PHILADELPHIA – The Republican and Democratic national conventions have made it strikingly clear – seldom before has the approach to immigration by the two political parties been so far apart.
In tone, in policy proposals, in their portrayal of immigrants, in their party platforms, and in the handling of the issue – particularly the core factor of the undocumented – by their presidential nominees, the Democrats and Republicans are fundamentally at extreme polar opposites.
The difference on immigration between the parties – or more specifically, between GOP nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton – was put on display on the very first day of each of the parties’ convention, establishing the tone for how the emotionally-charged issue was addressed by speaker after speaker for the rest of the week.
The Democratic one opened with a speech by Astrid Silva, a so-called Dreamer who was among millions of undocumented immigrants brought as children and who consider the United States their real homeland. It was an effort by the party to put a human face, so speak, to illegal immigration, and to do it through an eloquent young woman full of potential who is eager to be legal in the country she considers her true home.
The Republican convention opened with heart-wrenching accounts by three speakers who had a loved one who was killed by an undocumented immigrant. Two of the killers were drunken drivers, another a gang member. The relatives called for mandatory cooperation between local officials and federal immigration authorities.
The authors behind the final drafts of each party’s platform are activists whose views of immigration are diametrically opposed. On the Democrat side, for instance, were undocumented immigrants who were supporters of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and Hillary Clinton supporter David Leopold, the past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and a vocal advocate for a more lenient approach to dealing with illegal immigration.
On the Republican side a main force in shaping the immigration plank was Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has been the mastermind of nearly every immigration enforcement measure at the state and federal level that has ignited a firestorm.
“The immigration policy in the United States needs to serve the national interests of the United States,” Kobach said to Fox News Latino, noting that it was one of the most detailed and toughest platforms the GOP perhaps has ever had. “The [GOP] platform has never really spelled it out that way.”
Kobach has even come up with hardline catch phrases that GOP candidates, including Donald Trump, have used in their campaigns. Build the wall. Make the Mexicans pay. Self-deportation. They’re the brainchild of Kobach, who says enthusiastically that there’s a momentum in the GOP, and certainly in Trump, for cracking down on illegal immigration with more zeal there has been with other presidential candidates he has advised.
“We have to enforce our laws,” he said. “We especially have to enforce our laws to the benefit of those people who do it legally – people who come in legally and respect our laws. It is a slap in the face to them if we ignore our laws and allow people to come in illegally and give them amnesty.”
Those involved in the Democratic platform say this year’s plank on immigration is the most progressive ever. Like Republicans steeped in this issue, they see this year, this election, as a critical juncture for making the case to voters to pick a president who can steer immigration policy toward one of two vastly different directions that can have enduring and sweeping impact.
“The Republican platform on immigration is a manifesto of hatred,” said David Leopold, who is the past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and played a key role in drafting the Democratic platform plank on immigration. “It talks about walls and mass deportation. Those are not solutions, they’re mean-spirited.”
“It’s important to see to it that it doesn’t get any farther than his microphone,” Leopold said.
“[The Democratic] platform is a paradigm shift” from the Republicans, he said. “It talks about jobs and immigrants, about keeping families together, about a pathway to citizenship, and other things.”
Leopold said an important part of coming up with the platform was that Sanders and Clinton supporters agreed on many issues.
“They came at this from a Dreamer’s passion,” Leopold said of the Sanders’ representative. “At the end of the day, we all have the same goal.”
Polls of Latino likely voters show that while the economy and jobs tend to rank higher as priorities for many, immigration plays an important role in a different way.
Many Latinos watch how candidates address the subject. That’s how they conclude, polls show, whether the candidate is hostile to their community or respectful and considerate of it.
“Immigration is a symbolic, emotional issue,” said Henry Muñoz, the financial chair of the Democratic National Committee. “It touches everyone’s family in some way. It’s impacted our country. Donald Trump is not building a wall to divide two countries, he’s building a wall to separate our community from the American Dream, from getting a higher education, a job.”
A Texas-led lawsuit – joined by GOP governors of several states – challenging executive actions by President Barack Obama is held up in the courts. Those measures could protect undocumented immigrants and their parents from deportation for a few years.
Republicans say it’s about security, particularly, and having tight screening of who is trying to live here. They say terrorists are now not only in the Middle East, but living or visiting other countries that don’t get as much security attention and trying to enter the U.S. through those.
And then, they say, the United States must command respect for its laws and protect its borders, both to keep danger out and to deter people from attempting what millions of others have.
“All I'm doing is bringing up a situation which is very real, about illegal immigration,” said Trump to Politico. “And I think, you know, most people think I'm right.”
Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.