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Will Immigration Come Up at Tonight’s Presidential Debate?

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A primer in case it does


Will immigration, the original sin of Trumpism and his administration’s signature issue, finally come up at a debate? If it does, here is our take.

  • Family Separation: As the Washington Post editorialized, “Let’s not mince words. The Trump administration kidnapped children.” In one of the darkest chapters of this or any other presidency, our government — with our tax dollars and in our name — ripped kids from the arms of their parents. The cruelty was the point. They did so to deter others from coming to seek safety. They did so without a tracking system to ensure the reunification of kids with their parents. And they did nothing to unite and heal these families. At least 545 children remain separated from their parents. We need to do everything possible to reunite and support the families that were torn apart by state-sanctioned kidnapping, and we need to hold accountable those responsible. 
  • Prebuttal to Trump’s lies about family separation. If family separation comes up at the debate, expect President Trump to make, once again, the false claim that he “reunited the families that the Obama administration separated,” or to claim “Obama did the same thing.” Yet PolitiFact calls these claims false, explaining: “The Obama administration did not have a policy to separate families arriving illegally at the border … Separations under Trump happened systematically as a result of his administration’s policy … Trump repeatedly attempts to change the narrative about family separations, but the facts remain the same. Obama did not pass down to Trump a policy to separate families. Trump’s claim is inaccurate. We rate it False.”
  • Citizenship for undocumented immigrants: Trump’s attacks on Biden’s embrace of a popular policy is backfiring. The Trump campaign has spent millions in ads attacking Joe Biden for supporting a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. There’s only one problem: a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is overwhelmingly popular. A recent PRRI poll showed the public supports a path to legal status and/or citizenship by 80% – 19%. 
  • DACA/TPS: popular programs for long-settled immigrants on the ballot this November. The future of Dreamers in this country will be decided by this election. Trump likes to claim he’s going to do right by Dreamers, but he spent the past four years attempting to put them on a path to deportation. He ended DACA, blew up bipartisan legislative solutions, accelerated the case to the Supreme Court, and now that he lost, is openly defying the courts. The election also will decide the fate of 300,000 immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Hailing from nations in no condition to welcome them back, TPSers have lived here for decades, worked hard, built families and paid their taxes. Like Dreamers, they are Americans in all but paperwork. A permanent solution, the Dream and Promise Act, was approved by the House of Representatives in 2019. McConnell and the Trump administration have made sure it has gone no further.
  • Border Wall: the epitome of a presidency built on racism, corruption, lies, scandal and incompetence. Despite Trump’s attempts to tout the wall as some sort of success, it’s in fact a massive indictment of his presidency. A recent “60 Minutes” exposé revealed that Trump steered some $2 billion in border wall contracts to line the pockets of Tommy Fisher, a donor and a crony. Fisher built sections of the privately-funded border wall (the scheme that has led to indictments of Steve Bannon and others), and those sections of the border wall are expected to crumble into the Rio Grande any day. Opposed by a 57-42% margin in PRRI polling released this week, the wall appeals to Trump’s core supporters and no one outside of it. A racist rally chant has turned into his biggest brag.
  • Essential workers, essential Americans. The COVID-19 crisis has focused our attention on those who sacrifice and work to keep America safe, healthy and fed. From hospitals to delivery services to farms, many undocumented immigrant workers are considered essential, expendable and deportable. Essential workers, many of whom are people of color, have largely been left unprotected and, as a result, suffer infection and death disproportionately. Undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families have been excluded from the COVID-19 relief packages. These undocumented workers and their families should be recognized as the Americans they already are and granted citizenship.
  • Sanctuary attacks: expected, and expected to fall flat. Trump has waged a four-year war on so-called “sanctuary” policies. He is losing on the facts about these policies, he is losing in the courts and in the court of public opinion. 60% of battleground voters agree with “those who say that we make neighborhoods safer when we let local law enforcement decide how best to protect public safety and build trust with the communities they serve,” while just 40% agree with “those who say we must ban sanctuary cities to keep dangerous criminals out of our communities.” Trump’s politicized DHS is putting up anti-sanctuary billboards in swing-state Pennsylvania, and Trump may bring up the tragic killing of a Houston police officer. It’s unlikely to work. Americans are fed up with Trump’s relentless efforts to divide the country to distract from his failure in response to the pandemic, and, when it comes to immigration, they want fair and humane policies, not slash-and-burn nativism.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, 

Trump and his Republican enablers are running on racism and xenophobia. They have been relentless in their drive to exploit white grievance to direct hatred and cruelty at ‘the non-white other.’ They are about to encounter a multiracial majority that roundly rejects this white identity strategy. In fact, we predict that they are going to discover a new reality in American politics: immigration as a wedge issue has lost its edge.