About five minutes into Donald Trump’s big immigration speech on Wednesday night, two things were clear: The glad-handing, diplomatic Trump had stayed in Mexico, and not a damn thing had changed about his immigration plan.
The candidate gave the speech in the same Phoenix venue where he held his first major campaign rally last year. And he made the same case he’s always made: that undocumented immigrants pose an economic and national security threat to the United States, and that we need to build a Mexico-financed wall to keep them out. He also dug into the nuts and bolts of his immigration overhaul ideas, rehashing much of the policy proposal he released last summer.
The speech immediately drew sharp criticism from Hillary Clinton backers. But here’s the funny thing about 2016: Many of the proposals Trump advocated have had support from Clinton herself.
There are major differences between the two candidates on immigration policy, not least on Trump’s proposal of a ban of Muslim immigrants or people coming to the U.S. from countries “tied to Islamic terror.”
The biggest difference between Clinton and Trump on immigration is on deportations of people who have overstayed their visas. Trump, unlike Clinton, promised to deport all 4 million undocumented immigrants whose visas have expired—whether or not they have committed violent crimes or pose security risks. That’s a hard-and-fast commitment to mass deportation on his part. And on that issue, Clinton isn’t remotely close. But particularly regarding border security—where the candidates’ rhetoric varies wildly—there are areas of considerable overlap.
Part of the reason is—like most conservative immigration hawks—Trump focused on enforcing existing immigration laws rather than passing new legislation. And the laws that Trump wants enforced are, in some cases, laws Clinton has backed.
For instance, Trump talked extensively about his support for a biometric entry-exit tracking system—in other words, a system that would take biometric data (like fingerprints) from everyone entering the U.S. on a visa when they come in and then again when they leave. It would allow the federal government to keep records of which people stayed longer than their visas allow. Congress has voted numerous times for a system like this to be put in place, but it’s never been implemented. Experts differ on why that is, and there are a host of explanations: The tourism industry hates it, many American airports aren’t set up to collect all that information, and the logistics would be complicated.
And Clinton seems to back such a tracking system, at least according to her voting record. In 2001, she co-sponsored a bill called the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, which President Bush signed into law in 2002. The legislation required the creation of a system to track who entered the U.S. on visas and when they left, as well as the creation of “related tamper-resistant, machine-readable documents containing biometric identifiers.” In short, that’s a biometric entry-exit tracking system. And it’s exactly what Trump called for Wednesday night (and in the immigration plan he released last summer).
Also like Trump, Clinton has promises on her campaign site to “focus resources on detaining and deporting those individuals who pose a violent threat to public safety.” Unlike Trump, though, she also promises to close private, for-profit immigrant detention centers. For her to keep both promises, she would have to get Congress to appropriate funds to build and staff publicly run immigrant detention centers. And her immigration webpage doesn’t detail what specifically she would do to detain and deport undocumented immigrants convicted of violent crimes. It’s possible she would use a deportation strategy that would substantively differ from Trump’s—his requires forced cooperation among local, state, and federal law enforcement—but she hasn’t made that clear.
More obviously, Clinton has said in the past that she backs a more militarized border—including something that sounds a bit like a wall.
“Look, I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in,” she said at a campaign stop last November in video flagged by the conservative tracking group America Rising. “And I do think you have to control your borders.”
She may have been alluding to 2006, when she voted for the Secure Fence Act. That legislation, which Bush signed, required 700 miles of double-fence physical barriers along the southern border. It also required more vehicle barriers, checkpoints, cameras, satellites, and drones, as its GovTrack.us page details.
Trump, by comparison, is pushing for a wall that’s 1,000 miles long. And immigration hawks say it’s a little baffling that Clinton is criticizing him for that stance, given her 2006 vote.
“She’s attacking Trump for calling for about 1,000 miles of some kind of barrier,” said Center for Immigration Studies head Mark Krikorian, who backs reduced levels of legal and illegal immigration. “How is that really different? Three hundred miles makes him Adolf Hitler?”
The Clinton campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment. Maybe she can talk about the issue during her next press conference.