Democrats say GOP governors sending migrants to liberal cities in blue states are making a political mistake, potentially turning the issue of immigration and the border into a loser for Republicans.
They say sending plane- and busloads of men, women and children to unfamiliar cities with the promise of jobs and care is coming off as cruel and careless, even if the intention is to make a statement about the difficulties border areas face with a surge of immigrants.
“DeSantis and Abbott thought they were going to put immigration on the ballot, but what they’ve done is reinforce the Democrats’ message regarding MAGA extremism,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a progressive immigration advocacy group.
Sharry referenced Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who along with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey are the three Republicans most associated with the migrant dumps. The three have shipped migrants seeking asylum to New York City; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
Immigration is an issue regularly used to pulverize Democrats at election time, but a number of voices in the party think that, in this case, it could boomerang on the GOP in the final stretch of the midterms.
Democrats have sought to move the subject of conversation away from the topics of inflation and the economy, and they’ve been helped in doing so by a variety of news events, including the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision and the FBI search of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
The dropping off of migrants at Martha’s Vineyard — an island vacation spot off Massachusetts — and at Vice President Harris’s home in Washington is seen as another distraction of sorts.
In Florida, Democrats are zeroing in on the argument that the Republican governors are unfairly targeting and making life harder for migrants fleeing repressive leftist governments in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. It blunts Republican talking points on socialism that the GOP has used to make inroads with Hispanic voters in Florida in particular.
“The moment I read that it was Venezuelan and Colombian refugees, I realized this was an absolute disaster for Governor DeSantis,” said Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.).
“Not only is it inhumane, but these are two key voting groups in Florida that we are vigorously contesting between the parties,” he added.
Many Democrats see an opportunity for the party to define itself on immigration, in opposition to GOP hard-liners, as it did in 2018 and 2020.
“President Biden should seize this moment to remind the country of what American democracy stands for,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement Friday.
“He should welcome these refugees and those from Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba that have been bussed to other states, and allow them to seek temporary protections in the United States. This was the right thing to do for Ukrainians who could not return home, and it is the right thing to do now.”
While most Northern city officials have avoided statements portraying immigration and migrants as a problem, some have used the kind of rhetoric the migrant relocations have presumably sought to provoke.
Earlier this month, D.C. Councilwoman Brianne Nadeau blamed Abbott and Ducey for turning Washington into a “border town.”
And Republicans are leaning in to their original view of immigration as a national crisis of Biden’s making that overburdens border communities.
“This is what happens when you have an administration that basically is telling people if you come into this country illegally, you’re going to get to stay,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told supporters in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Friday.
Rubio doubled down on GOP claims of Democratic hypocrisy, downplaying the validity of Northern cities’ sanctuary policies.
“It’s easy to be a sanctuary city or sanctuary county when illegal immigration is not burdening you,” he said.
Still, the migrant relocations have opened a window of opportunity for Democrats to talk about immigration, after months of being on the defensive on the issue.
“Republican Governors DeSantis and Abbott as well as Latino Republicans are creating confusion to divide the country and distract from their lack of solutions on the top issues for working families,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s campaign arm, Bold PAC.
Gallego added that Democrats feel emboldened by the new battlefront, given their success in 2018 and 2020 framing Trump-era immigration policies like family separations.
“This is the same tired, failed GOP playbook. Every time an election comes around, Republicans try to politicize immigration. They tried this in 2018 with caravans and it didn’t work for them — Democrats won by the largest margin in midterm history,” he said.
Ducey, who is term-limited, is not running for reelection in Arizona, a state where the gubernatorial race is a toss-up between pro-Trump Republican Kari Lake and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D).
Abbott and DeSantis are up for reelection and are facing bold-faced Democratic opponents in former Reps. Beto O’Rourke and Charlie Crist, who is also a former Florida governor. Polls suggest a close race in Florida; in Texas, a new poll released Monday showed Abbott with a growing lead.
But perhaps the biggest political effect of the relocation program has been as a unifying force for Democrats.
“It’s right up there in cruelty with Trump confining kids to cages, and it’s keeping our caucus unified,” Soto said.