Hard-line immigration policies hurt Trump in battleground states, advocates say

Border Report

Democratic pollster says moderates turned off by migrant child separation policies, president's divisive approach to governing

In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who’ve been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, sit in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17, 2018. More than 2,300 minors have been separated from their parents since April, when the Trump administration launched its “zero-tolerance” policy that called for prosecuting illegal immigrants and taking their children away. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Rio Grande Valley Sector via AP)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – President Trump’s strong stand on immigration enforcement helped get him elected in 2016.

But in 2020, the issue not only failed to gain traction on the campaign trail but brought about a backlash among moderates and independent voters in key battleground states, advocates and Democratic pollsters said Thursday during an online immigration forum sponsored by America’s Voice, a liberal Washington, D.C., think-tank.

“Trump’s hardline immigration approach had a net negative impact in key states, with 34% of voters citing immigration as a reason to support Trump and 41% citing it as a reason to vote against him. That’s a seven-point gap,” said Nick Gourevitch, partner and managing director of research for Global Strategies Group.

The firm’s polls in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona showed Trump got hurt by issues like the separation of children from their parents at the border. “The numbers on that were more intense. Forty-nine percent cited it as a reason to vote against the president. More broadly, family separation was cited as the most concerning aspect of Trump’s immigration policy, Gourevitch said.

Outside of immigration, independent and undecided voters were turned off by the President’s divisive approach to governing. “That was a far greater concern to voters than his presidential behavior or, say, his competence,” he said.

Some would say that in 2016, migrants pretty much confined their rage at Trump’s scathing anti-immigrant rhetoric to their own circles. But in 2020, they joined advocates to proactively counter the political attacks and make their case to the value they bring to the country’s economy and society.

Advocates targeted battleground states with ads pushing the message that the U.S. economy needs immigrants and that they were a crucial part of the army of health care workers fighting on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Fund.

Tyler Moran, executive director of the Immigration Hub, a policy advocacy group that includes former congressional staff members, added that using immigration on a political campaign has become a door that swings both ways.

Tyler Moran

“Immigration as a wedge issue failed this year and our outreach to 2 million voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Colorado demonstrated that swing voters can be persuaded with pro-immigrant content,” Moran said. “It wasn’t because Trump didn’t try but because the public was sick of the President’s divisive rhetoric.”

She added this shift in the immigration discourse puts presumptive president-elect Joe Biden on “solid footing” to enact the pro-immigrant policies he outlined in his campaign.

Biden has stated he’ll present an immigration reform proposal to Congress that includes the legalization of an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States.

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