By Tom Schaller
Pro-immigration reformers, liberals and 2020 Democrat candidates need to lean into immigration policy—but do so in ways that will attract Americans seeking reasonable immigration solutions by capitalizing on the growing backlash, especially among Latinos, against Republican president Donald Trump’s radical immigration agenda.
That was the overarching message delivered by a panel of immigration policy and politics experts today at a panel focused on the political-electoral implications of immigration for the upcoming 2020 presidential and congressional elections. Rather than ignoring the issue and hoping Democratic advantages on issues like the health care are sufficient to win, the party should take Trump head-on. “Democrats need to lean in with a bold, progressive agenda on immigration,” declared Tyler Moran of The Immigration Hub.
Part of the “Immigration and the 2020 Elections Series” co-sponsored by America’s Voice, the Immigration Hub, Fwd.Us and Emerson Collective, panelists at Miami’s Intercontinental Hotel addressed Trump’s use of immigration as a political wedge issue and how pro-immigration reformers must respond. The panel featured five prominent immigration experts: Moran; Frank Sharry of America’s Voice; Maria Praeli from Fwd.Us; Latino Decisions’ co-founder and principal Matt Barreto; and Nick Gourevitch of the Global Strategy Group.
Fwd.Us’ Praeli echoed Moran’s sentiments. “We know two things: Trump is going to make immigration one of his core issues in 2020,” said Praeli. “And two, if we want to fix our broken immigration system we need to focus on making sure the next president prioritizes immigration reform.”
Of particular interest to the panelists was how Trump used immigration to shake up both parties and their coalitions, what lessons can be drawn from the 2018 midterm results, and how immigration reformers and Democrats should respond in 2020. “In 2016 we were caught flat-footed,” said Frank Sharry of America’s Voice. “We thought if we could get Hillary [Clinton] to move left on immigration we would be fine. I totally agree that if Democrats don’t lean in and speak to progressive demands for justice and humanity on immigration we will lose. But I also think that if we don’t speak to those closer to the middle, we won’t get the balance right.”
Sharry warned about what to expect from Republican candidates in the coming 18 months. “I expect a billion dollars spent on xenophobia directed at Democratic candidates,” Sharry predicted. “What we learned from both 2016 and 2018 is that Trump’s efforts to animate his core supporters works–but it also mobilizes his opponents.”
Gourevitch agreed, noting that 2020 presents an opportunity because Trump is quite vulnerable on the immigration issue. “One interesting thing I think people don’t get is that support for immigration reform is at a record high…and Democratic-proposed reforms are widely popular with the public,” said Gourevitch of the Global Strategy Group. “However, as Frank [Sharry] alluded to, we have to be accepting of the fact that immigration did have something to do with the loss in 2016. Obama-Trump voters were generally aligned with Trump on immigration but aligned with Democrats on issues like economy and healthcare.”
Latino Decisions’ Barreto described in detail the nature and magnitude of the post-2016 backlash against the Republicans’ radical immigration. He explained that approximately three-quarters of Latinos were motivated to vote in 2018 by their extreme anger with two developments: being publicly compared to animals, and the Trump Administration’s family-separation policy. Barreto noted the dramatic growth of the Latino voting populations, particularly in Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Texas, between the 2014 and 2018 midterms. “The statewide voter shares in these states was five percent more Latino compared to four years earlier,” said Barreto, adding that derogatory language and harsh treatment of Latino immigrants “is why Latinos turned out at record levels in 2018.”
Latino Decisions is the nation’s leading polling and research firm on Latino Americans, being called the “gold-standard in Latino American polling” by Time Magazine, and has implemented its weekly political tracking poll of Latino voters every cycle since 2010.