As the beltway standoff over immigration grinds on, the issue has become a red-hot flash point at both this year’s Republican and Democratic national conventions.
It was Donald Trump’s call for a wall between Mexico and the United States, along with his proposed ban on Muslims entering the country that set him apart in the crowded GOP presidential field. The rhetoric coming from the eventual nominee also turned up the temperature on the debate.
But long before the 2016 presidential race came into focus, President Barack Obama’s executive action remedies for the children of undocumented parents has raised expectations of a long-term resolution in the immigrant community. The administration’s efforts were further complicated when the courts began to weigh in on the simmering dispute, which Congress continues to avoid resolving.
Also in the mix is Obama’s aggressive use of deportation to remove more than 400,000 undocumented immigrants annually, which critics contend breaks up families and drives people underground.
“Trump says three things: ‘Things are terrible, it is the fault of the Mexicans and Chinese, and the solution is me,’” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, mocking his fellow New Yorker. “‘Don’t worry, everybody else is stupid. I am brilliant, I’ll solve the problem.’”
Carl Paladino, the former New York gubernatorial candidate who was an early supporter of Trump, defended the Republican standard-bearer. “I would not call this an election. I call it the second American Revolution,” Paladino said last week at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. “The middle class is revolting against the aristocrats and the elitists down in Washington, D.C. They have had enough of the nonsense, game playing, self-indulgence and self-love that goes on in that bastion.”
At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, immigrant rights groups were well represented. Leticia Arce of San Francisco said she got involved in politics because of “the failure of our elected officials to really do anything about immigration.”
“So we are here to present our own stories,” Arce told City & State. “I think a lot of people scapegoat immigrants and politicians use that also to inflame these anti-immigrant feelings.”
Others have focused on U.S. actions that they say are the root of the problem. Cindy Wiesner, a member of It Takes Roots to Change the System: The People’s Caravan, an activist group, said that U.S. trade policies, the drug trade and U.S. efforts to stop it can collectively destabilize countries in Latin America and other parts of the world by driving people to head for the U.S.
“If you were to ask most people they would not come here” unless they have no choice,” said Wiesner, whose group had a presence in Cleveland and Philadelphia. “We need some strong leadership on migrant rights, and we had the most deportations under President Obama’s term.”
Whatever its cause, the divisions over immigration have exploded across the country. Joanne Cummings, a Democratic Party activist from Alabama, says her state has an “anti-immigrant fever.”
“In 2011 we passed an anti-immigration bill that caused so many of the immigrants working in the poultry farms and the fields to flee the state,” Cummings said. The law made it illegal to help the undocumented, “so if you were a church offering a meal to the hungry, you could be brought up on charges.”
One big question is what impact it will have on the elections this fall – and whether Hispanics will turn out to vote in greater numbers.
Based on demographic projections, there's a lot of potential. By 2050, the Hispanic share of the U.S. population is expected to be 29 percent, well above the 17 percent it stands at today.
In 2012, more Hispanics voted than ever before, according to the Pew Center. But while more than 23 million Latinos were eligible to vote that year, 9.6 million were not registered, according to the Center for American Progress.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, said that the immigration debate is driving an exponential increase in voter interest in his district.
“I normally get 35,000 votes in a primary – this time I got 97,000 votes this last primary,” Gutierrez said. “It has something to do with the anger and the angst and fear that’s out there in my congressional district on this issue. … When you talk to high school seniors, the first question out of their mouth is not, how do I get into the Naval Academy or West Point but are my parents going to be deported?”
Henry Garrido, the executive director of DC 37, New York City’s largest municipal union, said the vast majority of people that he represents and those in his community believe that Trump is anti-immigrant.
“The question is, will they come out to vote?” Garrido asked. “What’s happening right now is there’s a bit of electricity on the ground beginning with this convention because they see front and center on the stage the kind of message Trump is sending to the American people. And that is the wrong message for America. Immigrants have contributed a tremendous amount of resources, of love, of labor and of innovation.”