Republicans have been campaigning on illegal immigration for decades, but the rhetoric has stepped up in recent years. Donald Trump’s first campaign in 2016 featured some highly divisive comments regarding immigrants, and Republicans have been using that same heightened rhetoric to drive fear and division against immigrants ever since. 

Republicans Poll Well on the Border

This is not merely racism; Republicans poll very well when they use the border issue as a front for policy propositions. Conservatives know that it’s a winning issue for them, and with the 2024 election rapidly approaching, they’re looking for any and all ways that they can get ahead of Joe Biden and liberals. 

Source: Wikimedia/U.S. Customs and Border Protection

And it must be stated that they’re not necessarily wrong in discussing the border. The United States immigration system is an incredibly inefficient program that has needed a significant overhaul for decades. Immigrants and refugees come to the United States in waves, and the system isn’t designed well enough to handle the highs of immigration when they come. 

Immigrants Coming in Illegally

In recent years, this has led to many immigrants attempting to come into the country illegally, with the issue ramping up during Joe Biden’s administration. 2023 saw the highest number of migrant encounters at the border in recent years, with December seeing more than 9,000 encounters a day. 

Source: Wikimedia/U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Those numbers have since come down, but it doesn’t change the fact that many states and cities are feeling the strain of increased numbers of migrants. Cities like New York and Chicago are struggling in particular, and Republicans have pointed to “sanctuary state” policies as the reason. 

Changes in State Policy

The increased number of migrants has led to some states changing their policies to make themselves friendlier for these migrants who are coming for a better life. Other states have created new policies to try and deter immigrants, specifically citing the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border as the reason.

Source: Wikimedia/U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Texas in particular has seen a significant number of policy changes regarding the border. Greg Abbott, during the Biden administration alone, has authorized stronger punishments for immigrants crossing the border illegally, has allowed deterrent buoys to be built in the Rio Grande, and has overseen the installation of razor wire at the border. 

Unnecessarily Cruel Policies

Many Democrats, and some moderate Republicans, have cited these policies as unnecessarily cruel. These same people have also pointed out that these policies don’t do anything to actually address the real issues at the border. 

Source: Wikimedia/Wbaron

That’s because the border, historically, has fallen under federal regulation policies rather than state regulation policies. The Constitution delegates the United States border to the control of the federal government, and this argument is why the Biden administration has challenged Texas border policies multiple times. 

Policies Challenged to the Supreme Court

Multiple immigration policies that have come out of Abbott’s office have been challenged all the way up to the Supreme Court in recent months. The Court has sided with the Biden administration on multiple of these issues, including allowing the administration to assign federal workers to remove the razor wire at Texas’ border.

Source: Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore

The challenges have not deterred Abbott, though. He has continued to speak out against the border crisis, calling it an “invasion” and pointing to states like California as examples of why he is so harsh on immigration. 

Opposite Policies from California

California has taken the opposite road to states like Texas, with Governor Gavin Newsom having signed multiple immigrant-friendly policies in the last six months. These policies have been deeply controversial, such as the bill that expanded eligibility for the state Medicaid program to include illegal immigrants of all ages.

Source: Wikimedia/Government of California

Newsom has campaigned on compassionate government, and it’s clear in the policies that are coming out of his state administration. Migrants are people, after all, and many liberals feel that it is our societal duty to take care of each other, regardless of border or nationality.

Hiding Behind the Constitution

Republicans disagree with this idea of compassionate government, and many have turned to the Constitution as a justification for their opinions on immigration. These opinions are, of course, ahistoric, but that hasn’t stopped Republicans from spreading race-based rhetoric without basis in fact. 

Source: Wikimedia/Howard Chandler Christy

This is a pattern of discussion that has even made it up to the federal government. Discussions of immigration without moves to make significant border policy change have eaten up a significant amount of legislative time in the last three years. Multiple times, Republicans have stated that border policy needs to change, and has used inflammatory and divisive rhetoric to do so. 

Recent Racially Charged Comments

Most recently this was seen in a markup session of the House Oversight Committee. Lawmakers were addressing the Equal Representation act, which – if passed – would require a citizenship question on the 2030 United States census, and every census after that.

Source: Wikimedia/United States House of Representatives – Office of Gary Palmer

The reasoning behind this proposed change to the census, according to one of its Republican supporters, Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), was because the Founding Fathers “never anticipated” there’d be “huge numbers” of people who couldn’t vote who were being counted in the census.

Use of Census Data

This comment, of course, ignores many of the points of the United States census. Part of the intent is to allocate electoral votes appropriately, yes, and in that case, the number of non-voting residents would matter significantly.

Source: Wikimedia/Francis William Edmonds

However, the census also helps determine how federal funds will be allocated across various programs, as well as helping to determine local issues like school funding. Census data is very important beyond merely counting the number of people who are currently in the country. 

Democratic and Republican Infighting

Democrat Jamie Raskin pointed out the fallacy in Palmer’s statement, taking no quarter with his colleague. “Of course they did,” he said. “The vast majority of Americans couldn’t vote when the country was started.”

Source: Wikimedia/MDGovpics

Another Republican responded to this comment, jumping to Palmer’s defense. “He said the founders never anticipated this volume of illegals,” said Clay Higgins (R-LA). “Don’t twist my colleague’s words.”

A History Lesson from Raskin

Raskin didn’t accept this version of history, though. He said that it was “very valiant” for Higgins to try and defend Palmer, and then proceeded to give both Republicans a concise and decisive lesson in history.

Source: Wikimedia/MDGovpics

“There was no immigration law when the Constitution was adopted at all. In fact, the only illegals in the country, at least according to the Native population, were the people writing the Constitution,” Raskin said regarding the document, which was signed exclusively by people who were born outside of the United States.

Disingenuous, and False

The Republican stance that immigration is not in the best interest of the country is ahistorical and insulting to immigrants. Like Raskin pointed out, the Founding Fathers themselves were European immigrants, and the country has relied on all types of immigration – legal and illegal – in the centuries since the Declaration of Independence was signed. 

Source: Wikimedia/John Trumbull

Conservatives using the border as a talking point is merely a bid for Republicans to gain back power. Fear-based messaging regarding immigration is an effective method of rallying voter support, and no amount of history will change the fact that Republicans have weaponized emotional messaging regarding the border.

Important Rhetoric to Consider When Voting

The heightened rhetoric surrounding the border is something that voters will need to keep firmly in mind this fall, when choosing which candidates to support at the ballot box. Americans cannot ignore the border, nor can they ignore the differences in value that Republicans and Democrats are projecting regarding immigration.

Source: Wikimedia/Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hyde

Democrats, like Raskin, will likely continue to point out Republicans’ lies about the border as the election grows nearer. While emotional messaging is more effective at reaching more people on any issue, hopefully fact-based messaging will be in mind as well when November rolls around.