Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks about immigration and refugees during an Aug. 10 campaign event in Sunrise, Fla. (CRISTOBAL HERRERA/European Pressphoto Agency)

The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts is luxuriating in a schadenfreude bath watching Donald Trump try to pivot away from his hard-line immigration position. In fact, the staff here can’t decide what best part of this awkward pivot: The way that Trump has morphed into Jeb!, the way in which a certain Trump supporter publishing a book this week is left slowly twisting in the wind because of this flip-flop, or the way in which Trump’s switch reveals his fundamental lack of policy knowledge.

This post, however, is not about whether Trump’s supporters will tolerate this shift or whether it plays well with the voters Trump needs. No, it’s about an interesting aside in Byron York’s Washington Examiner column detailing the mess that Trump has made on this issue:

Trump’s deportation mess is troubling to some of the best-informed conservatives on the immigration issue because it creates a huge and damaging controversy over a matter that is not at the heart of solving the larger immigration problem. “The disposition of the 12 million illegals already here is not the core dilemma we face,” writes Mark Krikorian, of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tighter limits on immigration. “The core dilemma is how to make sure we don’t end up with another 12 million illegal aliens.”

That quote pretty much sums up Krikorian’s National Review blog post on the topic.

Here’s the thing, though: The disposition of the millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States is exactly the core issue we face. I would understand Krikorian’s concerns if the United States faced a tidal wave of undocumented migrants streaming across our borders, but we don’t, and we haven’t since 2008 or so. As I wrote earlier this year, the depressing thing about today’s immigration debate is that it was frozen in amber about a decade ago.

At this time, we know that:

  1. The United States is experiencing a net outflow of Mexican migrants.
  2. The number of individuals living illegally in the United States has declined (contra Krikorian, Pew estimates the number as falling from 12.1 million in 2007 to 11.3 million in 2o14).
  3. The notion that unvetted refugees are flooding into the United States is a complete lie.

This doesn’t mean that illegal immigration flows might not tick up again, particularly if the U.S. economy outpaces the rest of the world in job creation. But it suggests that, right now, the undocumented residents are in fact the biggest part of the problem. If that Gordian knot is untangled, then immigration policy can pivot to focusing on enforcement and converting flows of illegal migrants into legal flows.

Immigration hard-liners and GOP candidates very much like to stake out the position that before anything can be done about the undocumented residents currently living in the United States, enforcement must first be addressed. If anything, however, the reverse is true. Before dealing with enforcement, let’s find a humane way to deal with the 11.3 million illegal immigrants residing in the United States.