Donald Trump is dividing his Republican presidential rivals anew with his call to rewrite the US constitution to crack down on millions of immigrants living in the US illegally and to force Mexico to pay for a wall along the border.
Trump’s immigration proposal, his first formal policy plan since announcing his candidacy in June, won praise on Monday from supporters of the party’s tea party movement, some of whom favor changing the constitution to reverse the “birthright citizenship” guaranteed to anyone born in the US, no matter the immigration status of their parents. At the same time, surveys show a majority of Americans, including Republicans, support allowing many immigrants in the US illegally to stay.
Trump leads his Republican rivals in polls nationwide and in early voting states and his proposal quickly reverberated within the party.
Party leaders are determined to expand Republicans’ appeal to the growing numbers of Hispanic voters, realizing it will be difficult to win next year’s presidential race if their candidate can not improve on the 2012 results when Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of the Latino vote. Romney advocated a policy of self-deportation for immigrants living in the US illegally.
Many Republicans have appealed to the party’s core voters, who play an oversized role in nominating primaries and caucuses.
Asked at the Iowa State Fair if he supports building a wall along the US-Mexico border, as Trump has proposed, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker gave a quick “yes,” but he declined to address whether he supports deporting children of parents in the country illegally.
“Going forward, the best thing we can do is enforce the law,” he said.
Walker, who reversed his position in April on allowing a chance for legal status for those in the country illegally, also gave mixed answers on ending birthright citizenship.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said during a CNN interview that a wall or fence along parts of the border, especially in more urban and difficult-to-control areas, was conceivable, but “not the entire border.”
Christie is opposed to requiring Mexico to pay for the construction, saying Trump’s suggestion “makes no sense.”
“And this is not negotiation of a real-estate deal, OK. This is international diplomacy and it’s different,” Christie said, noting Trump’s line of business.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina called Trump’s wall plan, “completely unrealistic.”
However, Trump was not flinching.
“The wall will work,” he said when he arrived for jury duty in New York and a passer-by at the courthouse asked about the idea.
He spent much of the day like other prospective jurors, filling out forms and waiting to see if he would be picked. In the end, he wasn’t.
Like Trump’s early campaign statements about Mexican immigrants, his new plan has lit up angry conservatives. However, it also has annoyed Republicans, who see the nation’s growing Latino population as an opportunity to demonstrate sensitivity to minorities who have voted overwhelmingly Democratic in recent presidential elections.
Tea party movement cofounder Mark Meckler said Trump’s “position on deportation generally reflects what likely voters think. Trump is dealing head-on with the difficult issues, while more establishment candidates fret over focus groups and polls.”
Trump also is calling for eliminating federal aid to “sanctuary cities,” such as San Francisco, where local officials have not used their police to enforce some federal immigration laws. The position is also supported by former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
Like Christie, Bush differs sharply with Trump on other aspects of immigration policy. Though he did not chime in specifically on Trump’s new proposal, Bush supports allowing people in the country illegally who have not committed major crimes, who work and follow a course such as learning English and paying fines, to stay in the US, but without citizenship.
In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll late last month, 64 percent of respondents said they support either a path to permanent legal status or citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.
A majority of Republicans fall into the same category, the poll showed.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, also speaking at the fair, called Trump’s proposal “gibberish,” but warned it also sends a hostile signal toward Latinos voters.
“You’re not going to get 11 million people and drive them back out of this country,” he said. “That’s just not practical. That’s going to kill the Republican Party.”
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