Washington, DC – Our memo below captures the latest action at the intersection of immigration politics and policy. Be on the lookout for more on the politics of immigration this week, as tomorrow’s Virginia primary elections set up a high-profile test case whether the GOP will again embrace nativism as Ed Gillespie infamously tried in the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial race.
The GOP is Systematically Degrading Our Democracy
- At the state level, Republicans have redoubled their efforts at suppressing the vote and undermining the legitimacy of our elections. From Texas to Georgia to many other states, Republicans are not trying to broaden their appeal, they are trying to shrink the electorate – especially by targeting voters of color and voters in urban areas. Republicans recently showed their disdain for democracy by blocking a bipartisan commission to investigate the white nationalist terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol to thwart a free and fair election. According to the latest from Navigator polling, two-thirds of Americans support the commission.
- Closer to home in the immigration space, it is important to understand Republican opposition to creating pathways to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants in this context. The GOP doesn’t want to expand the electorate, especially if legislation expands to include people of color who are likely to favor Democrats over Republicans. The GOP wants to shrink the electorate to advance their countermajoritarian project.
- As with the January 6th commission, an overwhelming majority of voters support enacting pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But the GOP has other priorities: rigging the rules to impose its will on the multiracial majority in America.
The Cornyn Con – Pretending “Yes” on Immigration to Get to “No” – is Unfolding in Real Time
- What’s the Cornyn Con? The silver-tongued, silver-haired Senator from Texas pretends he wants a breakthrough on immigration reform in order to scuttle immigration reform. He positions himself as a conservative who wants to make common cause with Democrats, and after igniting hope and attracting positive press, he pulls the rug out on Democrats so he can blame them for failure.
- Last week, Cornyn appeared alongside Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) in Arizona and then the two Senators were joined in Texas by Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-CA) and Tony Gonzales (R-TX). They touted their bipartisan proposal to fast-track asylum hearings. As policy, their plan would undermine fairness in a process that yields life-and-death decisions (see a new Roll Call op-ed: Sinema-Cornyn border proposal would hurt refugees. Congress should reject it). But what’s really going on is Cornyn is using the proposal to position himself, once again, as a fake bipartisan deal-maker on immigration.
- The political desire from some Democrats to exhaust attempts at bipartisanship is understandable. However, Republicans have made it clear they are, at best, uninterested in governing, and, at worst, hostile to democracy itself. Republicans are betting they can win back power by scuttling Biden’s agenda, shrinking the electorate and blowing racist dog-whistles. If Democrats fail to deliver on immigration, they play right into their hands.
Immigration as Wedge Issue in 2022? GOP Didn’t Go There in New Mexico Special
- Republicans have not been shy about their plans to deploy immigration as a wedge issue in 2022. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) says immigration is the “central issue in the campaign in 2022.” Stephen Miller says, “Heading into the midterms, I think that Republicans are increasingly realizing that this [immigration] can be one of the most potent issues, both to motivate our voters, but equally as important, to appeal to swing voters.” In March, Kevin McCarthy turned from Dr. Seuss to the “Biden border crisis,” even suggesting, without evidence, that agents claim terrorists are crossing the border.
- After spending the entire first half of the year crowing about their plans to deploy immigration as a wedge issue in 2022, the GOP did not test their theory in this border state, suburban district special election. Perhaps it’s because their polling shows what the last two election cycles showed: in the swing districts that decide which party wins majorities, it backfires.
- In the special election in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, the Republican candidate Mark Moores made noise about immigration and the border, but mostly focused his attacks on stirring up fears about rising crime rates and “defund the police.” Immigration did feature heavily in the NM-01 televised debate. The Republican candidate attacked Democratic candidate Melanie Stansbury for her “radical agenda” on immigration, claiming she wanted to defund ICE and CBP. Stansbury responded by calling for a fair and just immigration policy, an end to border wall construction, a humanitarian approach to asylum seekers and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
- The result? The Democratic candidate Melanie Stansbury won in a landslide, winning by greater margins than the 2020 victory by President Biden and the 2018 and 2020 victories by former Democratic incumbent Rep. Deb Haaland. Characterizing the possible results at the beginning of the week Politico’s Weekly Score wrote, “a blowout victory bodes well for their [Democrats] hopes of defying the historical odds for the midterms.”
- This makes the NM-01 results a positive sign for the future and the latest piece of evidence that dog-whistle politics is a losing strategy outside the reddest of districts. A reminder that Democrats should not be afraid of racist attack ads but, when faced with these attacks, should call out the cynical politics of division on display and pivot to real solutions on a range of issues, including immigration.