In this year’s midterm elections, immigration featured prominently in races across the country. With many elections still not decided, the most significant result so far is that Republicans are predicted to win the House thereby gaining the power to set the legislative agenda and conduct oversight over the Biden Administration. Kevin McCarthy, the current House Minority Leader and presumptive Speaker has announced he’ll act on immigration before anything else. “The first thing you’ll see is a bill to control the border first,” he said noting that he will not advance other immigration reforms until the border is secure. His Republican plan, the “Commitment to America” defines immigration through the lens of national security and border enforcement, which he characterizes as “millions of people who are just walking across, people on the terrorist watch list.” In October, McCarthy ruled out legislation that trades a path to citizenship for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with increased border security, the kind of deal that has often been the starting point for negotiations.
An even more fierce immigration restrictionist, Jim Jordan (R-OH), will likely chair the House Judiciary Committee. Jordan has already signaled interest in conducting impeachment hearings against Homeland Security Secretary Ali Mayorkas, who is himself a Cuban immigrant. Earlier this year, Jordan accused Mayorkas of supporting illegal immigration: “We have a Secretary of Homeland Security who is intentionally, deliberately, in a premeditated fashion…executing a plan to overwhelm our country with millions and millions of illegal migrants.” In addition to impeachment, Jordan will undoubtedly conduct oversight hearings that will disrupt the Biden Administration’s immigration initiatives.
With the U.S. Senate race in Georgia possibly going to a run-off, it may be weeks before we know which party will control the Senate. The Pennsylvania race between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz is seen as a bellwether of how things might turn nationwide so Fetterman’s victory suggests the victory of margin in the Senate will be tight. Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto of Nevada has been a firm supporter of immigration reform and is locked in a close race with Republican Adam Laxalt who sued to halt the DACA program in his role as Nevada’s attorney general.
Whether a Republican-led House will want to cut a deal on immigration reform is ultimately a question of how much pressure their leadership will feel from their rank-and-file members. If Republicans end up winning even more seats in the House, McCarthy will have a stronger majority comprised of far-right members and be less inclined to cut a deal on immigration that Democrats would accept during either the lame duck period or the new Congress.
With the DACA program so vulnerable in the courts, the risks to Dreamers and particularly DACA recipients could not be more urgent. That’s why AILA is mobilizing to push Congress to pass a bill now to protect Dreamers and other people who are undocumented. If DACA is halted in court, an estimated 1,000 DACA recipients could lose their deferred action status and work permits each week, causing severe harm in the healthcare, education, food production and service industries, all of which are experiencing shortages. Getting any deal will unquestionably demand compromise and swallowing bitter pills that AILA opposes, such as extreme border security measures and erosion of asylum law and humanitarian protections. There is a chance reforms AILA supports on recapturing lost visas, improved case processing, and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act would also be included if a deal comes together.
It’s too early to say how important a factor immigration was in the elections. General pre-election polling showed that the midterms would largely be determined by issues other than immigration, such as inflation and the economy. But Republican and Democratic voters diverge dramatically on the importance of immigration in their election choices. For Republican voters immigration is a highly influential factor: In October, Pew Research found that that 76 percent of Republicans base their vote on immigration policy. By contrast the rate for Democrats is only 36 percent – that’s 50 points lower than Republicans.
Not surprisingly, immigration and the border were top issues for Republicans’ messaging strategy which was premised on galvanizing their base with fear-based language tying immigrants to drugs, crime, and national security. The pro-immigrant organization America’s Voice tracked 3,200 examples of Republican candidates using anti-immigrant attacks in their campaigns. In stark contrast, Democratic campaigns focused on the economy and other concerns which gave Republicans more opportunity to define the immigration debate on enforcement and border security. Republicans also outspent Democrats on immigration-related ads on a scale of nearly 15 to 1 during the campaign.
Latinos made up about 14 percent of eligible voters, of which 1 in 4 has a family member who is undocumented. The shift some pollsters predicted of Latino voters to the GOP did not materialize. Election eve polling of Latinos shows they supported Democrats 66 percent compared to 34 percent support for Republicans.
Throughout this election cycle, AILA chapters and members engaged in the political process and supported immigration-friendly candidates. AILA identified candidates in primarily toss-up races that would advance pro-immigration priorities as defined by their support for AILA’s advocacy priorities and on legislation that AILA endorses.
Michigan was home to a few national battleground races, where the AILA Michigan Chapter supported AILA member Hillary Scholten (MI-03) Rep. Elisa Slotkin (MI07), and Rep. Dan Kildee (MI-08). All three were toss-up races featuring immigrant rights champions on the ballot. Scholten and Slotkin won their races, and Kildee is predicted to win. The AILA New Jersey chapter supported Rep. Tom Malinowski (NJ-07), formerly at Human Rights Watch and State Dept, who lost his bid for reelection. In both New Jersey and Michigan the share of eligible voters who are immigrants has increased to over 2.2 percent from 2016 to 2022.
The AILA Carolinas Chapter leaned into 2 competitive races supporting Don Davis (NC-01) and Wiley Nickel (NC-13) by educating members on these key races and recruiting members to participate in community meet and greet events with the immigration-friendly candidates. Both Davis and Nickel won their races. AILA South Florida hosted an event for candidate Annette Taddeo in the competitive FL-27 district race against incumbent Maria Salazar. At the Taddeo event members asked about DACA, asylum, the independent immigration court, USCIS and DOS backlogs and delays/accountability.
Immigrants’ List, a pro-immigration political action committee with close ties to AILA, campaigned for candidates in the key battleground states of Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina and endorsed a larger slate of candidates nationwide. Immigrants’ List high win rate of endorsed candidates continued this season. It supported most of the winning candidates mentioned above through fundraising events and public endorsements.
But now, as we reflect on these midterm elections, one thing is crystal clear: we must continue to educate and inform voters, and those running for office, about the impact of fair and just immigration laws and policies for our shared prosperity. We cannot afford to stand on the sidelines when hardliners seek office deploying anti-immigrant scare tactics and outright falsehoods that scapegoat immigrants. Today, we are so proud to see the concrete efforts of our members and coalition partners made a difference in these elections. Onward to 2024!