Several key Democratic 2020 presidential candidates have become reluctant to campaign on any immigration specifics lately, particularly those that haven’t polled well. There is also evidence they are downplaying or at least choosing not to emphasize many of the immigration talking points espoused by their party’s extreme left wing.
While the candidates are certainly united in their opposition to pretty much anything President Trump stands for on the immigration issue, the fact that they have so far been light on specifics hasn’t gone unnoticed by media outlets.
USA Today wrote in a May 30 report: “[Candidates] have largely shied away from explaining how they would deal with the record-setting surge of Central American families seeking asylum, secure the southern border or overhaul a 50-year-old legal immigration system that’s in dire need of an update.”
It’s a strategy that “runs the risk,” says the paper, “of allowing Trump to define the immigration debate with his accusations that Democrats support ‘open borders’ and migratory lawlessness.” (RELATED: Immigration: Where Trump Has Failed, And Where He’s Succeeded)
The Huffington Post noted “speeches that were long on pro-immigrant sentiment and often short on policy specifics” at a California candidate forum last week.
As of May’s end, when the USA Today report ran, only nine of the 24 declared candidates on the Democratic side had a specific immigration proposal on their website.
Notably, New York Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign website was absent any specifics on the immigration issue. California Sen. Kamala Harris, who had been cited by the May 30 USA Today report as having “no mention of immigration on her website,” presumably added a lengthy statement since then, calling for a “fair and just immigration system.” However, even Harris’ statement dealt with little more than a reversal of Trump’s policies, and certainly nothing about how to deal with the current migrant flow, or even why it should continue unabated. Calling current immigration enforcement policies and practices “cruel and out of control,” Harris promises to “close private immigrant detention centers, increase oversight of agencies like Customs and Border Protection, and focus enforcement on increasing public safety, not on tearing apart immigrant families.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign website merely promises “a humane immigration policy that upholds our values, strengthens our economy, and secures our border” and calls legal immigration “an incredible source of strength for our country.”
While Biden and New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand both participated in an “immigration round-table” in Nevada early last month, both reportedly avoided discussing key immigration issues particular to that state — the fact that the Las Vegas jail is complying with ICE requests to detain non-violent criminal illegal immigrants past when they are scheduled to be released, and also the 287(g) program, which makes jail officers deputized immigration agents.
In fact, the Democratic candidate field overall has “said little” on those specific issues, CBS reported. One notable exception is New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, who in May introduced legislation to eliminate 287(g) altogether. “With limited time and resources, local and state law enforcement should be focused on keeping their communities safe and pursuing serious threats, not acting as ICE agents,” Booker said of the bill, which has zero chance of passing in a GOP led Senate.
Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist, even took an anti-open borders stance in April, telling an Iowa town hall attendee, “I’m afraid you may be getting your information wrong. That’s not my view. What we need is comprehensive immigration reform. If you open the borders, my God, there’s a lot of poverty in this world, and you’re going to have people from all over the world. And I don’t think that’s something that we can do at this point. Can’t do it. So that is not my position.” (RELATED: Border Patrol Agent Reveals What It’s Like Working With Trump On Immigration Issues)
Candidates’ lack of zeal for clearly unpopular proposals like abolishing ICE and their lack of specifics on hot button issues could be a sign they are holding their immigration cards close to the vest in an effort to appeal to as broad a spectrum of voters as possible, even within the Democratic fold. Indeed, the issue of abolishing ICE, once a key talking point with prominent Democrats, has faded into the background as polling showed a small minority of overall voters and only one-quarter of Democrats in favor of the idea.
Interestingly, Democrats noticeably changed their messaging about abolishing the agency just before the 2018 midterms. “With just days to go before the midterm elections, the ‘Abolish ICE’ issue has all but vanished from the radar,” NBC wrote, adding one of the key reasons being its “failure to resonate with mainstream Democratic voters.” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand had been among the loudest current presidential candidates on the “abolish ICE” train.
Even polling on some other immigration issues doesn’t play well with the extreme Democratic left. A January Gallup Poll found 68 percent of respondents either preferred that immigration be kept to present levels (37 percent) or decreased (31 percent). Further, the General Social Survey from 2018 but released in March shows that over a third, 34 percent, of Americans want reduced immigration levels and 41 percent want them to remain the same. According to that poll, only 23 percent of Americans want more immigration. While this figure is up from 17 percent in 2016, increasing immigration levels clearly isn’t the slam-dunk issue the left seems to think it is.
Of all the current candidates, former Obama cabinet member Julian Castro did set himself apart on the immigration issue during the previously referred-to Pasadena, California forum last week, according to the Huffington Post, by “highlighting his call for the decriminalization of border crossings ― a position he first staked out last month, when he became the first Democratic presidential candidate to release a comprehensive plan.” Casto also became the first candidate to release a comprehensive policy statement on immigration, HuffPost noted.
While other candidates have criticized Trump, HuffPost notes that all “have declined to follow Castro in calling for the repeal” of the law that makes crossing the border itself illegal. (RELATED: American Killed Trying To Smuggle Chinese Men Over The U.S.-Mexico Border)
The key for Democrats, of course, is to move just far enough left on the issue to win enough Democratic voters to snatch their party’s nomination, but not so far that President Trump and Republicans will be able to portray them as open borders enthusiasts. It’s a seemingly impossible tightrope, but 2020 will tell if it can be done.