Presidential Election 2024: Where do the Republican Candidates Stand on Immigration?

In a month that saw the first Republican primary debate (notably without former President Trump), ahead of the 2024 election, the candidates have been laying out their vision on everything from healthcare and education, to crime and defense. But what about Immigration? Under 4 years of a Trump administration, we saw often shocking hardline immigration policies become reality. As the Republican party ponders over who will lead them into next year’s poll, we explore where each of the front-runners stand on immigration.

Donald Trump

During his tenure, Mr. Trump’s administration separated migrant families, causing distress to children and sparking public outcry. Even recently, in May, he hinted at the possibility of reinstating this policy.

Furthermore, his administration mandated that asylum seekers stay in Mexico while awaiting hearings, resulting in dire refugee camps, and detained children in crowded and unsanitary facilities.

Despite his prominent pledge to construct a border wall in 2016, only around 500 miles of barriers were erected along the nearly 2,000-mile southern border, mostly in areas with existing structures. He occasionally proposed extreme measures like spikes, moats, and even shooting migrants’ legs.

Upon assuming office, he immediately prohibited travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries. In 2019, he initiated a policy denying permanent residency to immigrants who might require public assistance, disproportionately affecting those from Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia. While his attempts to curtail legal immigration by restricting family reunification and imposing education and skill prerequisites did not gain Congressional approval, he drastically reduced it in 2020 due to pandemic-related actions.

Ron DeSantis

Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis has outlined an assertive policy approach that encompasses large-scale deportations, prolonged detention of children (contravening the 1997 Flores agreement), and even granting permission to use lethal force against certain border crossers.

He articulated his stance, stating, “We must establish appropriate rules of engagement that dictate if individuals are breaching a border wall on U.S. soil and endangering American lives with substances like fentanyl, they will face fatal consequences.” This statement, made on Fox News, was followed by another declaration in Texas, where he expressed willingness to employ “deadly force” against individuals displaying “hostile intent.”

Governor DeSantis also seeks to eliminate birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants, echoing an idea previously proposed by Mr. Trump in 2018. However, this notion contradicts the 14th Amendment, which ensures citizenship for “all individuals born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to its jurisdiction.” Any such presidential attempt would likely prompt immediate legal challenges.

Among his proposals, Mr. DeSantis aims to finalize the construction of a border wall, echoing Mr. Trump’s strategy. He advocates for asylum seekers to remain in Mexico during their hearing wait, akin to a Trump policy. Additionally, he envisions empowering state and local officials for deportation tasks and deploying the military to the border. Yet, this action could infringe upon a federal ban on employing the military for civilian law enforcement. He has indicated intentions to declare a national emergency, which would grant more unilateral authority for action.

Tim Scott

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott has helped introduced legislation that aims to defund sanctuary cities. Additionally, they seek to redirect the resources designated by Democrats for new I.R.S. agents towards bolstering border security. However, these bills face impracticality within the Democrat-led Senate.

Mr. Scott, in an NBC News interview, expressed his endorsement for a condition wherein asylum seekers, upon passing through other nations en route to the U.S. border, must first seek asylum in those intermediary countries before pursuing it within the United States. Notably, this policy, enacted by Mr. Biden and subsequently blocked by a judge, garnered his support.

During the same interview, Mr. Scott voiced his favor for a border wall, advancements in surveillance technology, and an escalated military presence along the border. He did not dismiss the potential of deploying troops to Mexico as a countermeasure against drug cartels.

Similar to several candidates, Mr. Scott advocates for the restoration of the Title 42 policy, allowing swift expulsion of migrants based on pandemic-related public health concerns. He emphasized, in an interview with Fox News, that the current public health emergency is centered around fentanyl, rather than the coronavirus.

When queried in August about his stance on revoking birthright citizenship for undocumented immigrants’ children, he informed CBS News that such a decision “cannot be executed by the president alone.” Details concerning the specific policies he endorses remain undisclosed, as his campaign did not respond to a request for further clarification.

Vivek Ramaswamy

Vivek Ramaswamy, the child of Indian immigrants, has emphasized the need for border security through all possible means, even advocating for military intervention if necessary. However, such a stance might infringe upon a law established in 1878 that prohibits the utilization of federal troops for civilian law enforcement. Mr. Ramaswamy contends that border security isn’t synonymous with civilian law enforcement.

He is a proponent of universally deporting undocumented immigrants and opposes any avenue leading to legal residency, asserting that upholding the nation’s laws is non-negotiable. At a campaign event, he underlined his commitment to this stance, also expressing openness to a process allowing individuals brought to the U.S. as children to return after deportation. Nevertheless, he advocates for an immigration system rooted in meritocracy, whereby all legal immigration adheres to a points-based system, eliminating lottery-based routes.

Mr. Ramaswamy’s rhetoric against immigrants has been contentious. In a Fox News appearance, he equated mentioning undocumented immigrants’ economic contributions to endorsing economic arguments for slavery. He likened the sentiments to those voiced by Democrats in the South during the 1860s to rationalize different forms of unjust and unlawful behavior.

Nikki Haley

During her tenure as the governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, whose parents are immigrants from India, endorsed and enacted a law necessitating businesses to utilize a federal database to verify the immigration status of potential employees. The law also mandated police officers to verify the status of certain individuals they encountered for unrelated matters, and it criminalized the act of “harboring or transporting” undocumented immigrants. Although she regards this as a model for the nation, some segments of the law were halted by a judge, and the state agreed to mitigate its effects.

Additionally, Ms. Haley has expressed her intention to reinstate the “remain in Mexico” policy, amplify the numbers of Border Patrol and ICE agents by 25,000, withhold funding from “sanctuary cities” that limit collaboration with immigration authorities, and facilitate swift deportations of migrants. Notably, she does not advocate for family separations.

Parallel to the stances of Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis, she aims to curtail birthright citizenship. In her perspective, adhering to the Constitution is suitable for those legally present in the country. However, she emphasizes that it’s crucial to address the challenges posed by illegal immigration, particularly the notion that merely arriving and having a child exacerbates existing issues.

In an interview with CBS News, she outlined her support for a system of legal immigration that evaluates candidates based on their “merit” and aligns with the needs of businesses.

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