OPINION

Balido: A primer on GOP candidates' plans for border security and immigration reform

FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidates from left, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and John Kasich take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate in Cleveland.  Eleven top-tier Republican presidential hopefuls face off in their second prime-time debate of the 2016 campaign Sept. 16, in a clash between outsiders and establishment candidates under a cathedral of political conservatism. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidates from left, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and John Kasich take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate in Cleveland. Eleven top-tier Republican presidential hopefuls face off in their second prime-time debate of the 2016 campaign Sept. 16, in a clash between outsiders and establishment candidates under a cathedral of political conservatism. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

The rhetoric on the campaign trail is white hot, and amid the mud flinging and fact twisting, the American voter is sometimes left wondering exactly what the GOP candidates are proposing. This election cycle has been dominated by discussion of border security and immigration reform, both critical, pressing issues for the nation. Leaving the talking points aside, just what do the GOP candidates have in mind?

Listen to the man and read up on what he is proposing. You’ll see as I do that when the rhetoric is silent and the chips are down, there’s really only one serious candidate on the GOP stage.

- Nelson Balido

Trump: The Trump Campaign’s written immigration platform describes a 2,000-mile-long wall along the U.S. southern border, paid for by Mexico. From the stump, Mr. Trump has also expounded on his idea for a federal police force that would be charged primarily with executing his plan to kick 11 million illegal immigrants out of the United States. It’s worth noting that in 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) revealed it costs the United States $12,500 to arrest, detain and deport an illegal resident. Multiply that by 11 million, and we’re looking at a $200 billion price tag on Mr. Trump’s plan. That’s about four times as much as Congress allocates to the entire Department of Homeland Security each year.

Let’s call it what it is—or rather, what it’s not. It is not a conservative plan. Adding $200 billion in new spending when the national bank account is so deeply in the red sounds a lot like something that would come out of the spend-happy Democratic Party. It’s also not a workable plan. All logic tells us that another country will not be amenable to forking over billions of dollars for a piece of infrastructure in a neighboring land that frankly is not their priority (i.e., Mexico paying for the wall).

Likewise, the fight in Congress to create a Federal police force would be never-ending; standing up the force would take years; finding every illegal immigrant in the United States would demand an Orwellian invasion of neighborhoods; and there would be a century of legal battles resulting from all the deportations, those legitimate and in error. And most importantly, this plan will not address illegal immigration, nor will it lead to greater border security. The issues that have led to America’s current immigration woes are complex and crosscutting, and they cannot be resolved with a mountain of concrete and a goose-stepping federal police force demanding to see your passport.

Carson: Dr. Carson, to his credit, has indicated skepticism over Mr. Trump’s plan. Unlike Trump, however, Dr. Carson doesn’t really have a platform so much as he has what are best described as “sentiments.” He said on CBS’ Face the Nation that the southern border would be “sealed” within the first year of his administration. That is as unrealistic as many of the other wild ideas pitched this political season. What Dr. Carson seems to ignore is that there have been legions of people striving for a “sealed” border for years. All of the previous attempts have fallen short in some way and for a variety of reasons, but that should tell Dr. Carson something. Locking down the southern border is an enormous challenge, and even as political will has sometimes been lacking (notably over the last 7 years), there have been ongoing real efforts to secure the border and we’re not even close. The details about how a Carson Administration would achieve this enormous feat within one year have not been released (because they probably don’t exist).

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Meanwhile, Dr. Carson has also floated the idea of a guest-worker program to address the illegal residents already here. While a more pragmatic approach than mass deportation, this also has its problems. For example, the H-1B visa program is a guest-worker program that has helped U.S. businesses compete for the world’s best and brightest in specialized fields (like technology or manufacturing). In some cases, it has also likely granted a temporary job to a foreign worker over an American worker. The cost-benefit analysis on H-1B is a worthwhile investigation, but the Carson campaign (and the GOP writ large) should be cautious in proposing guest-worker programs as a solution to the illegal resident issue: a hardline electorate might not respond favorably to such programs if they come at the expense of American jobs.

