As we approach the 2018 midterm elections, Washington hopefuls have kicked their campaigns into full gear. I have seen enough political advertisements on television in the past month to last an entire lifetime. If you have noticed more campaigning this year compared to past election years, you are not imagining it. Make no mistake, this year may be the most important midterm election in the history of the United States. A Democratic majority in the House of Representatives or Senate would mean that the president would not get immediate congressional support for his policies. That would effectively end the Trump Presidency, one of the most controversial and chaotic presidencies ever.
There are many issues that Democrats may focus on to win seats in November such as health care, gun rights, and income inequality, to name a few. These are all good answers to the question of what Democrats should talk about. But there’s one specific issue they should stay away from: immigration.
I want to start off by acknowledging the sensitivity of this issue. The immigrants who cross America’s borders are often treated inhumanely by our government. No person anywhere deserves this, especially those seeking a better life for themselves and their family.
When it comes to immigration, generally, Americans are ignorant. And not just Republicans; it’s Democrats and independents, too. The Washington Post reports that only “45 percent of Americans say that most immigrants living in the U.S. are here legally; 35 percent say most immigrants are in the country illegally.” Only around 23 percent of immigrants in America are here illegally. But the facts don’t seem to matter. Republicans mobilize around Trump’s pipe dream of “The Wall,” and despite border arrests recently hitting a 46 year low, 42 percent of Republicans are still very dissatisfied with the current level of immigration, according to Gallup.
June 2018 saw what was probably the largest debacle of the Trump Presidency up to this point, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions controversially ordered the separation of illegal immigrant families at the Mexican border. But Trump and the Republicans are going to lose few, if any votes over this. Looking back on Trump’s campaign announcement speech three years ago (in which he implied some Mexican illegal immigrants are “rapists”), the administration’s harsh practices are not surprising. In fact, it is shocking that separating infants from their parents is the furthest the administration has gone thus far.
That is not to say that the images of the torn families are not disturbing; they absolutely are. And Americans agree. A CNN Poll found that two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the policy. Many progressives expect this to drastically alter the political landscape, clearing the way for easy victories in November. These people are wrong. Trump’s approval rating has remained fairly consistent throughout his term, virtually unchanged by the administration’s brutality at the border. The voters who elected Trump in 2016 expect him to be “tough” on immigration. In their eyes, he is doing just that.
In response to the recent cruelty displayed by the White House, many liberals and Democratic leaders have pushed to abolish ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). The reason for the outrage is that a division of ICE handles the deportation of illegal immigrants. Americans are sick of seeing loved ones ripped out of their homes and out of their communities. So there will be a time for the “abolish ICE” movement. In the next five years, do not be surprised if the entire administration is rebuilt from the bottom up. But now, on the verge of the biggest midterm election in this nation’s history, calling to abolish ICE might be a losing strategy, which ironically preserves their existence.
Since Trump’s inauguration, liberals have actually made some progress on immigration. Sanctuary cities, which protect illegal immigrants (who have not committed a serious crime) from deportation, have slowed ICE arrests down to a glacial pace. And I would like to point out that in any given year under President Barack Obama, twice as many ICE arrests were made compared to Trump’s first year in office. The difference is that with a Democratic president at the helm, progressives were not paying much attention. This sudden (but justified) outrage makes Republicans and independents see the ICE abolition movement as a hypocritical and a partisan overreaction. If Democrats run on this platform, they will lose votes in vital battleground states. And allowing the Trump administration to broaden its belligerent behavior for the next two years is certainly not in line with the liberal agenda.
By focusing on choosing the right messaging, Democrats can and will gain seats in November. But liberals need to understand that radical policies on immigration are not winning ones. At least not in 2018.
Nicholas is a member of the Class of 2022 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.