There can be little doubt that immigration policy is not just one of the issues facing the electorate in the 2016 election, as was the case in 2012 and 2008, but is now the issue. No serious observer would argue that Donald Trump is so far ahead to the pack in the Republican primaries because the public cares about his views on eminent domain, or even on whether certain foreign currencies may be undervalued.

To the contrary, by his promise to build a wall against Mexican "criminals" and "rapists", and to bar Muslims from everywhere in the world from entering the US solely on the basis of their religion, on the presumption that every one of the more than a billion members of this religion must be a terrorist agent or sympathizer; and also by his proposal to use a "special task force" (which even Trump's strongly anti-immigrant opponent, Senator Ted Cruz, has criticized as Nazi style "jackboots") to deport 11 million unauthorized immigrants, Trump has obviously tapped into a deep vein of anti-immigrant feeling which goes far beyond legitimate concerns about security, law enforcement or protecting American jobs.

And it is not just Trump. In some ways, Cruz has even harsher proposals than Trump to limit immigration, especially with regard to restricting access to legal visas. Marco Rubio, whom most observers place in the top three along with Trump and Cruz in terms of chances of being nominated, has also renounced his previous support for immigration reform and has also joined the immigration enforcement hard-liners, though his views might be more moderate regarding legal immigration. No one knows for sure.

There is a very real, if not even overwhelming, possibility that one of the above three candidates may win the Republican nomination. Because of the perceived weaknesses of the two likely Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, there is a very strong possibility that one of the three above Republican anti-immigrant hard-liners might be America's next president, supported by a Republican-controlled House and Senate.

What would this mean for immigration policy? In the face of the above very real possibility, one has to ask whether the focus that there has been up to now on some of the issues that are now occupying the immigration community, such as tweaks to the EB-5 program, hand wringing over Congress' irrational and destructive refusal to increase the number of H-1B visas, and dealing with ongoing retrogression in priority dates for immigrant visas in certain family and employment-based preference categories is not equivalent to arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

What will happen if, beginning in January 2017, America faces huge cuts in all categories of legal visas, or even total elimination of some of these categories, in order to keep out Latin American, Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants who are unpopular with the GOP's mainly white base? What happens of the US becomes a country of nationwide midnight house to house searches and draconian deportations tearing millions of families apart(such as are already taking place to a much more limited extent under the Obama administration, as my distinguished colleague Matt Kolken never hesitates to remind us) on a basis that is unheard of in our history up to now?

In order to understand why immigration has become such a big issue in this year's presidential campaign it is important to go below the superficial campaign slogans about 9/11 (which was not a big issue in 2008 or 2012, but is suddenly looming large again now in the presidential debates this year) or "securing the border" (in a time when more Mexicans are reportedly leaving the US than entering each year), or "stealing American jobs", (a canard that had never been supported by unequivocal evidence but has been around almost as long as there has been immigration in the US). in order to look at the deeper dynamics which are making immigration such a prominent and sensitive issue this year, and enabling candidates who threaten to make vast restrictions in America's immigration system, if not to destroy this system as we currently know it entirely, to gain such widespread popular support.

One of the best pieces that has been written on this topic so far is by John Tirman, Executive Director, MIT Center for International Studies, entitled The Origins of Intolerance in America.

It appeared in the Huffington Post on December 15, 2015. My upcoming comment will discuss this piece in more detail. The link is:

http://huffingtonpost.com/john-tirma...b_8812476.html

To be continued in Part 2.
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Roger Algase is a New York immigration lawyer and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. With more than 35 years experience in immigration cases, his practice focuses primarily on obtaining work visas, green cards and US citizenship for skilled and professional immigrants, as well as permanent residence through opposite sex and same sex marriage.

Roger's email address is algaselex@gmail.com