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A Reaganite critiques Trump’s immigration plan

Linda Chavez supports an alternative fix for 11 million illegal immigrants

Linda Chavez Associated Press/Photo by Charles Dharapak

A Reaganite critiques Trump’s immigration plan

Linda Chavez served in the White House during the Reagan administration and was nominated for secretary of labor by President George W. Bush. She had to withdraw her nomination because of allegations she had employed an illegal immigrant. Now the chairwoman of the Center for Equal Opportunity, Chavez has strong views on immigration, which she shared with me at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver.

A lot of Donald Trump supporters are not wild about your stance on immigration reform. Are you surprised? I speak almost exclusively to conservative organizations and groups. I usually get some pushback, but it’s usually a little bit more respectful, and it’s usually a little bit more informed. There were a lot of people here who were just spouting, I guess, what they see on some websites and maybe what they hear from Donald Trump. But when you give them actual numbers and you give them actual facts, they really aren’t able to come back and so they just seemed to get angry. I was a little surprised at that.

Does that cause you to despair for having dialogue with people who have such a different understanding of reality? I think that’s part of what’s happened in our polarized country. It used to be we got our information from the same sources. There used to be three big networks. We all listened to the same news. We could argue, but we would be arguing on common ground. We would be arguing more about opinion or about interpretation, but we wouldn’t be arguing about the facts. Now, for example, when I tell crowds that illegal immigration is down to a historic low, it’s not been this low in almost 50 years, people want to dispute that. They want to stand up and say, “No, but my friend who lives on the border tells me differently.”

That’s great as anecdotal information, but it doesn’t give you the real picture. I think it’s disheartening, and it’s particularly disheartening from conservatives. I’m used to this kind of silly rhetoric on the part of the left. I’m used to people who are ideologically committed to socialism, etc., arguing in that way, but I’m not used to conservatives arguing like that.

Yet we do have a big problem here. We do have 11 million illegal immigrants in this country. What’s your proposal for dealing with them? I think President George W. Bush had a good idea. He wanted to bring people out of the shadows. He wanted to make sure they paid a penalty. They had to pay a fine. They had to pay back taxes. They had to undergo a background check. All of those things I think are absolutely necessary. We have to make sure the people whom we do allow to stay here legally are not bad guys. They’re not people who have committed crime. They’re not people who are running drugs, etc. I think that’s the best approach. But, unfortunately, we are so polarized now we can’t even get to that point.

Even after we solve that problem, we still have to solve the problem of legal immigration because it’s the legal system that’s broken. It isn’t serving U.S. interests, it isn’t serving our economy, and that’s what we have to change. Once we change that, if we do it in the right way, we’re going to see a lot fewer people trying to come here illegally because they’ll have a path to come legally.

What’s broken with the legal immigration process, and what are your solutions for fixing it? Part of the problem is that we don’t really bring people in based on skills right now. The overwhelming majority of people who come are coming because they already have a family member here and they’re able to come in through family reunification. That’s OK for some, and, certainly, we ought to have humanitarian immigration for that reason if it’s a close relative, a parent or a child. But our total system ought to be based on skills. What’s good for our economy? Who do we need here? … I think we need reform that’s market-based, that’s flexible, and that allows more people to come in good economic times and fewer people to come in bad economic times.

Would that mean we are going to accept more legal immigrants into the country? Essentially it does mean we’d be accepting more legal immigrants. We’re getting about 300,000 people coming in illegally now. We take close to a million people legally. If we were having a market-based system, we might be having 1.3 million people coming in legally, but that’s the better way to do it because the jobs that those illegal immigrants are doing now are jobs that need to be done. They’re picking peaches in the Western Slope. They’re working in the poultry processing plants across America. They’re doing jobs that are dirty, difficult, and which Americans are too well-educated to want to take.

Imposing a $2,500 fine on an immigrant for coming illegally isn’t amnesty, but a lot of people call it that. How do you get past that? We’ve got to have a whole bunch of leaders who are willing to stand up and say, “Look, we got a problem, folks. We’ve got to fix it. We’ve got to do it legally. We’ve got to do it the right way, but we’re not going to be intimidated by people throwing out the word ‘amnesty.’” We’re not going to round up 11 million people. If we did, it would devastate our economy. Two years after that happened, our economy would be $2 trillion smaller than it is now. We’d have a huge loss in GDP. We’d have a loss of communities, where these people live, where they spend their money, where they rent, where they buy groceries, where they buy trucks, etc. We can’t do that. We’ve got to come up with a solution, but it ought to be a solution that does recognize they’ve broken the law and therefore they have to pay a penalty.

Listen to Warren Cole Smith’s complete conversation with Linda Chavez on the Aug. 19, 2016, episode of Listening In.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren is the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. He previously served as WORLD’s vice president and associate publisher. He currently serves as president of MinistryWatch and has written or co-written several books, including Restoring All Things: God's Audacious Plan To Change the World Through Everyday People. Warren resides in Charlotte, N.C.



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