Joel Rose, NPR, August 3, 2022
In Republican primary races this year, few issues have come up more in TV ads than immigration. And one word in particular stands out: invasion.
A few years ago, that word was confined to the fringes of the immigration debate. Most candidates would avoid it.
In this election cycle, it’s moved squarely into the mainstream.
“We’re gonna end this invasion,” Blake Masters, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Arizona, says in a campaign ad.
It’s been three years since a white gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 23 people, most of them Latino. The suspect was motivated by what he called a “Hispanic invasion” of people coming to the U.S. illegally.
Since then, the number of migrant apprehensions at the southern U.S. border has climbed to new records — while the political rhetoric around immigration has gotten more extreme.
The word invasion has a long history in white nationalist circles. For years, it was used widely by supporters of the “replacement theory” — the false conspiracy theory that says Jews or elites are deliberately replacing white Americans with immigrants and people of color. Until recently, you rarely heard it from Republican officeholders or candidates.
So what changed? For one thing, former President Trump, who used the word invasion a lot.
“Trump kind of exposed the kinds of rhetoric that resonated with the Republicans,” said John Thomas, a Republican strategist based in California.
Thomas is working with several candidates for state office in Texas who’ve used “invasion” in their messaging this election cycle. That’s partly because of Trump’s example, he says. But for Thomas, the bigger issue is what’s happening at the southern border, where the number of migrant apprehensions is on pace to exceed 2 million this year — breaking the record set just last year.
“The word invasion presses the hot buttons of Republican voters as they feel that it’s a much bigger deal than it was before,” Thomas said. “The rhetoric is increasing its intensity to match.”