Secure the border. When it comes to immigration, that's the only thing the Republicans say they'll do if you give them complete control of Pennsylvania Avenue next year. Secure the border.
But have you ever heard any of them provide a working definition of what a secured boarder would look like? Or how we would know whether we had a secured border? I'd be very surprised if anyone reading this could honestly say "Yes."
Well, there's a reason for that: They don't really mean it. They repeat the phrase "Secure the boarder" over and over again, because they know it's what their xenophobic, race-baited audience wants to hear. But, from a practical policy standpoint, those words are bones to which no meat will ever be attached. And for two very simple reasons.
First, that most unpleasant of subjects (unless you happen to have a lot of it): money. The United States immigration system is the only part of the Federal government that pays for itself with user fees. And those fees, currently, are obscenely high, which has a lot to do with why we have the current mess we have: we have a system very few people can afford to use. If fees were raised to the level at which it might be theoretically possible to have a near-totally secured border, we wouldn't need to have an immigration system at all, because almost no one would find it to be affordable.
And my phrase "near-totally" begs the question: even if money were no object, would it even be possible to have a completely secured border--a border so tight it would look like it had been designed by the Ziploc bag people? In a word, no. Of course, Donald Trump would disagree with me. He loves to amuse his highly susceptible audience with the idea that he's going to convince the people of Mexico to build a giant wall between their county and the U.S. AND make them pay 100% of the cost. Of course, he never explains why the people of Mexico would want to do such a thing, because (of course) they don't.
And many of them don't, of course, because they both want and need to come here. And we need them, whether we want to admit it or not. Just ask the farmers of Pennsylvania, or of any other state for that matter. That's why they will always find a way to come here. Build a wall, and they'll dig a tunnel. Plug the tunnel, and they'll hire a boat. Blockade the ports, and they'll charter a plane. Flood the airports with police, and they'll pack themselves inside of tractor-trailers. Stop all of the tractor-trailers ... well, by then, you'll have bankrupted the nation looking for people we should be welcoming with open arms.
Especially since they'll be here anyway. Because we need them, and they need us. And that's never going to change. Because that's how America was created, and how it continues to be re-created, over and over again.
None of this is meant to obscure the need for a secure border. The truth is that the border currently is already a great deal more secure than most people realize. And if you want to talk in practical terms about practical steps to make it more secure, fine, so long as your words include numbers, especially the cost of taking those steps. If you want to stipulate that those numeric goals must be reached before steps are taken to increase visa numbers, or aid the undocumented, fine. Back in 2013, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill designed to address all of those goals. It was systematically destroyed by the Republican House of Representatives and the conservative pundocracy, because both understood that passage would have cost them a political issue, and an avenue to more political power.
And that is why today's Republican presidential candidates don't want to be any more specific about immigration than the phrase "secure the border." Because they don't care about the border, or immigrants, or their voters, or the nation. The one thing they care about, truly, madly, deeply, is power. And they see endless exploitation of the immigration issue as the best way to keep and expand that power.
What does it mean to "secure the border"? Don't expect the Republicans to answer that question for you, GOP voters. They're too busy using the issue to manipulate you. And you're too satisfied with bumper-sticker answers to call them on it.