Party Conventions Highlight Growing U.S. Divide on Immigration

Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg, July 28, 2016

On the first day of their convention, Democrats heard moving speeches from an 11-year-old American girl worried about her undocumented mother getting deported, a “Dreamer” brought to the country as a child without proper papers and U.S. Representative Luis Gutiérrez, a fiery voice for compassionate treatment of immigrants.

It was a sharp contrast to the Republican convention last week, when three speakers on opening night were American parents who told searing tales of their children who died because of people living in the country illegally. Their dark stories contained appeals for more border control to stop immigrants from pouring into the U.S.

The divergence reflected a widening national gulf on immigration, an issue that has taken center stage in the 2016 presidential election in a year marked by increasing political polarization and heightened racial tensions.

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Clinton has promised to introduce legislation in her first 100 days that would allow the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally to gain citizenship. She wants to support–and expand–President Barack Obama’s executive actions to give deportation relief and work permits to millions of undocumented immigrants, even though the president’s order is currently blocked by an appeals court (a shorthanded Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on the legality of the program last month).

Fear of immigration has been a powerful undercurrent in the GOP for years, sinking legislative efforts in 2007 and 2013 to open up immigration laws. But Trump has capitalized on it in a way that no presidential candidate has for generations. According to a 2015 Pew survey, a majority of Republicans believe immigrants have a negative impact on U.S. society, while a majority of Democrats believe they make America better.

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“As Mr. Trump said, a government that doesn’t protect its own citizens is a government unworthy to lead,” Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser to Trump, said in an email. Victims of immigration, he said, “have not had a voice: they’ve been coldly silenced again at the Democratic convention.”

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“At the Republican convention, undocumented immigrants were depicted as the scary ‘other’ that are coming to kill ‘us.’ At the Democratic convention, undocumented immigrants speak up for themselves and demonstrate that they already are ‘us,'” said Frank Sharry, a pro-immigration activist. “In many ways, this election is a referendum on immigration reform–kick them out or let them stay.”

The share of the white vote shrunk from 88 percent in the 1980 election to 72 percent in 2012, and the results have been stark: Ronald Reagan won 56 percent of whites in 1980 en route to a landslide victory, while Mitt Romney won 59 percent of whites in 2012 and lost. {snip}

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