I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Donald Trump may be good for the immigration debate after all.
Trump is a refreshing change from those in both parties who are too afraid to speak the truth about the jobs done by illegal immigrants. Also, Trump doesn’t let his opposition to illegal immigration interfere with his support for legal immigration.
When as many as 17 candidates gather this week for a pair of GOP presidential debates — the main event at “The Donald Trump Debate,” and an undercard matchup at the “kids’ table” —we are sure to hear a lot about Trump’s views on immigration.
Yet those views are becoming more nuanced all the time.
In a recent interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, Trump made the case that — while he opposes illegal immigration — he thinks legal immigration is good for the economy and the country.
In fact, in talking up foreign workers, he is more vocal than many Democrats. Bernie Sanders recently ruffled feathers in the pro-immigrant community when, during an interview with Vox.com, the Vermont senator criticized open borders.
“It would make everybody in America poorer,” Sanders said. “You’re doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that. … You have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don’t believe in that.”
When a Democrat says these things, it should give pause to those in the immigration-reform community. This debate is more complicated than it seems.
Now listen to Trump.
“We have to bring great people into this country,” he said during his CNN interview. “And I want to bring — I love the idea of immigration. But it’s got to be legal immigration.”
The Republican front-runner was just getting warmed up.
“Now, a lot of these people are helping us,” Trump said. “Whether it’s picking the grapes, or whether it’s jobs. And sometimes, it’s jobs – in all fairness, I love our country – but sometimes it’s jobs that a citizen of the United States doesn’t want to do. I mean, there are jobs that a lot of people don’t want to do.”
That’s what we used to call: truth. Hard truth. But truth just the same. The sort you won’t hear from other presidential hopefuls in either party who are afraid of the backlash.
As for illegal immigrants, Trump said he wants to “move them out, and then we’re going to move them back in and let them be legal. But they have to be in here legally.”
The billionaire even expressed sympathy for undocumented young people brought here by their parents as children — a group that Hillary Clinton has been known to sprint away from when they ambush her on the campaign trail.
“The Dreamers,” Trump said. “It’s a tough situation. We’re going to do something. And one of the things we’re going to do is expedite. When somebody is terrific, we want them back here. But they have to be here legally.”
Wow. What’s next? “Dreamers for Trump?”
Some will say that the real estate mogul’s stance on immigration is evolving, or that he’s moderating his tone, or that he’s trying to appear less sensational and more serious.
But something else might be happening here. Trump could simply be going beyond his inflammatory sound bites — about how the United States is a “dumping ground” for Mexico, about how our neighbor is “sending people that have lots of problems” including criminals and rapists, about how he wants to “build a great, great wall” and stick Mexico with the bill, and about how “tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border.”
And now Trump is trying to complete his answer. He isn’t hedging, pandering or flip-flopping. Right-wingers bristled at his comments about American workers. Trump didn’t flinch — any more than he did when left-wingers criticized his comments about Mexico. No matter who is firing at him, he stands his ground.
If you’re pro legal immigration and honest enough to admit that you don’t condone illegal immigration, and you’re tired of being sold out by politicians who tell you what you want to hear and then leave you hanging, isn’t this kind of steadfastness exactly what you want in a leader?
It’s a crazy world — one where you can be both pro-immigrant and pro-Trump.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.