How immigration divides Democrats, GOP

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Philadelphia — On the opening night of the Democratic National Convention Monday, delegates heard from Astrid Silva of Nevada, whose parents illegally slipped her across the U.S. border from Mexico when she was 4 years old.

Silva, 28, a so-called DREAMer after the disputed federal policy that allows children of undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States, has a compelling story as a child who grew up as an American and knows no other home, but can’t be certain she can keep hers.

A week ago in Cleveland, the Republican convention opened with an appearance on stage by mothers and other family members whose loved ones were murdered by immigrants who came to America illegally. Their stories were heartbreaking; children, brothers, fathers lost because the United States has not enforced its immigration laws.

Nothing this year demonstrates the differences between the two parties or how they are shaping their appeal to voters more than the issue of illegal immigration.

In his acceptance speech in Cleveland, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump repeated his infamous pledge to “build a great border wall” across the southern United States. “The day after I take the oath of office, Americans will finally wake up in a country where the laws of the United States are enforced,” Trump said.

Hillary Clinton, in a primary debate sponsored by Univision, the Spanish language broadcaster, said, “I would not deport children. I do not want to deport family members either.” Non-criminal undocumented workers, she added, would also not be sent back.

Immigration cuts across a number of other voter concerns, from jobs to law and order. And like so many issues, the electorate is not nearly as extreme in its views as are the two candidates.

A Pew Research Center survey last year found, for the most part, voters aren’t behind either Trump’s closed-door stance or Clinton’s open-border advocacy. What they are looking for is common-sense immigration reform, a goal that has eluded their policymakers for two decades.

For example, on mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, 72 percent of Americans polled, including a majority of Republicans, agree that rounding up and packing off 11.3 million people is an unrealistic demand. And yet it is one that the far right has used to block comprehensive reform.

And while Americans overall want immigration laws enforced, they are split on whether a wall/fence is the right approach.

Other polls indicate Americans oppose sanctuary cities, where those who have entered the country illegally are outside the reach of authorities, and want immigration laws enforced. This offends many on the hard left, who don’t think America should have the same right as every other sovereign nation to decide who can come in and who can’t.

At the same time, most Americans support a path toward legalization and ultimately citizenship for those who are already in this country.

On my cab ride into Philadelphia, the driver, an immigrant from Bangladesh, spoke proudly of his son, who is studying chemical engineering at Penn State University. The family has been in the United States for 16 years. My driver was a teacher in his home country, but was willing to come to America and drive a cab to give his two children a better future.

That’s a classic American story, and one most Americans warm to.

We don’t want to slam the door in the faces of immigrants who come here to exploit opportunity, and not the system. We welcome those who see entrance to this country as a privilege, not a right. But we also want our laws respected, and not to have some people cut in line ahead of others who are playing by the rules.

We are not as extreme in our views as those who seek to lead us.

Yet on this issue, as with so many others this campaign season, the candidates strive to divide, rather than to offer a middle-ground solution that should be within easy reach.