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Immigration Wedge Has Lost Its Edge

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New Reports Show As GOP Doubles Down on Losing Xenophobia, Democrats Are in Step with Public Opinion Ahead of “Dream & Promise” Votes This Week

Ahead of this week’s expected House votes on the “American Dream and Promise Act (HR 6),” America’s Voice is releasing two short reports on the politics of immigration specifically related to the Dream and Promise Act. In 2019, the bill, HR 6, passed the House by a vote of 237- 187, with the support of every Democrat and seven House Republicans. Read the Democratic report HERE and read the Republican report HERE.

For Democrats, as the report makes clear, citizenship for Dreamers and the broader undocumented population is a popular issue and Republican attacks over immigration have largely backfired in recent years. Any Democrat fretting about the impact of a 30-second attack ad based on their vote should not be worried too much. In 2019, every House Democrat voted in favor of the Dream and Promise Act, but an attack ad backlash against that vote largely did not materialize. 

  • Our 2020 Ad Watch tracking and analysis project found that only two Democratic House members were hit with attack ads over their HR6 votes – Matt Cartwright (PA-08) and Conor Lamb (PA-17). Both won reelection in 2020. 
  • More broadly, most House battleground districts in the 2020 cycle did not see  anti-immigrant attacks on their HR 6 votes or otherwise. Democrats in eight battleground districts (AZ-01, AZ02, KS-03, VA-10, MI-11, MN-02, NJ-07, and GA-06) that saw xenophobic attack ads in 2018 did not see similar attacks in the 2020 cycle after the strategy failed in the 2018 midterms.
  • Democrats Ron Kind (WI-03), Colin Allred (TX-32), Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), and Anthony Brindisi (NY-22), were all hit with ads attacking them for voting to give “stimulus checks to illegal immigrants” under the HEROES Act. Yet three of the four (Kind, Allred, and Slotkin) won their races.
  • In Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux called out the GOP candidate for hypocrisy on immigration and being out of step in a diversifying district. She won, flipping a seat Republicans had held for the prior two decades.

For Republicans, the report offers a reminder of how xenophobia is becoming a losing political strategy, with today’s GOP adopting hardline views out of the American mainstream.

  • The report offers a reminder that for Republicans, xenophobia and anti-immigrant politics continues to be a losing political strategy – as it was in 2017, in 2018, in 2019, and in 2020. Keep in mind as they again tee up immigration as their focus for 2022.
  • Two House Republicans, Young Kim (CA-39) and David Valadao (CA-21), won 2020 battleground races and flipped seats with a pro-Dreamer stance rather than by running on hardline, anti-immigrant messaging.
  • On the Dream and Promise Act debate specifically, we will in particular be watching this week’s votes of several GOP Members: 
    • In 2019, only seven House Republicans voted for HR6 and six remain in Congress (Upton (MI-06), Díaz-Balart (FL-25), Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Bacon (NE-02), Newhouse (WA-04), and Smith (NJ-04).
    • Meanwhile, six Republicans represent congressional districts that Biden won and were not Members of Congress during the 2019 HR6 vote: David Valadao (CA-21); Mike Garcia (CA-25); Young Kim (CA-39); Michelle Steel (CA-48); Beth Van Duyne (TX-24); and Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27).
    • California Representatives Valadao, Kim, and Steel ran as pro-Dreamer or pro-DACA candidates in their 2020 elections, while Rep. Salazar recently confronted Stephen Miller over immigration at a GOP caucus meeting.

Polling Makes Clear: American Consensus Overwhelmingly in Favor of Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants. Fresh polling conducted for FWD.us and America’s Voice by Global Strategy Group, Garin-Hart-Yang and BSP Research finds that voters overwhelmingly prefer providing a pathway to citizenship to undocumented immigrants over an approach of deporting them by a 79% to 21% margin. Meanwhile, 72% nationally support the Dream Act with 91% support from Democrats, 72% with swing voters, 85% with Latino voters, and 77% of African American voters. 

According to Zachary Mueller, Digital Communications Manager at America’s Voice and the principal author of both the Democratic and Republican reports:  

“This week we expect to see House floor votes on immigration reform and the politics could not be clearer. There is a broad and unifying consensus among the American people, they want Congress to act to provide pathways to citizenship for our undoucmented neighbors, family, and friends.  And the efforts to fear-monger on this issue with attack ads failed in 2020, continuing a pattern of the immigration issue losing its edge as a wedge issue for Republicans to exploit in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. 

After the white nationalist assault on the Capitol and four years of Trump’s assaults on all forms of immigration,  the GOP seems to be increasingly committed to being the anti-immigrant party now and in the 2022 cycle, but it is at  their peril.  We’ll see this week if some Republicans break with Trump and GOP House leaders to support smart immigration policies that go beyond deportation only approaches.

What will Asian or Latino Republicans do? What will Republicans from districts that Biden won do? Will Republicans who say they support Dreamers – including in their most recent campaigns – actually vote that way when the Dream and Promise Act votes are called? We will start to see this week.

For Democrats, they should remain united and show the confidence that comes with such solid public opinion support on the issue. The question is whether they will just fight for reform in this Congress or will actually deliver on something before the 2022 elections. We will start to see this week if the Dream & Promise Act – and the Farm Workforce Modernization, HR 1603, which legalizes farmworkers, and also will be voted on this week – has a path to enactment under current filibuster rules or if ending the filibuster or going the route of including immigrant legalization in a budget reconciliation  bill is necessary to enact very popular reforms. The American people want Congress to pass and the President to sign these measures. No matter the path forward, both parties should keep in mind that inaction on citizenship legislation and opposition to citizenship are losing political strategies.”