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What the immigration debate means for the White House race

Immigration reform is one of the biggest issues of this year’s presidential race, and every contender has their own take. Judy Woodruff talks to Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, Frank Sharry of America’s Voice and Brittney Parker of the Commonwealth Foundation for more on where the candidates stand on the issue and the role of Latino voters in this election.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Back to this country and the 2016 presidential race.

    We want to take a closer look at significant issues shaping the campaigns, tonight, immigration. The plans for reform range from a tall border wall funded by Mexico to a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living here now.

    We dig into the issue and to the role of Latino voters with Mark Krikorian. He's executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, and the author of the book "The New Case Against Immigration, Both Legal and Illegal." Frank Sharry, he's founder of the immigration reform group America's Voice. And Brittney Parker, she's a senior officer at the Commonwealth Foundation. It's a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank that promotes free market ideas.

    And we welcome all three of you to the NewsHour.

    Mark Krikorian, let me start with you first.

    Let's talk about the Republican candidates for president. What are they saying? How are they differing? At this point, it's — you have got Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and John Kasich. How do they differ on the subject of immigration?

    MARK KRIKORIAN, Center for Immigration Studies: There's actually a pretty wide range between them.

    Kasich is actually probably much closer to the Democratic candidates, wants to amnesty illegal immigrants and increase immigration. Ted Cruz is actually, in a sense, kind of in between, because Trump has said in his published platform he wants to reduce immigration, among other things.

    I'm not sure he's read his own platform, but at least that's what it says in print. Cruz is kind of in the middle. He's called for no increases in immigration, reforms in certain programs, toughening of enforcement. So, there is actually a pretty entered range, whereas, on the Democratic side, the two candidates pretty much agree on everything.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Brittney Parker, how do you see the Republican candidates on immigration?

  • BRITTNEY PARKER, Commonwealth Foundation:

    Well, the thing is that, unfortunately for Kasich, who is probably most in line with the majority of Republican primary voters, despite what Trump would say, is not many people know what Kasich's immigration platform is. He just doesn't capture the headlines the way that Cruz or Trump does.

    Cruz, much more in between the two candidates — I agree with Mark on that — but increasingly moving to more hard-line immigration stance, especially compared to where he used to be just a few years ago.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, Frank Sharry, as somebody who is coming at this from the other side of the political spectrum, how do you see voters so far in these Republican primaries responding to these candidates?

  • FRANK SHARRY, America’s Voice:

    Look, the animating issue in the immigration debate right now is what to do about 11 million undocumented immigrants who live and work in America.

    Trump has gone far beyond anything we have seen, and by saying that he's going to round up and deport people within 18 to 24 months, a remarkable thing. The wall gets a lot of attention, but the idea that we would have that kind of mass roundup of people who are settled in America, it would be one of the most outrageous human rights violations in the modern world.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But he's still doing well in the primaries. He's ahead in delegates.

  • FRANK SHARRY:

    He's still doing well.

    So, let's remember Mitt Romney had a hard-line policy in 2012. It cost him big-time with Latino voters, arguably cost him the election. And that's why the RNC said, we need a kinder, gentler approach.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Mark Krikorian, let me ask you to put the shoe on the other foot. Looking at the Democratic primaries, how do you see the differences between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and how do you see that breaking…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • MARK KRIKORIAN:

    Yes.

    The interesting thing is, there really isn't any daylight between them. Hillary was — seems to be moving farther and farther to the left on a variety of issues, obviously, not just immigration, to compete with Sanders. And they both have said in a recent debate explicitly, they said that there is no one they would deport who wasn't convicted of a violent crime.

    In other words, they have said that every illegal immigrant here and every new illegal immigrant would be allowed to stay as long as they're not convicted of a violent crime. That's really an extreme, very extreme position. And it's essentially the same between the two of them.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Brittney Parker, as a Puerto Rican woman who follows these issues very closely, how do you see the Democratic divide, and how concerned are you for the Republican Party that it is not representing the views of those who believe the country needs to be more forgiving and more understanding when it comes to immigration?

  • BRITTNEY PARKER:

    Being part of the Latino community, immigration is a top issue. Almost everyone in the Hispanic community knows someone affected by immigration.

