The Importance of Going on Offense in the Immigration Discourse

The Importance of Going on Offense in the Immigration Discourse

Editorial credit: lev radin /

Maribel Hastings | Latino Los Angeles

While rumors circulate that President Joe Biden plans to issue executive orders to deal with the border, in the context of the failure of tough border measures in the aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, it’s good to reiterate to the White House and Democrats that embracing the Republican hardline playbook is neither the only, nor the better option to speak to voters as we enter this electoral season.

Democrat Tom Suozzi’s victory in the special election for the Third District of New York, to fill the vacancy left by Republican George Santos, demonstrated that rather than running from the migration issue, no matter how controversial it may be at the moment, denouncing Republican extremism and declaring that both things can be achieved—that is, security at the border and interior of the country as well as a path to legalization for undocumented people, and mechanisms for migrants to arrive in a structured way—could be a winning formula.

That is perhaps the primary electoral lesson of Suozzi’s victory, who faced the controversy generated by the arrival of thousands of migrants to New York, a majority of whom are seeking asylum. Certainly, some of Suozzi’s comments made some people cringe, like the reference to the “invasion” or supporting the Senate immigration language. However, he appealed to swing and centrist voters who support a sensible solution to the immigration issue, without running to the extremes of the political spectrum.

Specifically, the topic of refugees in Democratic cities and the thousands of border crossings positioned immigration at the center of the presidential election, while diverse polls do not place the matter among voter’s principal priorities. That includes Latino voters who cite topics such as the economy, jobs, healthcare, and crime as central issues.

However, the media coverage of refugees’ arrival to cities around the country, as well as the constant images of the migrant flow at the border generate attention, in addition to the fact that figures like Donald Trump and congressional Republicans exploit those developments with political ends, to mobilize their anti-immigrant base.

The case of Hispanics is interesting because they are a reflection of U.S. society and when it comes to immigration. They have a variety of opinions, from those who want to erase the borders to those who were once undocumented, and now don’t want anyone else to enter the country.

In fact, the issue of refugees is rather thorny, because many undocumented people who have been living, working, and paying taxes in the United States for decades resent that neither they nor the Dreamers have been legalized, and people who have more recently arrived in search of asylum already have work permits.

And many will say that what they think has no importance because they don’t vote, but millions of undocumented people live in households of mixed immigration status. They have spouses, children, and relatives who are citizens and do vote, and the way in which this topic is handled determines whether they support a candidate or not, or whether apathy simply takes over and they don’t vote at all.

The solution for Biden and the Democrats is not to try to compete with Trump and his MAGA base to see who is the hardest on immigration. Whether they do this or not, the MAGA base will never support them. But adopting migration positions that alienate their traditional electoral base and undecided and centrist voters is also not the best electoral strategy. The Suozzi model of being on the offense, not on the defense, on immigration, could serve as a guide for the Democrats.

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