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On Immigration, the Key Contrast is Between the Parties, Not Between the Democratic Candidates

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Democrats Leaning Forward With Pro-Immigrant Positions; Republicans Are Lurching Right and Pandering to a Shrinking Base

Washington, DC – At tonight’s Democratic presidential debate CNN will undoubtedly try to draw out differences between the candidates.  With respect to immigration, however, the differences will be slight.  All the major candidates support comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, want to protect and extend the executive actions of President Obama and denounce the rhetoric coming from the GOP’s primary. 

Meanwhile, none of the leading Republican presidential contenders support comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, all of them oppose the President’s executive actions, and the response to the anti-immigrant rhetoric has been to mimic it, or criticize it meekly. 

The following is a statement from Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

“For too long, too many Democrats believed that immigration was a wedge issue best avoided. If forced to engage the issue, many operatives told candidates to mimic the rhetoric of Republicans by emphasizing hardline enforcement-focused stances.  This school of thought was wrong on its merits, short-sighted in its politics, and helped contribute to reckless and heartbreaking record levels of immigration enforcement

“But the tide has changed, prodded by the bottom-up pressure from the  immigrants’ rights movement, the relentless tide of demographic change, and examples of Democrats winning elections by leaning into immigration reform.  For example, in 2007 a third of the Senate Democrats voted against comprehensive immigration reform; in 2013 all of the Senators who caucus with the Democrats voted for it.  Now, 2016 Democratic contenders are united in support for sensible immigration policy, including fighting for a path to citizenship and expanding executive action programs designed to keep families together and protected as we work towards a permanent legislative fix.  Democrats are now leaning in on immigration reform.

“Unfortunately, Republicans are lurching right.  In addition to the explicitly nativist appeals of frontrunner Donald Trump, even the supposedly pro-reform GOP candidates are offering subtle nods and policy clarifications designed to pander to hardliners.  For example, Jeb Bush now defends the use of the offensive term “anchor babies” and has backed off his previous support for reform with a path to citizenship.  And as influential political commentators noted this past weekend, Marco Rubio has turned himself into a pretzel trying to explain his consultant-concocted stance, demonstrating far more bluster and cowardice than straight talk and leadership on an issue he once bravely tackled.  This GOP presidential divide on immigration mirrors the larger battle within the party.  Witness how conservative media and their anti-immigrant allies in Congress are seeking to scuttle Paul Ryan’s potential rise to Speaker of the House over Ryan’s openness to immigration reform. 

“The fact is that the public supports immigration reform that enables undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally.  Last week’s Pew Poll showed that Americans support a path to citizenship or legal status over deportation by a margin of 74% – 24%, with 80% of Democrats and 66% of Republicans on board.  Thus, it’s pretty clear that the Democrats are moving to where the public is and the Republicans are moving to where the voters aren’t.  This sharp contrast is the real story here.  And it will make the Republican chances of winning back the White House and holding control of the Senate all the more difficult.”

 Follow Frank Sharry and America’s Voice on Twitter: @FrankSharry and @AmericasVoice