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Tonight, Democratic presidential candidates will again gather on a debate stage to highlight their vision for America and make the case for why they are best equipped to defeat Donald Trump. Here are reminders why immigration needs to be an essential part of the conversation, inextricable from both their larger vision for the country and their plan to defeat Trump.
To state the obvious, Trump and his administration and campaign are running for reelection on xenophobia – as Jonathan Blitzer phrased it in his recent New Yorker profile of Stephen Miller, the “obsession with restricting immigration and punishing immigrants has become the defining characteristic of the Trump White House, to the extent that campaigning and governing on the issue are no longer distinguishable.”
Yet Democrats on the debate stage – and up and down the ballot – need not fear the issue of immigration and certainly should not cede it to Trump or allow it to go unaddressed. While Democrats are unified as the pro-immigrant party and broadly stand for policies that line up with the American public’s sentiment on immigrants, too few Americans really know what Democrats stand for on immigration.
So how do Democrats engage the issue intelligently, effectively and authentically? How do Democrats define themselves — define what they are against, and what they are for — and do so without being trapped by Trump and the GOP on turf that makes the debate only about immigration?
What should Democrats do? Lean in, say what you oppose, say what you’re for, and point out why Trump and the GOP want to talk about immigration instead of kitchen table issues. Here are three key reminders:
1. Democrats should denounce Trump’s divisiveness and call on the American people to come together to forge solutions. The volume of immigration news and developments can be staggering and hard to keep track of – just today, stories highlight a report from Physicians for Human Rights documenting that Trump’s family separation policy, “constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and, in all cases evaluated by PHR experts, constitutes torture.” Another new report from the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) finds that “Trump administration policies are projected to reduce the annual level of legal immigration to the United States by 30%” and concluding, the “significant decline in the annual level of legal immigration means lower long-term economic growth may be Donald Trump’s most lasting economic legacy.” This on top of ongoing immigration developments ranging from the stupid and wasteful and offensive border wall to the fate of DACA and Dreamers to the larger human rights catastrophe sparked by the Trump effort to restrict asylum and deny due process to asylum seekers and migrants. The point? Trump’s cruelty and anti-immigrant obsessions are not who we are as Americans and are counterproductive and harmful to all of us.
2. Democrats should be clear on the workable, humane solutions they propose. The public hungers for solutions. They want to hear what needs to be done to set things right. While, Democrats hail from differing states and districts, here’s a way to talk about immigration that can work in all of them:
A workable and well-governed immigration system sets limits, but does so in a way that respects the forces of supply and demand, the desire for close family members to be together, the economic needs of our nation, the need for a level playing field for workers and corporations, the need to invest in local communities that welcome and integrate newcomers, and the imperative that we do our share to protect refugees fleeing violence and persecution.
At the heart of the dysfunction in our current immigration system is the simple fact that for 11 million undocumented immigrants settled in America there is no line to get into to become lawful permanent residents of our nation. This affects young Dreamers who arrived in the United States as children, 400,000 Temporary Protected Status holders, and many hardworking, self-supporting immigrant families. All want to be formally recognized as the Americans they already are. It’s time for Congress to create a line to get into so these families can come forward, pass a background check, and, over time, earn the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
3. Point out that Trump’s hostility to immigrants is cynical. Trump wants to talk about brown and black immigrants because he doesn’t want to talk about his tax cuts for the wealthy, his attacks on social security, healthcare and education, and his inaction on climate change, gun violence and more. He divides to distract. He says “look over here at the other” so we don’t look at what he’s doing to fill the pockets of his cronies while picking ours. We need to come together to solve real challenges, including immigration, not let him tweet and insult and divide us so we don’t.
Democrats can do this. Lean in. Denounce Trump’s cruelty and divisiveness. Propose solutions. Point out the divide-and-distract strategy of Trump and the GOP.