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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Why Dems Should ‘Lean In’ for Immigration Reform

An excerpt from “Democrats lean into border security as it shapes contest for control of Congress” by Stephen Groves at AP:

“Democrats aren’t going to win on immigration this year, but they have to get closer to a draw on the issue to get to a place where people take them seriously,” said Lanae Erickson, a senior vice president at Third Way, a centrist Democrat think tank. “Be palatable enough on that issue that people are then willing to consider other priorities.”

Still, Democrats face a difficult task when it comes to the politics of border security. A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has found that almost half of adults blame Biden and congressional Democrats for the current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, while 41% blame Republicans in Congress.

Despite the data, at least Democrats can point to reforms they have advocated, which Republicans have obstructed in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Democrats “believe they can tout their own proposals for fixing the border, especially after Trump and Republican lawmakers rejected a bipartisan proposal on border security earlier this year.”

“You’re going to be painted as an open border Democrat no matter what, so talk about solutions,” said Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist.

She is urging candidates to lean into the immigration debate by discussing plans for border security and policies to help immigrants who have set up lives in the country. It’s an approach that worked under former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, she said.

Still, the shift in the way Democrats talk about the border could shape the future of immigration policy. The hardline immigration measures pursued by the Trump administration spurred a reaction by Democrats to oppose tough immigration enforcement measures. Now, some Democrats argue that the party should move away from a stance that border security and reforms for legal immigration should not be inextricably tied together. But that approach could also disenchant progressive and Latino voters.

Every Democratic candidate for the U. S. House, Senate, and state and local legislative seats should energetically address Republican refusal to even consider reforms they have previously advocated. The point is to portray the G.O.P. as the obstructionist, do nothing, finger-pointing party that would rather posture and blame than act for border security. Democratic candidates have to master the details of their proposed reforms and develop some sharp soundbites that highlight the Republican’s failure to win any legislative wins to protect America’s borders.

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