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As Donald Trump’s presidency reaches the first 100 days in office benchmark, we’ve been highlighting the Administration’s disastrous approach to immigration. In this, our latest installment of our series assessing Trump’s first 100 days on immigration (full series available here), we examine how Republicans on Capitol Hill have been Trump’s enablers and abetters on immigrants.
Republicans, very occasionally, stand up to Trump: Republican moderates (with a strong assist from the House Freedom Caucus on round one) have thwarted Trump’s desire to have a health care bill passed by at least one chamber in the first 100 days. A number of Republicans criticized Trump’s two Muslim bans. And none of the Republican members of Congress who represent districts and states that touch the southwest border support Trump’s plans for a border wall.
But regular, sustained criticism of Trump’s deportation force and indiscriminate removal of mothers and fathers? Protest about why churchgoing moms like Maribel Trujillo had to be separated from her four children if Trump was supposedly only going after “bad hombres”? Questions about why Dreamers like Daniel and Daniela were detained for weeks when DACA should have protected them? Not so much.
What about Paul Ryan, who reportedly favors immigration reform? In January he told an Oklahoma woman that a deportation force was “not happening.” Well, Trump is proposing to triple the size of interior deportation force and even without the increase, ICE is engaged in indiscriminate deportations. Ryan has not said anything more about the issue.
Neither has he made a peep about passing legislative immigration reform — even though Republicans control both chambers of Congress as well as the Presidency. Instead, Republicans tell constituents back home that they support the issue while doing nothing. For example, Paul Ryan in January used the old Republican trope that immigration legislation might be possible once “our border is secured,” without giving specifications on when that might be.
There aren’t even rumors that an immigration reform bill is in the works. During the April Congressional recess, a group of contractors in South Carolina begged Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) to pass immigration reform so that their labor shortage could be alleviated. Sanford noted their suggestions, and merely replied that legislation was unlikely to happen in the next three years because Trump had campaigned too hard against undocumented immigrants, and because Republicans feared that naturalized immigrants will vote Democrat.
Republican complicity in Trump’s mass deportation agenda, and their lack of backbone when it comes to standing up to Trump on immigration, will not go unnoticed. Republicans own the government now, and quietly sitting by as Trump rips immigrants out of American families and American communities does not count as resolving the immigration issue.
As recent polls have shown, 90% of Americans – including 87% of Republicans – support immigration reform with a path to citizenship. Six in ten Americans say that immigration helps the US more than it hurts, which is a survey high.
The Trump Administration has repeatedly attacked so-called “sanctuary cities”, but sheriffs in Republican jurisdictions (as well as Democratic ones) have called Trump out on the practice. The Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Trump in the 2016 elections, told Trump that attacking immigrant-friendly cities could risk police safety. During April recess, 150 constituents in a Virginia county that went 2-1 for Trump shouted down their sheriff for wanting to work with ICE on detainers. The lack of action on immigration reform will be economically damaging to Republican voters, as well: farmers from California to New Mexico to Michigan have said that their farms won’t survive without immigrant labor, while dairy farms in Wisconsin and elsewhere have said that the price of milk could go up to $8/gallon.
If Republicans want to cede action on immigration to Trump, at least some of their constituents are likely to have a problem with that.
Republicans, fresh off their 2016 victory, are unlikely to heed the warning, but the story of Pete Wilson remains as salient as ever for the long-term future of the GOP.
In 1994, Governor Pete Wilson won reelection in California after making the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 a cornerstone of his campaign. Wilson over-performed with white voters (sound familiar?) and Prop 187 passed into law. But the anti-immigrant and anti-Latino demagoguery from that campaign was devastating to state Republicans in the long run. Prop 187 was eventually overturned, and Pete Wilson left office in 1999 – and today, Democrats hold 41 out of 55 Congressional seats in California, every state-level office, and have a 19-percentage-point advantage in voter registration.
The Republican Party of 2012 understood this threat – but Donald Trump’s campaign and subsequent victory seem to have banished that concern, for now, from GOP minds. Forward-looking Republican strategists know the demographic dangers are still out there, though. The GOP’s anti-immigrant agenda “is a long-term disaster for the party,” said Mike Madrid a Republican strategist and former state political director. And Dan Schnur, who was chief media spokesman for Governor Wilson, said “History doesn’t repeat itself, it just moves east.”