Dems Need to Tackle GOP Anti-Immigrant Talk, Counter With Facts (OPINION)

Aug 24, 2022
3:19 PM

A Nazi flag flies alongside a DeSantis banner as one person gives the Nazi salute at a rally outside Turning Point USA’s annual Student Action Summit in Tampa, Florida, June 2022. (Thomas Kennedy/Twitter)

MIAMI — For the last year or so, I have been tracking anti-immigrant and xenophobic attacks from Republican politicians in Florida. As someone that grew up undocumented, I am no stranger to this type of rhetoric. I remember watching ghouls like former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) go on Lou Dobbs’s former CNN show to spout nonsense about immigrants bringing diseases into this country.

Nothing compares to the level of unhinged nativist rhetoric currently being disseminated by Republicans. The weaponization of anti-immigrant rhetoric by the GOP is at the center of their strategy to undermine the Biden administration and defeat Democrats in the midterm elections this year.

To achieve this they have unleashed a salvo of anti-immigrant messaging upon voters. Well over 850 anti-immigrant ads across the country were commissioned by Florida GOP candidates. A good portion of these ads fixates on the racist “Great Replacement” theory by employing the rhetoric of an immigrant invasion that is not taking place and that only serves to stoke fear.

This is the same language employed by white nationalist gunmen who murdered innocent people in Pittsburgh, El Paso, and Buffalo, claiming that a dangerous “other” is invading the United States to replace the existing white population. Despite seeing the real-life devastating consequences of their irresponsible rhetoric, GOP candidates continue to double down and in some cases have increased their use of it.

America’s Voice ad tracking project has identified over 100 different Republican ads employing the “invasion” language, over 100 different Republican ads fearmongering about “amnesty” —a term weaponized to have people believe immigrants will quickly become U.S. citizens and vote against white American interests— and over 70 different ads employing both anti-immigrant themes and fears about election integrity.

Here are just some examples:

This extremist messaging from right-wing actors influences how mainstream media like the New York Times and the Washington Post cover immigration, outlets that at times irresponsibly parrot GOP talking points.

Since January 2021, there have been over 17,000 mentions of the “border” in mainstream media outlets and over 57,000 in right-wing media outlets. The mainstream media’s highest peaks of “border” mentions occur on similar dates as right-wing spikes.

GOP immigration buzzwords like “migrant invasion,” “caravan,” and “fentanyl” have also found their way into mainstream outlets. Since 2021, mainstream media has featured over 1,077 mentions of “fentanyl” within the context of immigration, over 1,395 mentions of “migrant caravan,” and over  975 mentions of immigration “invasion” rhetoric.

Is it any wonder that a third of Americans believe in some version of the “Great Replacement” theory and that we now see these xenophobic themes materialize both in mass killings and immigration policy proposals?

As a Floridian, I’m particularly disgusted by anti-immigrant rhetoric employed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), whose immigrant family left Cuba in 1956, two years before the Cuban Revolution, looking for a better life in the United States.

Instead of honoring his immigrant background and working to ensure others have the same opportunity, Rubio has increasingly used harsh nativist rhetoric to win back hardline Republican voters who turned away from him after he sponsored comprehensive immigration reform in 2013. He ended up voting against his own bill due to pressure from the Tea Party and despite his own mother begging him to “not mess with the immigrants” on a voicemail that he himself played for journalists before he took his anti-immigrant turn.

Rubio is so desperate to prove his extremist MAGA credentials that he is willing to propagate the false talking point that Democrats want undocumented immigrants to vote in U.S. elections, one of the main tenets of the “Great Replacement” theory routinely spouted on shows like Tucker Carlson’s.

Democrats can’t ignore this hateful messaging, and they definitely should not try to outflank Republicans on it by employing anti-immigrant rhetoric. Not only is it morally wrong, anti-immigrant voters will never be swayed by it.

Democrats need to take this hateful rhetoric seriously and tackle it head-on by countering misinformation with facts and presenting the benefits of immigrants to our culture and economy.


Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member from Florida. Twitter: @tomaskenn