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The Right Political Lessons on Immigration from Tom Suozzi’s Victory

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Washington, DC — There’s been no shortage of analysis and assessments of the immigration-related political lessons for Democrats in the week following the Tom Suozzi victory in the New York special election. Those who say the lesson is that the path to victory for Democrats is adopting the Republican platform and talking points on immigration are missing a great deal of the subtlety – and reality – of the race.  

According to Vanessa Cárdenas, Executive Director of America’s Voice: 

“One week after the Suozzi win, the lesson shouldn’t be that ‘Democrats win if they adopt Republican-lite positions on the border,’ and, in fact, that wasn’t the Suozzi strategy. His victory and the larger lessons for 2024 include the decision to ‘lean in’ and address immigration head-on, calling out Republicans’ dangerous extremism, and pointing out their gamesmanship and preference for political chaos instead of bipartisan solutions. In contrast, embrace a smart ‘both/and’ approach that addresses border security and legalization.”

Below are some of the smarter recent observations we’ve seen, capturing the “both/and” approach” embodied by Suozzi’s campaign and what it all means for the 2024 debate moving forward.

  • In a must-read thread, Greg Sargent of The New Republic captured the “both/and” nature of the Suozzi campaign approach, writing: “People are missing a big reason Ds flipped the immigration script. It wasn’t just Rs killing the deal. Suozzi’s ads also emphasized a path to citizenship. His pollster told me GOP messaging was awash in Fox News BS, alienating swing voters … A big reason Ds flipped the script on immigration is that *Republicans,* lost in MAGA fantasies, have ceded the middle ground. Suozzi demagogued in ugly ways (I pushed his pollster on this), but he also emphasized legalization + making the system work.”
  • Dana Bash said she talked to some Republican voters, and Bash told CNN viewers: “The fact that Republicans killed that bipartisan deal put them over the edge to vote for Tom Suozzi. Immigration was their top issue.”
  • Ron Brownstein, political analyst and columnist for CNN and The Atlantic noted: “Suozzi ran as kind of a (Bill) Clinton-era Dem promoting both/and, not either/or. He saw no contradiction in supporting much tougher border security & asylum rules AND a pathway to citizenship for l/t [longtime] residents playing by rules. Seems easy for any swing district D to land there.”
  • Alicia Menendez and Lynox Norman of MSNBC: “Republicans are unserious about fixing America’s immigration system. Yes, Democrats have an opportunity to flip the script. But what’s critical to understand is that Suozzi didn’t just highlight Republicans’ inaction. He expanded the conversation beyond Republicans’ enforcement-only, border-only frame. Immigration reform group America’s Voice described Suozzi’s campaign as having “broadened the focus of what immigration solutions should look like by pairing a focus on an orderly border with full-throated support for citizenship and legal status for long-settled immigrants.'”
  • David Lauter of the Los Angeles Times: “After highlighting America’s Voice analysis, Lauter notes: “That ‘both/and approach’ — combining legalization for longtime U.S. residents with tougher enforcement at the border — would sharply contrast with the Republican position on immigration. In his campaign, Trump has repeatedly pledged to carry out the ‘largest deportation since the Eisenhower administration’ and has accused migrants of ‘poisoning the blood’ of Americans.”
  • Lauren Gambino of The Guardian noted, “Congressional Democrats’ sudden willingness to adopt border enforcement policies they denounced during the Trump years has alarmed immigration advocates. But some said Suozzi’s willingness to confront the issue ‘head-on’ was a positive step after years of ceding the debate to Republicans. ‘Lean in, call out Republican gamesmanship, and be for border security and legalization,’ said Vanessa Cárdenas, the executive director of the pro-immigration group America’s Voice.”
  • Kerri Talbot, executive director of the Immigration Hub in Sahil Kapur’s NBC News article:The lesson from Suozzi’s election is that he successfully combined messages about border security with a path to citizenship. He took a balanced approach that appeals to most voters.”
  • Maria Cardona, Democratic strategist, quoted by The Associated Press: “We need to lean into this and not just on border security, but, yes, tough border security coupled with increased legal pathways. They [Democrats] tried it the Republican way, and Republicans were not serious about that.”