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Pro-Immigrant Advocates And Prominent Voices Push Back On GOP Debate Lies And Fear Mongering

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The GOP’s race to the bottom on immigration was on full display at the first Republican presidential debate on Wednesday night, where candidates endorsed waging war within the border of our neighbor and ally Mexico, called for mass deportation, spread pernicious lies about the fentanyl crisis, and invoked white nationalist “invasion” rhetoric to likely millions of viewers on television and online. It was a “dark” vision, Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro noted.

We did, however, see some important pushback to GOP disinformation and fear mongering by advocates, reporters, elected officials, and other prominent voices.

We’d previously noted that drug company executive Vivek Ramaswamy had proposed one of the most extreme immigration proposals (and that’s saying a lot in this GOP field) in an effort to stand out among candidates. On Wednesday, he was first to pivot to a plan to attack Mexico, and subsequently used the debate stage to amplify “invasion” conspiracy theory. This was “once only a neo-Nazi talking point,” MSNBC’s Medhi Hasan noted. Now, it’s an animating force.

Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) Action noted that when candidates use this rhetoric, “they are encouraging the domestic terrorists who attacked Pittsburgh, El Paso, and Buffalo.” America’s Voice has previously identified over 500 examples of elected Republicans or GOP campaigns amplifying this rhetoric over a single one year period. Despite this conspiracy theory having a rising body count across numerous U.S. cities, Fox News moderator Bret Baier framed a question in the context of this dangerous language, America’s Voice Political Director Zachary Mueller noted.

There was also strong pushback to Republicans’ falsely linking the fentanyl crisis to immigration. “Fentanyl addiction is a serious and urgent problem, but Fentanyl is largely trafficked by U.S. citizens,” Moms Rising tweeted. Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, Policy Director at the American Immigration Council, backed that up with a closer look at some of the figures. “I looked at two and a half years of fentanyl seizures at the southern border publicly reported by CBP through its official media channels,” he tweeted. “Out of more than 500 incidents, just 8 involved catching fentanyl being brought across the border on foot between ports of entry.”

“Over 90% of fentanyl is trafficked into the US at ports of entry, mostly by US citizens. It is NOT an immigration issue,” Voto Latino tweeted. But with no real solutions to the very real and tragic fentanyl crisis, it’s just easier to blame immigrants and score some political points in the process. “You get immigration scare and drug scare rolled up into one bogeyman,” tweeted Daily Beast columnist Wajahat Ali. “The fentanyl is coming through the ports of entry and airports, not that anyone cares about the truth here,” MSNBC host Chris Hayes summed up.

Republicans beating the war drums with Mexico was also met with disbelief by viewers seeking real solutions on the issues facing our nation. Ron DeSantis, the robotic governor of Florida, continued to endorse violence against Mexico, again pushing his now-signature line about leaving people “stone cold dead” at the border. “The Republicans are planning extrajudicial border killings and building bigger walls, but they refuse to seriously engage with fixing our broken immigration system,” tweeted Voto Latino CEO María Teresa Kumar. “Republicans have gone from Self Deportation to Build A Wall to Invade Mexico in just over a decade,” Rep. Castro tweeted.

“One thing post-debate coverage should probably emphasize is that Ron DeSantis would start a war with Mexico on day one of his administration,” tweeted Media Matters’ Ari Dennen.

Wednesday’s debate was in Wisconsin, a state that depends heavily on an immigrant workforce. Without these essential workers, its famous dairy industry “would collapse,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in 2019. Viewers pointed out that immigrants are in fact critical to our entire economy, paying billions in federal, state and local taxes every year (roughly $12 billion annually, to be exact). “This money helps fund programs for the rest of us such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare,” tweeted Moms Rising. 

Yet former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called for the mass deportation of millions of immigrants, a totally unrealistic plan that would be disastrous in every way possible. Not only would it take a sledgehammer to our economy, it was “low priority” immigrants who ended up being targeted when Donald Trump was president. Christie once supported a path to citizenship, observers noted. But he dumped that position in favor of his failed 2016 presidential campaign.

“Last night all we heard was disinformation, extremism, and wanton cruelty, but nothing about real policies to address immigration challenges,” responded America’s Voice Executive Director Vanessa Cárdenas. “There was a disturbing consensus on display on the GOP debate stage last night on immigration and border issues, encapsulating Republicans’ ongoing descent into extremism that was once limited to the fringes of the nativist and white nationalist movements.”

“None of their plans or policies would move us closer to real solutions for 21st-century migration or deliver the long overdue legislative fix for our broken immigration system needs that Republicans continue to block,” Cárdenas continued. “Instead, it’s a depressing example of how Republicans have weaponized these issues as part of their ongoing assault on our inclusive democracy.”