Congressional Democrats Sound the Alarm on Party's Immigration Stance

'A recipe for disaster'

By Andrew R. Arthur on February 22, 2021

As Congress rolls out legislation on President Biden's amnesty proposals, a handful of Democrats have started to sound the alarm on the party's immigration policies and proposals, and on the prospect of an onslaught of migrants coming into the country illegally.

A February 18 article in Politico, headlined "'Recipe for disaster': Dem fears mount over immigration overhaul", reports that: "With the White House and Congress set to release a broad immigration reform bill Thursday, some lawmakers fear the party's messaging and policy proposals are too much, too soon."

Specifically, that article quotes Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), who explains:

The way we're doing it right now is catastrophic and is a recipe for disaster in the middle of a pandemic. ... Our party should be concerned. If we go off the rails, it's going to be bad for us. ... Biden is going to be dealing with a minority in Congress if he continues down some of these paths.

Rep. Gonzalez is likely right to be concerned. His 15th congressional district runs in a narrow band from the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) city of McAllen, through Falfurrias north to northeast of San Antonio.

If you are not familiar with Texas, that is a lot of real estate and takes in a number of smuggling routes. While you may not be concerned about the border or illegal immigration, those are real concerns there.

Rep. Gonzalez won in that district in 2020 with just 50.5 percent of the vote, edging out Republican Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez by fewer than 6,600 votes in a district that Cook Political Report shows has a seven-point Democratic advantage. De La Cruz-Hernandez's strong showing was likely a surprise to that organization, because Texas 15 did not make its list of 2020 competitive House races.

Not surprisingly, the seat is now a target for Republicans in the off-year election in 2022. Also on the GOP's radar are Texas' 34th congressional district (currently held by Rep. Filemon Vela), and Rep. Henry Cuellar's Texas 28th congressional district. Texas 34 runs north from the RGV city of Brownsville, and Texas 28 runs along the RGV from east of McAllen through Laredo and north up to San Antonio.

Rep. Vela won reelection with a much more comfortable 26,000-plus vote margin in 2020, and Rep. Cuellar did even better, winning by more than 45,000 votes. Why would Republicans be contesting their seats?

Well, Donald Trump did better in the 2020 election along the Texas border than he had in 2016, winning 14 of 28 border counties in the Lone Star State that Hillary Clinton had all but swept in 2016. Clinton won those counties by 33 percentage points; Biden won them in total by just 17 percent.

More precisely, in the districts of Reps. Gonzalez, Vela, and Cuellar, Biden won by only a few points, "the largest rightward swings of any Texas congressional districts." And Texas Republicans will control redistricting in the next election.

As noted, a secure border is a big issue for voters there. De La Cruz-Hernandez, who is considering another run, stated on her last campaign website: "As your Congresswoman I will fight hard to ensure that our region gets the federal and state funding we need to have secure borders and secure communities." President Biden shut down border wall construction as one of his first acts in office, and his border control efforts have been less than stellar, or promising.

In that vein, Rep. Cuellar has expressed concerns that quickly reversing Trump's policies at the border could result in increased migration. Politico quotes him as stating: "[W]e gotta be careful that we don't give the impression that we have open borders because otherwise the numbers are going to start going up. And surely enough, we're starting to see numbers go up".

That's border districts. What about the rest of the country?

Politico notes that immigration has been overshadowed as an issue by the pandemic and its attendant economic downturn, but that it will take on greater importance as shutdowns end if the economy does not improve. Brandon Dillon, former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, is quoted by the outlet as stating:

Once Covid goes away, if the economy is still struggling, then the ability for folks to exploit the immigration issue is going to be stronger, allowing people to draw a straight line between immigration and jobs. Right now, it's not there.

I would disagree with the term "exploit" in this context ("highlight" would be the more objective and correct term, but I am not a political operative), but Dillon's analysis is otherwise sound.

Morgan Jackson, an advisor to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D), asserted that immigration — the "lightning rod of an issue" — is not yet being discussed in the Tar Heel State (where there will be an election for an open Senate seat in 2022), but opined:

Most Democrats will tell you there has to be border security and strengthening as part of any package, and the folks who disagree with that are more of a minority in the party. ... So it's not some open border policy.

There is no real border "strengthening" in the proposed amnesty legislation, and the Biden administration has done a poor job of handling the issue thus far, as noted above.

But if you want proof on the latter point, you need look no further that the February 17 YouTube video by Del Rio, Texas, Mayor Bruno Lozano begging President Biden to stop releasing migrants apprehended in and near his border city, which was included in my last post.

Del Rio is in the massive Texas 23rd congressional district, held by Republican Rep. Tony Gonzalez (whom I featured in a November 6 post), but Lozano is himself a Democrat. When he is dissatisfied with Biden's efforts, that's a problem for his party, and a bellwether for Democrats.

Then, there is the polling. Gallup polled Americans in 2021 to find out if they were satisfied with the level of immigration today. Some 39 percent said that they were satisfied, while 50 percent said they were dissatisfied (11 percent had no opinion).

Among the dissatisfied, only 16 percent of the total polled wanted an increase in immigration (32 percent of the dissatisfied, as half were "dissatisfied"). By contrast, 38 percent of the dissatisfied wanted immigration decreased (19 percent of the total polled), and 30 percent of dissatisfied voters wanted it to remain the same (once more, 15 percent of the total polled).

That means that the vast majority of Americans either want levels of immigration to remain the same or be decreased (with the scale tipped toward the former). Biden's immigration proposal, however, not only would create a massive amnesty, but it would also double legal immigration, and would even allow aliens who have been deported to return to apply for legal status.

The increase in immigration in the bill has not been discussed much, but I can guarantee that Republicans seeking to win the House and Senate in 2022 will use it as a wedge issue and hammer it home.

Again, the pandemic and the pandemic economy are a key issue for voters today, but Dr. Marty Makary, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health, explained in the Wall Street Journal on February 19 that the United States would reach herd immunity in April. Political leaders will not be able to keep society shuttered for long, even if they want to.

The economy is in worse shape than you might likely think. In a February 10 speech, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell said that the actual unemployment rate in this country was "close to 10 percent in January", and argued that "achieving and sustaining maximum employment ... will require a society-wide commitment."

That means keeping labor levels low to boost employment, which in turn means importing fewer new laborers from abroad to compete with unemployed Americans (both citizens and immigrants legally present) in the marketplace.

Will the economy return to 2019 levels when pandemic restrictions are no longer in place? I don't know, but given the fact that major retailers and restaurant chains have filed for bankruptcy during the pandemic, the short-term outlook (at a minimum) is not good.

As Dillon's comments above suggest, if jobs do not return immediately, the appetite for bringing in even more workers from abroad will diminish. Given the fact that many if not most of those aliens present illegally have low skill and education levels — and therefore would directly compete with unemployed American workers who are struggling the most — a massive amnesty would soon likely find few supporters, as well.

These are unusual times, indeed, and not least so politically. Control of the House and Senate rest on a knife's edge, and Republicans are looking for openings to tip the balance in their favor in 2022. Poorly thought-out Democratic immigration policies will likely give them the opening that they are looking for.

Immigration has recently been pushed to the back burner as an issue in most of the United States as we have all struggled to get through Covid-19 and its effects, but as recently as the 2018 election, it tied "the economy" as the second most important issue to voters (behind ironically in retrospect, "healthcare", and then barely so — 80 percent vs. 78 percent for immigration). Of course, the economy and immigration are intertwined.

It's still a major issue in border communities affected on a daily basis by illegal immigration, but don't be surprised if it comes to a congressional district near you, too, and soon.

Topics: Politics