With the Majority of Voters Pro-Immigrant, It’s Time for the Democrats to Lean In and Turn this Issue into a Winner
The following is from Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, on the role of immigration in the 2020 elections and the way Democrats can best engage it:
In a searing New Yorker piece by Jonathan Blitzer out today, White House Advisor Stephen Miller is depicted as obsessed about keeping out and kicking out immigrants and refugees. He drives the policy process on the inside, and he writes the speeches that President Trump uses in every rally. Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign has already unleashed a torrent of ads aimed at dehumanizing immigrants, defining Democrats and boasting about his cruel and chaotic war on immigrants. Many in the GOP are following their Dear Leader with ads attacking their Democratic opponents as “open borders.”
To state the obvious, Trump and the GOP are running for reelection on xenophobia. As Jonathan Blitzer writes in the New Yorker profile of Stephen Miller:
Miller’s 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.
What does this mean for Democrats? 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?
For starters, every Democrat should read this excellent piece in today’s Morning Consult by pollster Nick Gourevitch and immigrant advocate Tyler Moran. They wisely counsel Democrats to lean into the issue of immigration, define themselves and to propose solutions. We agree.
Here’s our take on the path forward for Democrats and progressives as immigration becomes a defining issue in the 2020 campaign.
A few key facts set the stage:
- Democrats are the pro-immigrant party, and the Trumpian GOP is the anti-immigrant party. This is in stark contrast to a few years ago, when both parties were divided.
- More Americans than ever self-identify as pro-immigrant. Recent Gallup polls find that a record-high 76% of Americans say immigration is a good thing; by 81% – 18%, voters support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (for immigrant youth, it’s 83% – 15%); and by a 2 to 1 margin, Americans support current or increased levels of legal immigration.
- Trump’s approach to immigration is deeply unpopular. A 2020 CBS News poll finds that Americans disapprove of the way Trump is handling immigration by 55% – 40%, with independents opposed 56% – 37%. On Trump’s signature issue, voters oppose the border wall by 66% – 33%.
- Few Americans know what Democrats stand for on immigration. In the aforementioned Morning Consult piece, Nick Gourevitch and Tyler Moran point out: “If Democrats say nothing, Trump will fill in the blanks about what Democrats stand for on immigration. This is an especially concerning point given that our polling showed that only 34 percent of voters know ‘very well’ what Democrats stand for on 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.
1. Democrats should denounce Trump’s divisiveness and call on the American people to come together to forge solutions. Trump should be called out on the cruelties of his administration: separating families by ripping kids from the arms of their parents; slamming the door on refugees seeking safety and freedom; detaining kids, families and adults in squalid conditions; dismantling our asylum system, cutting off efforts to deal with root causes in the Central American countries generating refugees, and forcing those seeking refugee status to wait for months in dangerous conditions in northern Mexico; and enacting backdoor cuts to legal immigration that have reduced legal visas by 25%.
This isn’t who we aim to be as Americans. We come from every corner of the globe to build a nation based not on blood and soil, but on ideas and ideals. Our genius and our aspiration is to fully realize the promise E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One — a diverse people that, regardless of our background and birthplace, come together in freedom to form a more perfect union.
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.
Dealing with a desperate demagogue who wants to hang onto power by attacking the fact that America is a successful multiracial, multiethnic nation is not easy. But it can and must be done. Similarly, creating a 21st century immigration system is a big task and a hard challenge, too. But ours is a “can do” nation. It’s time to join forces and rise to the challenge of putting in place an immigration system that reflects our values and serves our interests.