2024 GOP Candidates Are Competing To Restrict Immigration

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Immigration and border policy proposals that were once largely limited to the Republican Party’s fringe are now entering the GOP mainstream, as evidenced by the hard-line positions of leading 2024 Republican presidential primary candidates.

GOP hopefuls largely agree that the U.S. should heavily militarize its border with Mexico to keep out drugs and undocumented immigrants. In the first debate of the campaign season, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would send U.S. special forces into Mexico to target cartels “on day one,” explaining that “we reserve the right to operate” there. Former Vice President Mike Pence proposed that the U.S. partner with the Mexican military to “hunt down and destroy the cartels.” Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said that “you have to” deport the roughly 11 million undocumented people who already live in the United States.

That rhetoric continued apace in the second Republican debate. Sen. Tim Scott (R–S.C.) claimed that “every county in America is now a border county,” calling on President Joe Biden to finish building the border wall. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who has previously said that he would deport the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants, reiterated his likely unconstitutional wish to “end birthright citizenship” for those kids.

What about the virtues of immigration and border solutions that recognize the fluidity of labor supply and demand? Solving unauthorized immigration requires providing legal pathways, but Republican presidential candidates so far have not been keen on making that argument.

The candidates are parroting rhetoric and policies popularized during Donald Trump’s administration, occasionally to the former president’s irritation: In June, his campaign accused DeSantis of “copying and pasting” the Trump immigration and border platform “because he doesn’t have an original idea of his own.” Ramaswamy and other candidates now say they want to reevaluate the 14th Amendment’s reach, but Trump took up that issue on the 2016 campaign trail and said in 2019 that he was “seriously” considering ending birthright citizenship. It’s fashionable now for candidates to support waging war against Mexican drug cartels or designating them as terrorist organizations, but Trump floated those ideas years ago.

Trump, who leads the GOP pack, has unveiled a new immigration plan of his own. According to a report by Axios‘ Stef W. Kight, the platform includes increased “ideological screening” to root out migrants with “Marxist” affiliations, an expansion of the former president’s “Muslim ban,” carrying out quick deportations under “an obscure section of the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts,” and military blockades throughout U.S. and Latin American waters to stop boats carrying drugs.

These draconian policies could also enter the mainstream Republican platform, but there’s little reason to believe they will fix the broken U.S. immigration system.

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