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‘Pledge to America’ Plans for Immigration

The GOP’s “Pledge to America” is pretty brief when it comes to immigration issues: It advocates control of the border, enforcement of immigration laws and strengthening visa security. (Notably absent? Any paths to legalization for illegal immigrants already in the country.) The document does not go so far as to name specific policy recommendations, but it hints at a few that might anger immigrants rights groups.

Here are the immigration-related items, followed by their likely policy implications:

Establish Operational Control of the Border

We must take action to secure our borders, and that action starts with enforcing our laws. We will ensure that the Border Patrol has the tools and authorities to establish operational control at the border and prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from interfering with Border Patrol enforcement activities on federal lands.

Likely translation: The GOP wants more border enforcement, probably including additional troops to the border. This may include an expansion of Operation Streamline, which is part of Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyle’s 10-point border security plan. Operation Streamline mandates federal criminal prosecution of all border crossers in certain regions. Experts have questioned whether either of these methods really makes the U.S.-Mexico border safer: Critics say the border may already be saturated with troops and Operation Streamline has not been proved effective at deterring illegal immigrants.

The line on prohibiting the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture from interfering with Border Patrol enforcement may be the most specific. Conservative groups have criticized current policy because the Border Patrol must receive permission from the two departments before changing its techniques on federal lands, which are protected by environmental designations. The Department of the Interior has worked with the Department of Homeland Security to try to stop illegal immigration, which they argue is harmful to the environment of border-state open spaces.

Work with State and Local Officials to Enforce Our Immigration Laws

The problem of illegal immigration and Mexican drug cartels engaged in an increasingly violent conflict means we need all hands on deck to address this challenge. We will reaffirm the authority of state and local law enforcement to assist in the enforcement of all federal immigration laws.

Likely translation: The GOP opposes the Justice Department’s decision to sue Arizona over its SB 1070 immigration law on the grounds that it preempts federal law. They might also be hinting at an expansion of E-Verify, the legal status-checking system already used by federal contractors. Some state and local governments have considered requiring businesses to use the system, but critics argue it is too prone to errors and could keep legal workers from getting hired.

Strengthen Visa Security

To stop terrorists like Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, we will require the Department of Homeland Security to review all visa applications at high-risk consular posts and prevent aliens from attempting to avoid deportation after having their visas revoked.

**Likely translation: **The GOP wants more review for visa applicants from certain countries that might have more ties to terrorism. The second line is basically a re-statement of the GOP’s commitment to strong immigration enforcement: They want to find and deport people who overstay their visas. While such a thing would cause a significant drop in the level of illegal immigrants — as many as half of the illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. overstayed visas — it is a far cry from the current policy to target illegal immigrants charged with serious crimes first.

Annie Lowrey made the point earlier that the “Pledge to America” is too vague on how it would fund the plans it advocates. This is certainly true on immigration, in which every policy asks for heightened enforcement and security measures. While they may sound good in theory, they require more Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, more immigration lawyers and more detention centers. There are about 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., and if the only proposal is to find and deport all of them, it seems the GOP should also propose how to pay for it.

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