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Platform Check: Clinton, Trump Hold Polarized Positions On Immigration


Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will have one last chance to debate policy tomorrow night. We are going to get an early start with Platform Check. It's our look at what the candidates say they will do if they become president.


HILLARY CLINTON: We should raise the national minimum wage.


DONALD TRUMP: And we will build the wall.


CLINTON: ...Tunnels, our ports, our airports - they need work. And there are millions of jobs to be done.


TRUMP: New trade policies that put American workers first.

MCEVERS: Today, we are talking about immigration. There are an estimated 11 million immigrants living in this country illegally. And the candidates have very different ideas about how to deal with that issue. With us to talk about this is NPR's John Burnett, who covers immigration. He's in south Texas, not far from the U.S.-Mexico border. Hi there.


MCEVERS: So let's start with Donald Trump. I mean, immigration, of course, has been a signature issue for him. What are his positions?

BURNETT: Well, first of all, this is just an amazing presidential race, in terms of the issue of immigration. People who follow this stuff have never seen such polarized positions before. And not only that - but Trump has just, you know - he's found this rage over illegal immigration. He's made it such a broad election theme. It's almost defined his candidacy in some ways.

Trump's main position is still the wall, which everybody that I've spoken to, from security experts to border patrol agents, say is a complete non-starter. It's not going to happen. But still, it really fires up his crowds. Here he is in Cincinnati criticizing Hillary Clinton.


TRUMP: Behind closed doors, when she thought no one was listening, she pledged to dissolve the borders of the United States of America. It's what's happening, folks. That's what's happened.

We are going to have strong borders. We are going to have a great wall.


BURNETT: A few more of his positions on immigration - Trump wants the detention of more unauthorized immigrants, to stop the so-called catch-and-release. And it would mean no more ankle monitors or community release. Effectively, it would dramatically expand the U.S. government's reliance on the private prison industry. And for her part, Clinton has said she would do away with private prisons for immigrants.

So Trump also says he wants to cancel President Obama's executive order of November 2014 that would expand the categories of immigrants who could be protected from deportation and given work permits. That was that very controversial executive action by the president.

MCEVERS: Early in his campaign, Donald Trump called for a deportation force to round up and send back people in the U.S. illegally. Where does he stand on that now?

BURNETT: You know, it's really interesting, Kelly. He's quietly dropped this position of mass deportation of 11 million unauthorized immigrants, which was one of his earlier signature positions. Now he talks about zero tolerance for criminal aliens with this special deportation task force, which would catch and deport them.

And interestingly, Hillary Clinton says the same thing. She says, I want to focus on those who pose a violent threat to public safety. And when I hear them talking about that, I think, well, there's already a deportation force. It's called Immigration and Customs Enforcement and removal. Under Obama, deporting criminal aliens has been a big priority. Even today, 60 percent of ICE deportations are convicted criminals.

MCEVERS: Let's talk about Hillary Clinton now. Here she is talking about immigration back in August.


CLINTON: And in my first 100 days, I'm going to introduce legislation for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship...


CLINTON: ...As not only the right thing to do. Every independent analysis shows it will add hundreds of billions of dollars to our economy.

BURNETT: You know, immigration policy people who watch this stuff say hers is an unbelievably generous platform for immigrants - maybe the most generous ever. She says she would expand the president's executive actions. She would include even more categories of immigrants who would be allowed to stay here legally and get work permits, such as immigrants with a history of service and contribution to their communities.

Obama's action, of course, is now blocked in the federal courts. Clinton says she would pass comprehensive immigration reform. This was the law that was blocked in Congress in 2013. It's been dead in the water ever since. And in her idea, it would include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. It would reduce family visa backlog and include smarter border security.

MCEVERS: The Border Patrol and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement unions have endorsed Donald Trump. Neither has endorsed a presidential candidate before. Why? Why are they endorsing now?

BURNETT: Well, I've talked to them just as kind of part of my reporting. And what they say is they just appreciate that Donald Trump has put border security so high in his platform - that no other presidential candidate has made it, you know, such a standout issue. And the Border Patrol agents know this terrain well.

And they know that it's completely impractical to build a wall in some of these, you know, mountainous areas and all the private property - and all the problems that would be caused. But still, for the first time ever, the Border Patrol and ICE union have both endorsed him because they appreciate that he's paying attention to them.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's John Burnett. Thanks a lot.

BURNETT: You bet, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.