When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sent planeloads of migrants to Massachusetts in the fall, it received an extraordinary amount of coverage. Though that stunt said nothing about how to fix our immigration system, DeSantis amplified a message nationally that painted asylum seekers as a dangerous, unmanageable threat — and himself as a disciplinarian determined to get the southern border under control.
Now, with the focus intensifying on this matter — President Biden is discussing border security with the president of Mexico this week, and senators have renewed talks on a proposal — DeSantis’s ability to hijack the debate with empty agitprop points to a larger problem for Democrats. DeSantis and other Republicans often set the frame of our national argument over immigration. Democrats badly need to seize control of it on their own terms.
Here’s one idea: Democrats should find ways to elevate the voices of lawmakers from Southwestern and border states on this issue. These are mostly dynamic, relatively young public servants who can speak from direct experience about immigration in a nuanced, compelling way. Why don’t we hear more from them when Republicans roll out their stunts?
“The pushback has to be from members of Congress that have experience with the border,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who grew up in a border community, told me, adding that Democrats “have to start engaging in that debate.”
Democrats just won high-profile races in the region against leading MAGA Republicans who ran not just as immigration restrictionists but as virulent demagogues. Notably, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) defeated Blake Masters, the Great Restrictionist Hope of the GOP, who featured machine gun fire at the border in his ads.
Similarly, in Nevada, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto defeated a Republican who trafficked in the “great replacement theory” about immigrants displacing native-born Americans. Cortez Masto emphasized her work on immigration enforcement as state attorney general and insisted “dreamers” brought here as children deserve legal protection.
It’s beyond absurd that DeSantis — and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, who is busing migrants all over the country — often dictate the terms of this debate to a greater degree than those Democrats do. [Continue reading…]