Adrian Carrasquillo, Newsweek, March 1, 2021
Just eight minutes into his Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) speech on Sunday, Donald Trump went on his first extended riff, saying President Joe Biden has “triggered a massive flood of illegal immigration into our country, the likes of which we have never seen before.”
The issue was famously one of the first things the former president brought up as a candidate in 2016, although he did not prioritize it in his 2020 race. But the placement of immigration at the top of his agenda to bash Biden comes just days after former senior adviser Stephen Miller, a dutiful architect of Trump’s zero tolerance and family separation policies, told Republican members of Congress that immigration, more than any other issue, would be their ticket to bludgeoning Democrats during the midterms and wresting control of Congress.
Steve Cortes, a former Trump surrogate and adviser, told Newsweek the gulf between Biden and the last administration on immigration was a topic of conversation between himself and Trump during a recent trip to the ex-president’s Florida home at Mar-a-Lago. He said it is critical for Republicans to push the issue during next year’s midterm races.
“I 100 percent believe it is the most salient issue for the 2022 midterms,” Cortes said. “The Biden initial moves regarding the border and immigration are radical and dangerous and already producing in weeks the beginning of a crisis at the border that I believe will intensify as the weather warms.”
Carlos Odio, an Obama alumnus and co-founder of Democratic research organization EquisLabs, said Republicans have to perform a balancing act on immigration. He noted that Trump toned it down specifically because he saw a path forward with Latinos in 2020 and ended up improving on his 2016 election performance.
But Democrats in border communities where Trump improved with Latinos have shown skittishness on immigration early in Biden’s term. Representative Vicente Gonzalez, who represents a majority-Latino Texas district along the border, won in 2020 by only 3 points, despite winning his 2018 race by more than 20 points.
Gonzalez told CNN that processing and releasing migrants seeking asylum will send a message to Central Americans that tens of thousands of people can show up to the border, which will be “catastrophic for our party, for our country, for my region, for my district, in the middle of a pandemic.”
Giancarlo Sopo, who ran Spanish-language rapid response for the Trump campaign last year, added, “The problem for [Democrats], as we saw in 2020, is that Hispanics in border counties are moderate on immigration and the issue is not a top priority for Florida Latinos.”
Still, the Trump wing of the Republican Party clearly hopes that immigration is an issue, not just in 2022, but beyond.
“No matter who the nominee is in 2024—and I hope it’s Donald Trump—highlighting immigration now is a key critical differentiating issue between Biden and the America First agenda for a Republican Congress in 2022, and an America First president in 2024, whether Trump or someone else,” he said.