Immigration Is on Tuesday’s Ballot

In counties and states thousands of miles from the border, illegal immigration is framing debates, campaign ads, and grassroots activism. In states as far west as Idaho and as far north as Minnesota, squeamish members of Congress are finally being forced to confront an issue they’ve managed to spend years avoiding.

In Idaho early last month, Rep. Mike Simpson and his Democrat challenger Aaron Swisher squared off for a debate in the Gem State’s 2nd Congressional District, which opened with 11 consecutive questions on immigration. In Arkansas, Rep. French Hill and his Democratic opponent, State Rep. Clarke Tucker, spent a significant portion of their exchange discussing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, despite less than one percent of DACA recipients living in the state.

Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District might only have a Hispanic population of 1.4 percent, but candidates Rep. Conor Lamb and Republican challenger Rep. Keith Rothfus debated border security, DACA, family separations, the diversity visa program, and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Rep. Jason Lewis and his Democratic opponent, Angie Craig, had a similar dynamic in their debate in Minnesota’s 2nd district. While Minnesota actually shares a border with Canada, the talk was largely about whether or not to build a wall at the southern border.

For Republicans, the spotlight on immigration policy has had a clarifying effect. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is running to replace outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, was forced to introduce a bill to authorize President Trump’s border wall in an effort to hawk his credibility to the conservative wings of the GOP conference. Ryan, for his part, has promised a “big fight” on the border wall when Congress returns in December.

For Democrats, the issue continues to be a thorn in the flesh. While the progressive wing of the party openly backs radical policies like abolishing ICE or dismissing the incoming migrant caravan as “not a threat,” Democrats in red states have been compelled to come out in support of Republican policies.

Claire McCaskill, running for re-election to the Senate in Missouri, recently told Fox News she does “not want our borders overrun. And I support the president’s efforts to make sure they’re not.” Senator Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), who is in a tough reelection fight, suggested he was open to legislation ending birthright citizenship. (Predictably, the Left is howling.)

But most Democrats have largely remained silent, pivoting to other issues in a tacit acknowledgement that the issue, for them, is a loser. Indeed, a strategy memo sent to Democratic campaigns by liberal think tanks Center for American Progress and Third Way, advised Democratic candidates to spend “as little time as possible” on issues like sanctuary cities, because “it is very difficult to win on immigration with vulnerable voters in states Trump carried in 2016.”

Oh, really?

In other words, the Left is well aware that its policies are unpopular and don’t work; that sanctuary cities put American citizens at risk, that lawlessness at the border threatens our security and our sovereignty.

They know it, and that’s why they don’t want to talk about it. As one Democratic Party strategist put it recently, “If Democrats were any weaker [on immigration], they’d be dishwater.

But knowing their policies are bad has never been enough to ensure they stop promoting them. Indeed, the Democrats are already planning to legalize DACA, among other amnesty measures, should they win back a majority in one or both chambers next week.

Democrats may not want to talk about illegal immigration, but the voters do. The issue remains top of mind for Americans nationally—and not just because President Trump keeps tweeting about it.

The media would have you believe that the heightened focus on immigration should be written off as fear mongering, race baiting, or a deeper sense of cultural unease. But could it simply be that Americans are frustrated that 7,000 migrants can trek toward the border knowing they won’t be deterred? Or concerned that, without border enforcement, violence can fester unchecked? Or that our legal immigration system—which many Americans support—is taxed by those who lack the same regard for our laws and processes?

For better for worse, 2018 is turning into an immigration midterm, and concern for the outcome should focus the mind of anyone who cares about border security and sovereignty. Whichever party ends up on top will receive a mandate to act. The Democrats have already told us what that means—DACA, amnesty, and more rhetoric about abolishing any form of border enforcement.

Republicans have put on a better show this cycle of claiming actually to believe the platform issues they’ve supported for years. One hopes that, if given the mantle of power for another two years, they’ll have their spines sufficiently stiffened to act: To fund the wall; to provide resources at the border to stem the flow of thousands of illegal entries a month; to finally fight to implement policies on sanctuary cities that an overwhelming number of Americans support.

Control of Congress is on the ballot this year, and with it, the fate of our immigration policy—more broadly, the definition of our citizenship, and what it means to be an American.

As Angelo Codevilla reflected earlier this year, “citizenship determines who shall rule, to what end, and what life among us shall be.” Are we a country founded by immigrants and ruled by a desire to welcome, but with a deference to the law and respect for the sacred trust of citizenship?

Or are we soon to be an open-borders free-for-all, in which laws are an afterthought, and the notion of a the sovereignty of the people is tossed aside for political expediency?

Tuesday will tell us.

Photo Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

About Rachel Bovard

Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute and Senior Advisor to the Internet Accountability Project. Beginning in 2006, she served in both the House and Senate in various roles including as legislative director for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), where she advised Committee members on strategy related to floor procedure and policy matters. In the House, she worked as senior legislative assistant to Congressman Donald Manzullo (R-Il.), and Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas). She is the former director of policy services for the Heritage Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelBovard.

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