I’ll admit it. Donald Trump wasn’t my first choice – or second.
As an immigration lawyer, I spent my entire adult life fighting for the rights of immigrants. I’ve seen how broken and unfair our current system is.
I’ve grieved with families being broken apart by unforgiving and arbitrary statutes and seen children who have gone 10 to 15 years without seeing their parents. I’ve watched as criminals and scammers prey on immigrants, who are easy pickings because they are often afraid to report crimes.
After more than two decades practicing within our immigration system, I know it to be far too complex to be solved by a wall – even setting aside who might ultimately pay for its construction.
As a proud third generation Mexican American, a father and husband to a Mexican-born wife, Trump’s hurtful words about Mexicans made me recoil.
Far from wanting to climb aboard the “Trump Train,” the candidate’s nativist words and simplistic approaches had me looking to derail it.
Nevertheless, democracy doesn’t always allow for one’s first or second choice. In our system, we are ultimately given a binary choice between one of two candidates.
Hillary Clinton’s appealing promises to Latinos have been poll-tested by experts, but this choice is too important to be based on words alone. She has a well-established record of dodging tough decisions on immigration that belies all her soothing talk.
She now promises to “keep families together” and to help millions of workers emerge “out of the shadows,” but her words are at odds with her service in an administration that has deported more than two million people, breaking up more families than any in American history.
Then there was her famous waffling on the question posed by moderator Tim Russert during her 2007 run for the White House, when she flip-flopped about giving undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses: she took both sides of the issue in fewer than two minutes.
Small wonder. As Sen. Bernie Sanders has pointed out, then New York Senator Clinton had secretly pressured New York’s Governor, Eliot Spitzer, to drop his own plan to give licenses to the undocumented. Sanders’ assertion was later verified by the fact-checking media watchdog, PolitiFact.
As a senator, she played a cynical game with immigrant lives, deliberately refusing to take a stand on the proposed Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2007 until the week the legislation came up for a vote. When the bill failed, both the political and the media community commented that her foot-dragging was a calculated political convenience.
Indeed, much of the heartbreak in today’s broken immigration system can be laid at the feet of her husband, whose “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996” was a draconian crackdown on all illegal immigrants. As Princeton University professor and sociologist Douglas S. Massey has observed, the Clinton immigration approach helped “create a black market for Mexican labor, lower the wages of legal U.S. residents, increase income inequality, and worsen conditions in U.S. labor markets.”
While Trump’s words sting, he has succeeded in placing comprehensive immigration reform at the top of the national consciousness for the first time since George W. Bush faced Al Gore 16 years ago. Ironically, we have Donald Trump to thank that the need for reform is front and center in the minds of Americans.
The further irony is that Donald Trump may be the only candidate in either party who can bridge the emotionally charged divisions that are the real obstacle to reform.
Just as it took a well-established anti-communist like Richard Nixon to take the first steps toward normalizing relations with the People’s Republic of China, it might require a Donald Trump to negotiate an immigration reform bill that can satisfy both sides. Few others have Trump’s credibility with the most virulent “nativist” forces to bring them to the table — and clearly, Trump is not concerned with consistency.
A President Trump would be a lot more likely to steer a compromise reform through a Republican-controlled House of Representatives than a President Hillary Clinton, even if she were inclined to do so. Donald Trump is not the perfect candidate, but he does have a record in business of bringing differing people together, and of being flexible enough to get things done.
While he wasn’t my first or even my second choice, I will take Donald Trump over a politician with a record of sitting on the sidelines and of playing cynical games with the lives of immigrant families.
Jacob Montijilo Monty is a Houston-based immigration attorney and GOP activist.