American citizens would be hard-pressed to find a Republican primary rally or debate in which immigration was not a hot-button issue. Though Donald Trump claims no one would be talking about immigration if it weren’t for him, the reality is that immigration has, much before his announcement, had a large presence in the GOP.
The importance of the Latino constituency caused immigration reform to come to the national spotlight during the 2012 general election. The divide that emerged between Romney and Obama focused on the question of a pathway to citizenship or, alternatively, deportation for those who had illegally immigrated to the United States. Four years later, the divide over border security has expanded beyond this question, and has even begun to divide a party.
Regardless of whether or not this focus on one area of policy has been a product of Trump, a response to recent national security issues, or simply a trend, the amount of attention border security has been given renders it a defining piece of the Republican presidential primary. Partisan issues like this often feature similar opinions across the board from the politicians of the same party. Most Republicans agree that immigration needs serious reform, and those on the right often support strengthening the border through infrastructure and increased manpower. Because the party stance is so clear, to the general public it may seem the only time candidates argue about border security is when voting records are disputed. However, when voters take a closer look at the individual plans proposed by many candidates, some differences are more glaring and important than expected.
Of the candidates consistently in “top-tier” debates, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump have specific border security plans laid out on their respective websites (links provided below), and both Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina have relayed their plans to multiple talk shows (links provided below). The finer points of these plans rarely come up in debates, but highlight the differences between the packed field. Most candidates include at least some policy that would strengthen the border, but the methods to do so vary greatly between candidates. For example, while an E-Verify system is praised by nearly all candidates, some, including Bush, believe it should be encouraged but not mandatory while others, specifically Christie, support fines on businesses that do not use the program.
Perhaps the most discussed piece of border security plans is whether or not illegal immigrants should be deported or have some pathway to legal status. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are the sole candidates who do not support a path, but the rest of the field varies greatly: from Carson’s vague guest worker program to Rubio’s detailed registration process that begins with a temporary nonimmigrant visa and, ten years down the line, may end in a residency application.
Donald Trump’s wall has become a symbol of sorts for the conservative immigration reform movement. While this wall is a definite reality in his plan, all the candidates seem to have different ideas for how our infrastructure should be updated as it pertains to border security. Bush has the most extensive plan, including new roads for agents, new boat ramps for effective patrol, and expansion of fences where appropriate. Paul is similar to Bush, as he has suggested completion of a fence; Christie supports a sturdier wall in specific locations. The current front-runners, Cruz and Trump, plan to build a wall all along the border, and Trump specifically declares he will make Mexico pay for it.
Other popular aspects of these plans include blocking Obama’s executive amnesty and withholding federal funding from “sanctuary” cities that follow procedures to shelter immigrants. Some plans also have unique ideas not mentioned in others. Trump would raise the wage paid to employees with H-1B visas to encourage companies to hire from the pool of domestic employees, and Rubio supports moving from a family-based visa system to one that is work and skill-based. Bush, too, contributes a new goal in his plan: to remove restrictions for border patrol agents to access federal lands.
Assuming this obsession with our borders continues, it is undeniable immigration reform will continue to dominate much of the Republican primary’s rhetoric, but the real question is how it will be received in the general election. With the rising prominence of this issue has become a widening partisan divide, and the Democratic nominee will surely attack the plan of his or her opponent, a plan that will have just weathered months of critiques from the primary field. For the Republicans to win, it is imperative the policy that survives the primary can also survive the general. After all, with how quickly border security has become the favorite subject of the GOP, it may just become a favorite for all voters.
With the increased skepticism of refugees from all countries, and not just Mexicans crossing the border, voters may also be looking for a new type of immigration reform. The candidates from the right have plans that focus largely on the country just south of our border, but this topic has grown to include much more than just one country. As border security becomes more and more talked about, the candidates must adapt to the changing climate, and adjust their plans accordingly.
All of the information used in this article came from the following websites. Please visit for the detailed plans of the candidates.
Governor Jeb Bush:
Dr. Ben Carson on Face the Nation:
Governor Chris Christie:
Senator Ted Cruz:
Carly Fiorina on The Kelly File:
Senator Marco Rubio: