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GOP Keeps Showing Us Who They Are on Immigration. How Will Democrats Respond?

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Washington, DC – The GOP is waging a relentless scorched-earth war against immigrants and refugees. They don’t care about policy or solutions, they care about feeding white grievance voters a steady diet of fear and hatred. Their goal is to spur turnout and regain power. It’s ugly, it’s cynical, it’s dehumanizing, it’s based on lies and slander, and it’s transparent. 

The outstanding question is how Democrats will respond. Will they mimic the GOP or define the GOP? Will they let themselves be defined by the GOP or define themselves on immigration and refugee issues? Will they run for cover or run to the gunfire?

We encourage Democrats to start by defining the radicalizing GOP. Here are some reminders of who Democrats are up against. Republicans are:

  • Advancing ugly tropes that demonize asylum seekers as criminals: As the New York Times details, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) has prepared an ugly memo for colleagues advancing the age old “immigrants as criminals and threats” trope: the “60-page guidance memo includes misleading and provocative talking points that seek to portray migrants and refugees as perpetrators of gruesome crimes, especially those involving sexual assault, echoing the language that former President Donald J. Trump used to denigrate immigrants.” 
  • Promoting the corrupt border wall. As CNN reported, “Two of Bannon’s co-defendants plead guilty to ‘We Build the Wall’ fraud,” highlighting the scam that was at the root of the private fundraising appeals around the border wall. The hustle involved former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who Trump pardoned for shaking down Trump supporters. It’s worth remembering that the publicly-funded border wall is just as much of a wasteful, cynical boondoggle as the private scam. Taxpayers footed the bill for a $15 billion on a wall that can be cut through with a $15 hand saw (the Washington Post recently reported that the wall was sawed through 3,272 times over the past three years). In the run up to the 2022 midterms, the official Republican policy idea is to build more of the wall and name it after Trump. 
  • Distracting voters “by giving them someone to hate”: Paul Krugman of the New York Times’ recent column examines how JD Vance is running in the Ohio Senate GOP primary on open nativism. As Krugman writes, “making the alleged insecurity of the southern border your signature campaign issue is especially bizarre if you’re running for office in Ohio, where immigrants make up only 4.8 percent of the population … But look, none of this is a mystery. Republicans are following an old playbook, one that would have been completely familiar to, say, czarist-era instigators of pogroms. When the people are suffering, you don’t try to solve their problems; instead, you distract them by giving them someone to hate.”
  • Contradicting themselves in their lies about the border: As Steve Benen of MSNBC reports, Republicans have been debunking their own false “open borders” talking points by simultaneously claiming that “Biden has adopted an open-border policy” and highlighting drug seizure details and border apprehension data. Get it? Drugs are being seized and migrants are being apprehended in record numbers, the opposite of an open border policy. As Benen writes, “How do Republicans reconcile the contradiction? They don’t. In fact, they apparently hope the disconnect goes unnoticed.”
  • Sacrificing billions to shore up their nativist bona fides for the GOP base As NPR reports, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s truck inspection stunt “inflicted billions of dollars in U.S. trade losses — including $1 billion per week at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge alone, according to the latest tallies of the slowdown’s economic fallout … The Pharr-Reynosa bridge in Hidalgo County lost an estimated $202 million per day while the policy was in force, with average border wait times rising to 10-12 hours.” Why would Gov. Abbott willingly inflict such economic damage? As the Washington Post notes, the “contentious episode underscored what allies and critics alike said is at the core of the conservative stalwart’s political strategy as he seeks a third term for governor this fall and eyes a potential presidential run in 2024: establishing himself as President Biden’s most visible adversary on immigration and the staunchest border hawk in his party.”

Arizona Republic columnist Elvia Díaz implores Democrats, “Don’t let Republicans keep hijacking this debate with ‘border invasion’ rhetoric … The answer has to be more profound, based on core values of what America means to us and its role in the world. Don’t give up, Democrats. Put up a good fight, speaking convincingly about America’s immigrant legacy. Don’t cede to Republicans slamming the door on foreigners.”

We agree. 

As America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry stated,

Democrats have a choice. They can stand for an America that recognizes immigrants and refugees as foundational to the American experiment, defends a welcoming tradition that is critical to the American future, and works to build an immigration system that integrates order and justice. Or they can cede the debate to Republicans, enable a radicalizing party to build walls, slam doors and incite violence, and let the vacuum they create be filled by those intent on advancing their countermajoritarian project. 

A confident, strong and capable Democratic Party should be competent enough to defend proposals to enact a workable and balanced immigration system, values that define our diverse nation, and a multiracial democracy that is both under construction and under attack.