    And part of the problem that you're seeing on the right isn't even the hard-line stances, which, let's be honest, we're not going to deport 12 million people. It's the rhetoric. It's the selling of outrage in regards to these issues.

    It's a complete turnoff. It just pushes away — people away before they can even start to have the conversation about how to fix the broken immigration system.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Frank Sharry, respond to that, and also to what one often hears about Democrats, that they may be taking the Latino, the Hispanic vote for granted.

  • FRANK SHARRY:

    Yes, I'm actually pleased.

    I think Mark is right that both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are really leaning in, and they're trying to show the Latino community that they're on their side, in hopes of a big turnout. And I do think that, you know, they're exploiting a Republican lurch to the right.

    We have never seen the difference between the two parties so wide. And the Latino vote is going to be of consequence in a number of key swing states, Florida, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, New Mexico, Virginia. Honestly, this could be — the fact that the Republicans have gone so far towards the extreme on immigration could really hurt them with a critical population that's going to help decide the election.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Does that worry you, Mark Krikorian?

  • MARK KRIKORIAN:

    Well, first of all, I mean, I'm personally Republican. My organization isn't. So, I mean, I'm looking at this from the outside.

    And what Frank is talking about could actually happen. I mean, there's no question that Donald Trump's rhetoric, at the very least, raises hackles on the parts of a lot of people.

    But, you know, all the political predictions about this election have been wrong up until now. I think there's a real possibility that the Democratic candidates, in their attempt to pander to Hispanic voters, or at least to Hispanic activist organizations, are actually turning away a lot of their own voters who were otherwise predisposed to vote for a Democrat.

    And that's what you're seeing, a lot of Trump support coming from people who are otherwise Democrats. So, I think — I really — I don't think it's obvious what effect immigration is going to have. We're all speculating on this. And you're obviously always speculating until there is an election.

    This is much more fluid and much less predictable than at any time in the past.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Brittney Parker, do you agree with that?

  • BRITTNEY PARKER:

    I agree that we're not sure what is going to happen, what exactly the role immigration is going to play in this election.

    But I would say that almost every major poll that's come out does show that the majority of Americans support — do not support deportation of the 12 million, and support some type of immigration reform.

    And, yes, about 40 percent of Republican primary voters are supporting Donald Trump and his espoused rhetoric on deportation and lessening legal immigration, but that still leaves 60 percent of Republican primary voters who are not in agreement with his stance and the general electorate. That leaves moderates, libertarians, independents, Democrats, who tend to disagree with Donald Trump on this issue of immigration.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You just made the point, Mark Krikorian, that you are a Republican personally. That's not representative of your organization.

    But what does it mean for the Republican Party if Donald Trump were elected and carried out what he says he's going to do?

  • MARK KRIKORIAN:

    I don't know. We will see.

    First of all, he's not going to be deporting everybody. This is — the interesting thing is, you know, when they take these exit polls about people supporting a path to citizenship, a lot of the people who are answering yes to that are also Trump's voters.

    In other words, I think people are misunderstanding what this poll question about do you support a path to citizenship means. I support a path to citizenship for some portion of illegal immigrants, so I could be answering yes.

    The question is, what do we do before that? How do we make sure that, if we do have an amnesty, it's the last amnesty? And that — no one trusts regular politicians to legalize illegal immigrants without creating a new problem in the future. And that is what a lot of Trump's appeal is.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Frank Sharry, what's the main question for you going into this election when it comes to immigration?

  • FRANK SHARRY:

    Are Latinos going to turn out? Are Democrats and progressives going to invest in Latino turnout?

    I think it could be a real game-changer for Democrats and progressives in this election. Will Donald Trump get the nomination, and what will he represent to Latinos who are deeply offended when he calls hardworking Mexicans criminals and drug dealers and rapists, when he says — he threatens to take citizenship away from their kids who were born here?

    I think we're going to see a referendum on immigration, on race and inclusion, where Hispanic voters going to be decisive in elections.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, we have months to go and much more to unfold about this issue.

    We thank you, all three, Frank Sharry, Mark Krikorian and Brittney Parker. Thank you.

  • BRITTNEY PARKER:

    Thank you.

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