During last night’s vice presidential debate, candidates U.S. Senator Tim Kaine and Indiana Governor Mike Pence engaged in a heated exchange on immigration. Kaine reiterated his running mate Hillary Clinton’s stated policy positions, while Pence attempted to soften Donald Trump’s many radical anti-immigrant statements.
Debate moderator Elaine Quijano turned to immigration by noting that Trump has made repeated remarks that immigrants are dangerous – although the facts show that immigrants are less likely to be criminals and immigration is associated with lower crime rates and safer communities. She asked Pence, “what would you tell the millions of undocumented immigrants who have not committed violent crimes?”
Pence, like Trump, favors an enforcement-first approach to immigration reform. He stated that their first order of business would be to begin deportations to “make our country safer, then, we will deal with those that remain.” Later, Pence elaborated that immigration reform “begins with border security” and that they would go beyond building a massive border wall, which experts have noted would be economically devastating, and secure the border “beneath the ground and in the air.”
However, this enforcement-first policy has already been the law of the land for decades. Since the last major overhaul of the U.S. immigration system in 1986, the federal government has spent an estimated $186.8 billion on immigration enforcement. Meanwhile border apprehensions, the most commonly used metric to look at the flow of undocumented immigrants crossing the border, are at 40 year lows. Under the Obama administration alone, more than 2.5 million immigrants have already been deported.
Additionally, Pence said that millions of Americans “believe that we can end illegal immigration once and for all.” Yet the reality is most of the American public remains committed to practical immigration solutions. 72 percent of Americans say undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States should be allowed to stay.
When Kaine addressed immigration measures, he focused instead on the importance of keeping families together and a path to citizenship:
“I want a bipartisan reform that will keep families together, second, that will help focus enforcement efforts on those were violent, third, that will do more border control, and third, write a path to citizenship for those who play by the rules and take criminal background checks.”
As the topic turned to refugees, Kaine underscored that a Clinton administration “will do immigration enforcement and vet refugees based on whether they are dangerous or not, not discriminating based on which country you are from.” He did not elaborate on whether any changes would be made to how refugees are currently vetted, given the United States already has robust systems in place to ensure the safety and security of our nation.
Pence, however, did not disavow the discriminatory ban on Muslim immigration proposed by Trump. His campaign has called “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
The debate showed a clear distinction between the two campaigns, one that endeavors to balance the dignity of immigrants and their families alongside the need to secure our country. The other seeks to continue and expand upon today’s failed enforcement-only policies that leave many communities living in the shadows of society.