Immigration Enforcement Is a Key Issue for Uncommitted Voters

By Andrew R. Arthur on September 15, 2018

A column in the Wall Street Journal this week underscored how important immigration enforcement is as an issue in the most critical races for the House of Representatives.

Titled "How Republicans Could Still Win", the opinion piece by Kimberly Strassel details the results of polling (which has yet to be released) conducted by data firm WPAi for the Club for Growth of 1,000 likely voters in 41 hotly contested House districts. That polling indicates that many of those races can be won by Republicans if they "have the courage of their convictions and get smarter in tailoring their messages to voters."

A key takeaway is the following:

Republicans have an opportunity in highlighting the left's more doolally ideas. Uncommitted voters reacted strongly against Democrats' calls to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE], and strongly in favor of GOP promises to defund "sanctuary" cities and states, which refuse to follow immigration law. These were top messages for those crucial suburban voters, who have watched in alarm as urban violence creeps into their neighborhoods.

As a whole, this is important information that you are unlikely to glean from most media outlets. The "Abolish ICE" movement has received a lot of attention in the media and been embraced by some key Democrats (as I detailed in a July 2018 post). That said, a number of pundits have warned that it may not be a winning issue for Democrats in November.

In particular, CNN Political Analyst Julian Zelizer warned in early July that "'Abolish ICE' is a massive political mistake." As he asserted:

The main problem with the abolish ICE stance is that the strategy shifts attention away from Trump and his hardline policies and toward the issue of government reorganization. In 2018, Democrats who are angry about the ongoing attacks on undocumented immigrants, as well as legal immigration, don't really need anything more to rally around. They already have Trump and his blistering rhetoric, and they have the extraordinarily harsh policy of separating children from their families — which, though the President has ended, still remains an issue since more than 2,000 immigrant kids remain in limbo.

The support of uncommitted voters for Republican efforts to defund sanctuary cities and states, on the other hand, is a story that is rarely told.

In fact, a March 2018 article on CNN captioned "What are sanctuary cities, and can they be defunded?", included the question, "Who objects to these practices?" The answer referred to "[s]ome conservatives", the president, and ICE, but no reference to any non-partisan or non-governmental group appeared therein.

For most conservatives that I know, this is a hot button issue: The idea that a state or locality would flout federal law and hinder its enforcement, while still demanding continued federal funding, is inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst. Further, the fact that such policies really only shield criminals is a story that is not often reported, or discussed in the media by and large.

Kimberly Strassel's column, however, suggests that this point is not lost on the public as a whole. Crime is a perpetual concern, and the specter of criminal violence weighs on voters of all political stripes. That uncommitted voters have managed to connect the dots indicates that it is an issue on which they are focused.

With good reason. In my hometown of Baltimore, we have plenty of home-grown criminals (as popular culture has reflected), and do not need any more. That has not stopped States Attorney Marilyn Mosby from instructing her staff "to think twice before charging illegal immigrants with minor, non-violent crimes in response to stepped up immigration enforcement by the Trump administration," as I reported in a May 2017 post captioned "Two Sets of Rules in Mobtown". It is no wonder that that the Census Bureau reported that Baltimore saw its population drop last year by more than 5,000 residents, during a period when the state of Maryland as a whole saw a net increase of 25,000 residents.

In fact, the Baltimore Sun reported that "while Baltimore City's population dropped, the metro area population — which includes the surrounding suburban counties — actually ticked up in the national rankings from 21st to 20th." That article continues:

Mayor Catherine Pugh has specifically mentioned a desire to make Baltimore more attractive to adults in their prime child-rearing years, a group that she says (quite correctly) judges the city based on crime and schools. That's no great mystery. Racism spawned the white flight that initially set Baltimore on its path of population decline, but the black flight that has followed is based mainly on safety and educational opportunity. If we could wave a wand and fix those things, it would make a tremendous difference, but our actual efforts to address both have in good years produced modest success and in bad ones — as we have recently experienced in terms of crime — disaster.

The best voters vote with their feet.

In a July 2018 post captioned "Poll: Immigration a Leading Issue Heading into Midterms", I broke down a Reuters poll that showed "immigration was the top issue for U.S. voters heading into the November 2018 midterm elections, edging out the economy on the list of Americans' concerns." I noted, however, that the importance of this topic did not cut evenly along party lines:

Instead, while 26 percent of registered Republicans "cited immigration as the most important issue likely to determine their vote," only 7 percent of Democrats identified immigration as their main concern. In fact, immigration was number three on the list for Democrats, behind healthcare (16 percent) and the economy (14 percent).

"Immigration" as an issue can mean different things to different people. For conservatives, it can mean immigration enforcement, while for progressives, it can mean amnesty. Kimberly Strassel's column makes clear, however, that enforcement of the immigration laws is a key issue for those voters who matter the most, and who will likely decide who has control of the House in the 116th Congress.