistake of nominating Trump and then subsequently help send him to the White House, I hope that it turns out his current immigration proposals are insincere. It is a minor accomplishment that one man could get so much so wrong. However, I hope that his supporters take a step back and actually think about what he is offering. When placed even under light scrutiny, Trump's immigration proposals should be nearly as troubling to those inclined toward so-called “mass deportation” as they are to those of us looking for reasonable immigration reform. Giving Trump's positions light scrutiny is the least that voters who are selecting the standard-bearer for the Republican Party for President of the United States can do.


  1. “Transcript: Read the Full Text of the Fourth Republican Debate in Milwaukee,” Time, (Nov. 11, 2015), available at (link)
  2. Kessler, Ronald, “Donald Trump: Mean-Spirited GOP Won't Win Elections,” Newsmax, (Nov. 26, 2012), available at [link]
  3. Wolf, Leon, “Watch Donald Trump Say There are Jobs Americans Won't Do, Make the Case for Partial Amnesty (VIDEO),” Red State, (Jan 19, 2016), available at [link]
  4. Elliott, Tom, “Trump on National Review: Ronald Reagan Wasn't 'Overly Conservative,' Either,” NRO The Corner, (Jan 24, 2016), available at [link]
Donald Trump and Amnesty