By Tyler Moran
In the first two Democratic presidential debates, moderators and pundits appeared more interested in creating fireworks through their questions on immigration rather than discussing the significant challenges that must be addressed.
Immigration will be one of the top issues in the 2020 elections—in large part because President Donald Trump will continue to scapegoat immigrants to deflect from his failed health care and trade policies and to score political points with his diminishing base—and voters are craving a real discussion about what it takes to have a functioning and humane system.
From “rapists” and “send them back” insults to separating and caging children, divisive and hyperbolic, often racist, rhetoric and policies have become the centerpiece of Trump’s campaign strategy. Even as we witnessed how this bigotry manifested itself in El Paso, Trump is betting that this strategy will secure him a second term—and Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to wager on the alternative.
New research conducted by the Immigration Hub, an immigration advocacy organization, and Global Strategy Group, in states that will be battlegrounds in the 2020 presidential election finds that the president is losing support on his immigration policies.
The survey showed that 52 percent of Pennsylvanians disapprove of the president’s policies, including separating children from their parents and the treatment of families seeking asylum at the southern border. This includes voters that he needs to win in the state in 2020, including suburban women.
In fact, in 2018, the Hub found that 62 percent of these women rejected the inflammatory rhetoric and imagery on the “caravan” in the midterm elections.
The American people are fed up with Trump’s cruel policies that have torn families apart and pitted communities against each other.
They are hungry for solutions. And while the president’s disapproval ratings on immigration continue to grow, this doesn’t automatically translate into approval for Democrats.
While nearly half of voters in swing states understand “very well” what Trump and the Republicans stand for on immigration, voters are substantially less certain of the Democrats’ views. Only about a third of voters know “very well” where the Democrats stand.
This presents on opportunity for Democrats, especially in swing states like Pennsylvania, to turn immigration into a winning issue since nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) of Pennsylvania voters are dissatisfied with our current immigration system, and 72 percent believe that the system is in need of major change.
From citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country to treating those seeking asylum humanely, voters support policies already embraced by Democrats.
In fact, overwhelming majorities of voters, including Pennsylvania swing voters, are in favor of creating new laws to make our legal immigration system work better; a more fair and efficient process for people to seek asylum at our southern border, a way for undocumented immigrants to become citizens; accountability at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and replacing detention with community programs and family case management.
Democrats know Trump’s playbook and must counter it by articulating their overall vision for an immigration system that not only contrasts with the president’s ineffective and fear-based approach, but that is humane and responsible.
Instead of deporting everyone, Democrats support reducing wait times for legal immigration and a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Instead of separating families, Democrats support a fair and efficient asylum process. Instead of increased immigration enforcement, Democrats support greater accountability at ICE.
Instead of a wall, Democrats support smarter border security that doesn’t rely on physical barriers and that protects border communities. Instead of locking kids and families in cages, Democrats support humane treatment of those seeking refuge.
The vast majority of Pennsylvanians want exactly these solutions. The stakes of next year’s election could not be higher, and Pennsylvania will play a critical role in determining the next president of the United States.
When Democrats take the stage at the third presidential debate in Houston in September, let’s hope for fewer gotcha moments and that moderators allow for more discussion about what it takes to create an immigration system that works for everyone.
Tyler Moran is director of the Immigration Hub. She previously served as senior policy advisor to ex-Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and as deputy policy director for immigration at the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Barack Obama.