Sept. 2, 2016 – This article first appeared on The Medium:

After Donald Trump met with his Hispanic Advisory Council on August 20, the media tied itself in knots over whether he had “softened” on his insistence that all 11 million undocumented immigrants be deported, a central pillar of his campaign. Then in a Fox News Channel town hall, Trump implied possible openness to “legalization” for undocumented immigrants, and many were hopeful that he had finally changed his tune to reach out to moderate Republicans — particularly suburban women — who are uncomfortable with Trump’s extremism and racism.

But on Wednesday in Phoenix, Trump put any talk of possible “softening” to bed, as he outlined a horrifying, 10-step assault on immigrants — documented and undocumented; due process; and other cherished American values. Trump laid out the most hardline, mean spirited immigration proposal in U.S. history; a scheme, that if put into effect, would result in the mass deportation, either by force or by forcing people out because life is so miserable, with no way back to the U.S.

Trump’s subterfuge was evident from his assertion that undocumented immigrants who departed the U.S. could return under “the laws that are existing.” What he didn’t say was that existing law blocks virtually all undocumented immigrants who leave the U.S. from returning even if they have U.S. citizen husbands, wives, or children.

As Greg Sargent of the Washington Post explained:

Trump flatly stated that for undocumented immigrants, there is “one route and one route only” to legal status: “to return home and apply for re-entry like everybody else.” Trump did not call for any change in the law that would expedite legal status for those who leave and return, which means in practical terms that this path is foreclosed to many, since it would mean very long wait times that would rupture families and work arrangements. As Julia Preston puts it: “In practice, immigrants who depart could face years of uncertain waiting outside the country.”

And for those who remain Trump envisioned a life of continued misery and fear. Again, Sargent:

In other words, the 11 million have no meaningful path to legalization — which Trump labeled “amnesty” numerous times — and this means they are not just consigned to the shadows indefinitely, but targets for deportation for the foreseeable future.

What was clear to those who listened carefully was that Trump hadn’t changed his position on deportation at all. Rather, as Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson admitted last week, he’d merely “changed the words that he was using.” And Wednesday night in Arizona, in his much anticipated immigration policy speech, Trump not only doubled down on mass deportation, but he went even further, declaring that undocumented immigrants who depart the U.S. would have to return “under the rules of a new legal immigration system”:

For those here illegally today, who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and one route only. To return home and apply for reentry like everybody else, under the rules of the new legal immigration system that I have outlined above. Those who have left to seek entry —

Thank you. Thank you. Those who have left to seek entry under this new system — and it will be an efficient system — will not be awarded surplus visas, but will have to apply for entry under the immigration caps or limits that will be established in the future.

And what are the contours of Trump’s “new immigration system”?

First, Trump called for a massive reduction in legal immigration quotas to historically low levels thereby reducing the number of green cards available to begin with. As outlined on his campaign website, Trump’s plan would severely restrict or gut most legal immigration, including visas for businesses and families, cultural and education exchanges, and science, technology, engineering, and math professionals:

We’ve admitted 59 million immigrants to the United States between 1965 and 2015. Many of these arrivals have greatly enriched our country. So true. But we now have an obligation to them and to their children to control future immigration as we are following, if you think, previous immigration waves.


Within just a few years immigration as a share of national population is set to break all historical records. The time has come for a new immigration commission to develop a new set of reforms to our legal immigration system in order to achieve the following goals.

To keep immigration levels measured by population share within historical norms. To select immigrants based on their likelihood of success in U.S. society and their ability to be financially self- sufficient.

We take anybody, Come on in, anybody, Just come on in. Not anymore.

The current immigration system is plagued by rigid, unworkable quotas that force families to live divided by a border, and prevent American businesses from competing globally. Reducing these levels even further will tighten the screws on families and companies even more, making a dysfunctional system that works against American interests even worse.

Second, Trump reasserted that all incoming immigrants should be subject to an “ideological certification to make sure that they share our values and love our people.” But who defines what “our” values are? Who defines what “loving our people” is? Donald Trump? He certainly doesn’t represent my values as an American, and I don’t trust him to apply a fair “ideological test” to immigrants. This is just another ruse to dramatically reduce immigration.

At best an ideological test on values is unworkable. At worst it will turn our country into a police state for immigrants where thoughts and actions that offend whomever is charged with enforcing the law can land a person in prison or at the wrong end of a deportation order.

Third, Trump proposes to suspend the issuance of visas in any country “where adequate screening cannot occur” and the suspension of immigration from countries until proven and effective vetting — “extreme vetting” as he calls it — can be put in place.

Essentially what that means is a complete end to all immigration — tourists, temporary workers, and permanent immigrants. Think about it: Is there a country that has not been touched by the threat of terrorism, crime or violence? Are we prepared to block visitors from France, England, Israel, Japan, Australia and Canada — all countries that have been touched by terrorism? If the standard we use to issue visas is Donald Trump’s vision of ideological testing coupled with “extreme vetting” America needs to be prepared to lock the door to our country and throw away the key.

The answer to America’s immigration dysfunction is not to create further, more mean spirited dysfunction. The answer is for the President to work with Congress to overhaul the outdated broken immigration system so that it keeps American families safe and together and meets the needs of American business. If implemented, Trump’s draconian policy proposals would not only ensure the permanent removal of the 11 million undocumented immigrants — with no possibility of return to their loved ones in the U.S. — but also would virtually seal off the U.S. from the rest of the world.

Rhetorical gymnastics aside, what’s crystal clear after Wednesday’s immigration speech is that Donald Trump’s ugly vision of America would rip American families apart, devastate communities, wreak havoc on our economy, and threaten our security at home and abroad.

That’s the dark vision Trump started his campaign with, and it’s the vision that remains.

David W. Leopold is the former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). He has served as AILA’s top liaison to the Department of Homeland Security’s key enforcement bureaus and has testified as an immigration expert before the U.S. Congress. Mr. Leopold’s Cleveland, Ohio-based immigration, visa, and citizenship practice serves corporations, health care institutions, families, and individuals.