Sanctuary State Politics: Zero Tolerance May Hurt Border State Republicans By Nicky Riordan
The California State Legislature passed various protections for immigrants in late 2017 making California the first "sanctuary state." Stark internal division within the state and the political parties on immigration is nothing new. The current political climate under the Trump Administration and Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice, paired with high-stakes midterm elections later this year, have brought new life to the conversation. This series will analyze nuanced dynamics of immigration policy and ideology across California during the 2018 midterm campaign.
California Republicans seemed ready to seize on the enthusiasm from President Trump’s immigration rhetoric until current events disrupted this strategy.
The decision by the Trump administration to instate a “zero-tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings has led to unprecedented family separations along the U.S.-Mexico border and swift public codemnation.
The new policy calls for stringent enforcement of existing immigration law that allows the Department of Homeland Security to detain adults who have illegally crossed the border and provide for their children to be placed with sponsors in the United States. This includes the separation of children from their parents and detention in warehouses in what the Associated Press described as "fenced cages."
Family separation has ignited fierce opposition on the left, but the optics and pressure of the issue have also forced Republicans to turn on their own party leader. Regular critics such as Senators John McCain and Susan Collins spoke out in opposition, as well as less likely adversaries including Senators John Cornyn and Orrin Hatch.
This pressure resulted in an executive order by the President to end family separation and call on Congress to legislate on the larger issue of immigration enforcement. Attention has now shifted to how the federal government handles the over 2,000 children who have already been separated from their parents.
This issue created unexpected electoral challenges for Republicans, particularly in California, which Democrats are seeking to capitalize on. Elected officials have visited detention centers, including potential presidential contenders, such as Senator Kamala Harris.
On Friday, Harris visited the Otay Mesa Detention Facility outside of San Diego and spoke to activists nearby. She referenced stories of the detained women and mothers inside, describing the situation as state-sanctioned human rights violations.
In Congress, Republicans have struggled to pass an immigration bill through either chamber of Congress while controlling both. The Democrats have their own version of a bill to permanently end family separations that even red-state Democrats support.
There is plenty of time for the narrative to shift again before Election Day, but Republicans fighting for key seats in states like California are now finding themselves in a difficult position. Meanwhile, the president continues to escalate his immigration rhetoric. Yesterday Trump advocated deporting undocumented immigrants without due process, whom he called “invaders.”
How Republicans resolve these tensions is becoming increasingly important to both immigration policy and the midterm campaign.
Nicky Riordan (@nriordan120), Political Analyst, The Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research, reporting from California