Sparks started flying the moment Donald Trump came careening out of the starting gate of the Republican Presidential Race as he stepped in it with the following comment:
“The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. … When Mexico sends its people, they’re … sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Despite the howl of protests about what many considered to be his offensive insults aimed at illegal Mexican immigrants, he doubled down. On July 4th, 2015, Fox News reported:
“Republican presidential candidate and real estate mogul Donald Trump on Saturday stood by statements he made recently that too many illegal immigrants from Mexico are criminals but said he was surprised by the backlash and that his comments are causing financial concerns.”
Surprisingly, even as a cascade of major sponsors came forward to condemn Trump for his incendiary comments and withdraw their endorsements, the latest political polls showed Trump leading the Republican race.
Admittedly, what Trump said about illegal Mexican immigration is not completely groundless. For one thing, the recent senseless murder of Kate Steinle, a young woman walking along a street in San Francisco, by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an illegal Mexican immigrant, could be cited as one clear example of Trump’s contentions. The repeat felon, had been previously deported five times to Mexico. After being arrested once again, he was released because U.S. prison officials would not keep him in custody until he could be turned over to ICE immigration enforcement officers for yet another deportation. But that was just one illegal Mexican immigrant.
Yes, it is true that the majority of illegal immigrants in the United States are from Mexico – of some 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, almost 6 million are from Mexico.
“Immigrants in general — unauthorized immigrants in particular — are a self-selected group who generally come to the U.S. to work. And once they’re here, most of them want to keep their nose down and do their business, and they’re sensitive to the fact that they’re vulnerable.”
That was the conclusion of Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute, that studied the facts related to Trump’s assertions.
In his fact checker article Washington Post writer Michelle Ye Hee Lee concluded that:
“Trump’s repeated statements about immigrants and crime underscore a common public perception that crime is correlated with immigration, especially illegal immigration. But that is a misperception; no solid data support it, and the data that do exist negate it. Trump can defend himself all he wants, but the facts just are not there.”
Part of the problem with Trump is his almost complete absence of humility. His celebrity status was gained in part by this unflagging bravado and his willingness to adopt extreme positions in the face of reality. Extremes like his challenge to President Obama’s place of birth and now this debate over illegal Mexican immigrants, win him notoriety and thus make him a likely participant in the upcoming Republican Presidential televised debate. The risk is, however, that he could derail the Republican bid for the White House if his sideshow overtakes the main event. As one commentator put it:
“Republican leaders … fear serious damage: “that Trump will make the party brand completely toxic to latinos; that angry white males will revolt at any attempt to marginalise Trump; or, the doomsday scenario, that Trump will break away to run on a third-party ballot and split the conservative vote, just as Ross Perot fatally weakened George HW Bush against Bill Clinton in 1992.
In that regard, Trump has refused to rule out a third party run. So far, as journalist Jeb Lund in his article in The Guardian has pointed out, the tepid response of other Republican candidates led Lund to conclude that Trump’s comments were really GOP orthodoxy, only in a cruder shell. However, now that Trump leads the race, he presents his opponents with an opportunity to make some progress on their way to the White House. They could challenge his attacks on Mexicans by redirecting the debate into a discussion about immigration reform. They could argue that Trump’s focus on enforcement is not enough. They could point out that the U.S. must deal with the reality of 11 million illegal immigrants. They can make the point that deporting 11 million people is simply not realistic. Instead, they can argue that what is needed is a way for those illegal immigrants to make amends for their past wrongs so that they can earn the right to stay. They can argue that a new American immigration policy should have realistic rules that would reward those who abide by the law and punish those who don’t. They can argue that Trump’s focus on enforcement alone, is therefore, a voyage to the bottom of the sea.
Now those kinds of sparks would indeed make the Republican contest interesting.