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Trump's rhetoric on immigration gets a reality check in Tijuana

Trump's rhetoric on immigration gets a reality check in Tijuana
Casa del Migrante Director Father Patrick Murphy, 63, with Juan Carlos Garcia Aguilar, 39, of Bakersfield, who was deported to Mexico after serving a drug sentence. His five children are in Bakersfield. (Robin Abcarian / Los Angeles Times)

He's called for a 2,000-mile border fence. He's called for an end to remittances. He's called for the deportation of 11 million people and for the end of birthright citizenship.

I guess we should all be grateful that the current Republican presidential front-runner, Donald Trump, hasn't called for anti-immigration drone strikes at the Mexican border, as his rival Ben Carson did Wednesday. Or alligator-filled moats at the border, as Herman Cain did in 2012.

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Still, there are so many delusional aspects to Trump's immigration plan that it's hard to pick the looniest.

"I will build a great, great wall on our southern border," Trump said in June, when he blithely smeared Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals in his presidential announcement. "And I will have Mexico pay for that wall, mark my words."

As I crossed into Mexico the other day, all I could think was: How can this blowhard not know that we already have fences in California and Texas? And that they are unfeasible anywhere else?

At our San Ysidro border, in fact, there are two fences: The old one, with horizontal ridges that gave a toehold to anyone willing to scale it, and the new one, which cannot be climbed, that runs into the sea.

The parallel fences, many yards apart, create a No Man's Land that no man or woman in his or her right mind would try to cross.

And that's the thing, really. Screaming about illegal border crossings may be at an all-time high, but actual illegal border crossings are at historic lows.

To all but the most determined smugglers, our border is effectively sealed. (And the great wave of Central American children who streamed to the border last summer? The whole point was to get caught so they could apply for political asylum.)

"It's virtually impossible right now," said Juan Carlos Garcia Aguilar, 39, who was deported last month from Kern County after serving a drug sentence. His five children, ages 9 to 21, live in Bakersfield.

We spoke in the central courtyard of a four-story apartment house, Casa del Migrante, a shelter operated by the Scalabrini order of Catholics. Men in jeans and T-shirts, some grimy, some immaculate, sat around with their belongings in mesh bags or small backpacks, waiting for dinner.

The casa, which has a doctor, social worker, psychologist and attorney on staff, provides social services for migrants, many of whom are Mexican-born, American-raised deportees. Their deportation-worthy acts range from driving with a missing headlight and DUIs to drug crimes and domestic violence.

"When I first got here in July, I was lost, literally lost," said Garcia Aguilar, who moved to Bakersfield from Michoacan when he was 9. "The culture shock."

Garcia Aguilar told me he is resigned to staying in Mexico, and has found a job in the sales department of Telvista, a major call center operation in Tijuana where employees with flawless English are particularly valued.

"I'm dealing with people in the States all day long," he said. "It's weird."

Father Patrick Murphy, the shelter's director, said he thinks 60% of the people he serves have families in the U.S. "And they all want to go home," he said, "to Los Angeles, to Fresno."

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The deportees' original hometowns — mostly in southern Mexico — mean little to them.

"A lot of them say, 'I haven't been to my "home" in 20 years,' " Murphy said. " 'I don't know anybody. I don't have any family there. I don't speak Spanish well.' The big problem here is that Dad has been deported and Mom and the kids, who usually have papers, are living in Los Angeles. This is really separating families in a big way."

Lucky for us, Trump has a solution: Deport the whole family!

"So you're going to split up families? You're going to deport children?" asked Chuck Todd of "Meet the Press" as he interviewed Trump last week in the aisle of the billionaire and reality TV star's luxuriously appointed jet.

"Chuck. No, no. We're going to keep the families together," replied Trump. "We have to keep the families together…. But they have to go."

Actually, they don't have to go. Nor will they go. And anyone who says otherwise is engaging, as Murphy put it, in "Fantasyland thinking."

I challenge anyone to read Trump's immigration "plan" and tell me how he can accomplish anything other than pushing the rest of the Republican field to the right, toward what the party's own officials have described, in so many words, as a political suicide leap. ("If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States, i.e. self-deportation, they will not pay attention to our next sentence," concluded a 2013 Republican National Committee report ripping the party for its alienation of Latino and other minority voters.)

Most of the clients at Casa del Migrante are not following American politics.

Garcia Aguilar said he talks to some of his call center co-workers about Trump. "I always say if they want to see what it's really like to deport everyone, they should watch a movie called 'A Day Without a Mexican.' " (In that 2004 comic fantasy, all of California's Mexicans suddenly disappear, plunging the state into chaos.)

"Mexicans do all the hard labor to begin with," Garcia Aguilar said. "If they were to deport everybody, the U.S. economy would go broke."

Murphy, for his part, worries about something darker. This week, he noted, was the two-month anniversary of the Charleston, S.C., church shootings, committed by a white man who expressed deep-seated racism toward blacks.

"My fear is that Donald Trump will wake up a lot of people and sooner or later some crazy person is going to start killing Mexican people," Murphy said. "Because he's really lighting a lot of fires."

I don't know about that, but I think he will electrify a lot of people: Latino voters. Also known as American citizens, who reliably vote for Democrats.

Twitter: @AbcarianLAT

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