The pandemic’s urgency, the president’s vulnerability to immigration, and his decision to focus on messaging around “law and order” have overshadowed the issue.
When Trump had publicly announced his plan to run for president in 2016, he pledged to build a southern border wall that Mexico would pay for. He delivered on that promise and so effectively placed it at the center of his campaign that the chants of “Build the Wall” quickly became familiar choruses at his meetings.
In 2018, before the mid-term elections in which Democrats eventually took control of the House, Trump raised fears of a “caravan” of migrants crossing Mexico into what he called a possible “invasion.”.
And as president, his governmen]t has taken over 400 executive actions that dismantled and radically reshaped the current immigration system.
Yet this campaign season, immigration was nothing more than a footnote this campaign season.
While this is the issue of Trump signing on as candidate and president, immigration has vanished from the speech surrounding the election, sidelined by more important messages from both Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden about coronavirus, the economy. And recent protests for racial justice. The issue has also slipped into the priorities of the voters.
It did not often appear, even in moderate settings. Immigration was not discussed in any depth in the first presidential debate, the vice-presidential discussion, or the municipal duels of Trump and Biden last week, other than a passing mention and a single question from a public member.
Some – but not all – of the explanations, analysts say, is simply that current events are so urgent that they’ve used both campaigns.
“There comes a time when real-world events impinge on the campaign in a way that can no longer be ignored,” says Jacob Neiheisel, associate professor of political science at the University at Buffalo who studies political communication and political science and elections. “And while I’m certain that Donald Trump would love to be talking about immigration, I think that’s probably a pivot too far.”
The sidelining of immigration in this electoral cycle is especially noticeable given the laser focus with which Trump has dealt with the issue during his presidency, under the leadership of senior adviser Stephen Miller, a restrictionist on immigration. In 2019, migration on the southern border reached levels not seen in more than a decade.
The Trump administration has made changes at breakneck speed, both in the news and small and technical, that have transformed America’s immigration system. Trump severely restricted asylum policies, changed border policies, built hundreds of miles of wall on the southern border, reduced the number of refugees, made it more difficult for immigrants to obtain green cards, and otherwise targeted legal immigration.
The administration embraced all of these changes as Trump relentlessly spewed a torrent of rhetoric aimed at illegal immigration, portraying many immigrants as criminals and threats to American workers.
Some of Trump’s actions have left him vulnerable to immigration policy in a way that he was not in 2016 – the fact that some analysts say maybe one of the reasons his campaign isn’t targeting the problem.
Many of Trump’s most essential immigration actions – like the implementation of border policies that separate migrant children from their parents and the government’s efforts to end the Delayed Action for the Arrival of Children Program – are generally unpopular with voters.
Public opinion has also changed in recent years, with more people than ever viewing immigration as a positive phenomenon.
Opinion on immigration in general and Trump’s best-known actions suggest his rhetoric on the matter only plays well with his grassroots. Analysts agree that Trump will need votes from non-belonging Americans to this faction to win the presidency again.
However, Trump hasn’t shirked entirely from talking about immigration: at rallies, he publicized his background at the border, demonized immigrants and refugees, and highlighted progress on the wall. The Department of Homeland Security has spent the past few weeks trying to increase the visibility of its immigration actions. And holding press conferences for relatively trivial arrest operations and putting up billboards featuring the faces of Immigrants wanted by immigration and customs in the swing state of Pennsylvania – what officials insist has nothing to do with the election.
Biden, on the other hand, similarly did not record Trump’s central immigration record. Instead, he criticized the White House’s response to the coronavirus pandemic more frequently, which has killed more than 222,000 Americans, and focused on healthcare.
Arizona elected its first Democratic senator since 1988 in 2018. The poll shows Biden just ahead of Trump, and the state is considered a throwback. Arizona has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996. In 2016, support for the Republican presidential candidate similarly fell by 5 percentage points.
Republican support was also eroded in New Mexico, Colorado, and California in 2016, although New Mexico and Colorado also saw support for the decline in Democratic candidates.
Simon Rosenberg, Democratic strategist and chairman of the Liberal NDP Network and the New Policy Institute, says he thinks Trump’s earlier focus on immigration made his race more difficult in 2020.
“While immigration may not be a top issue in the current debate, it has played a major role in the election. Trump’s extremism on the issue has helped push the heavily Mexican American parts of the country even further away from the president and his party, making his Electoral College map far harder, and the Senate far more likely to flip,” Rosenberg says.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant political rights organization, says he believes Trump’s harsh stance on immigration and his rhetoric on the matter have forced the American public to voice their views on the president’s actions failed for the president.
“Immigration has lost its salience, especially with voters in the middle. And Trump’s extremism has forced Americans to choose whether they embrace his radicalism or reject it. And the most remarkable thing over the last four years is that a solid majority reject it,” Sharry said.
“Public opinion has solidified in more progressive circles and moved decisively in a pro-immigrant direction in the middle, leaving Trump locked in the cul-de-sac of his base,” he says.