Rubio: Sen. Rubio is a more serious candidate with more serious ideas about border security and immigration. The Florida Senator was part of the much-debated Gang of Eight, the bipartisan group that wrote a comprehensive immigration reform bill that included a provision that looked a lot like amnesty for the 11 million illegal residents in the United States—one reason the House didn’t touch it and it died on the Senate floor. Sen. Rubio apparently learned a lesson from this worthwhile attempt at comprehensive immigration reform, as the plan he’s pitching on the campaign trail takes the issue of 11 million illegal residents and punts it down the field an administration or two. There’s a perfect example of why Sen. Rubio is accurately pegged as the establishment candidate who will perpetuate the failures of the past. At some point, we’ve got to stop kicking this can.

Sen. Rubio has offered a glimpse of his immigration proposal, though it falls short of a full, professional, executive-level platform. Nevertheless, in a three-step effort, Sen. Rubio says the first is to prove to the American people that illegal immigration is under control by completing fence building and adding more border security officers and technology. As a part of this, the Senator adds we need to implement an electronic verification system to prevent U.S. businesses from hiring illegal residents (we’ve been trying to implement e-verify for years) and create a biometric entry/exit system to pump data into the e-verify system (something else we’ve been trying to implement for years). These are not new ideas, but the reason the Florida Senator’s “platform” is immature is that he proposes to do just what everyone before him has tried to do, but he doesn’t give us any new ideas that explain how he will succeed where others have not. It’s not that these ideas lack merit; it’s that restating them without adding the all-important details is not a real platform. It’s pandering rhetoric, at best.

Cruz: Which brings us to Senator Ted Cruz. To be sure, the general solutions to America’s border security and immigration challenges are well known, and they are issues I’ve written about previously. These same issues – border security, intelligence sharing, technology infrastructure, biometric entry/exit tracking – these and more are present in the Texas Senator’s plans, but where he sets himself apart is that his plan provides real details and new ideas. It’s the difference between a high school book report and a PhD dissertation; one regurgitates someone else’s ideas while the other advances knowledge with creative thinking and deep research.

Sen. Cruz’s immigration plan is offered in expansive detail on his website, and I encourage you to read it in full. What becomes immediately apparent is that unlike anyone else on the primary stage, the reasons behind Sen. Cruz’s plan are as important as the plan itself. That is, his ideas and methodology are rigidly oriented around the rule of law.

It’s telling that in our current political environment, being a Constitutional Conservative is considered “non-establishment.” As a nation, we’ve drifted farther and farther from a pure adherence to the document that has faithfully guided this country for more than two centuries. Today, we have a president unilaterally dictating immigration law with executive order overreach; we have Senators from both parties proposing an immigration plan that quite simply ignores the Constitution and grants amnesty; we have legions of unelected bureaucrats meting out regulations at a breakneck pace; and we have a furious electorate that just wants to see something – anything – get done in Washington that doesn’t smack of a politburo shooting from the hip.

We already have clear-cut, tested laws that can guide our decisions in what is a contentious, challenging issue. What we need is an elected leader who is more impassioned about the brilliance of the Constitution than the glory of their own ego and interests. As Sen. Cruz said during the primary debate in Milwaukee:

“For those of us who believe people ought to come to this country legally, and we should enforce the law, we’re tired of being told it’s anti-immigrant. It’s offensive. I am the son of an immigrant who came legally from Cuba to seek the American dream. And, we can embrace legal immigration while believing in the rule of law.”

Well said. And primary voters agree. In the latest polls from Iowa, Sen. Cruz has rocketed ahead of Sen. Rubio, past the languishing Dr. Carson and within reach of the ever-entertaining Mr. Trump. Sen. Cruz is advancing in other primary states as well, and it is because the Republican electorate is digging in on the issues and finding that the only candidate that brings details and a proven, real conservative record is Sen. Cruz.

And here is an even more exciting detail when it comes to the Cruz campaign. There is a meager 1.3 points between Sec. Clinton and Sen. Cruz in a general election, according to Real Clear Politics, which is closer than that predicted for Sen. Rubio.

For his thoughtful, Constitution-driven plans for border security and immigration reform, his allegiance to the rule of law, the American people, and his very real chance to out-compete the likely Democratic nominee, the best choice for the GOP and the nation is electing Sen. Cruz to be the 45th President of the United States.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the man and read up on what he is proposing. You’ll see as I do that when the rhetoric is silent and the chips are down, there’s really only one serious candidate on the GOP stage.

Nelson Balido is the managing principal at Balido and Associates, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, and former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.  Follow him on Twitter: @nelsonbalido

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