Migrant caravan puts Democrats in a tough position for Election Day

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Migrants from El Salvador board a truck as they start on their way to the United States, from San Salvador, El Salvador, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. A third group of migrants from El Salvador had already made it to Guatemala, and on Wednesday a fourth group of about 700 Salvadorans set out from the capital, San Salvador, with plans to walk to the U.S. border, 1,500 miles away. (AP Photo/Diana Ulloa)

As election day looms over the horizon, the debate over the issue of illegal immigration has recently been reignited by the caravan of Central American migrants who are slowly making their way towards the United States.

This caravan will certainly play a role in whichever party comes out on top next Tuesday, as illegal immigration is an issue that can rally many voters into action, as was seen with the 2016 election. The Democrats now face the problem of dealing with the fear tactics that Republicans have been using to describe the caravan. President Trump has already tweeted that the caravan contains “many Gang Members and some very bad people,” and has blamed Democrats for “pathetic immigration laws.” By fanning the flames on this issue, President Trump is helping Republicans earn more votes on Tuesday because people will come vote for candidates who are strong on preventing illegal immigration. The 2016 election is evidence enough that many Americans are afraid of immigrants taking jobs away from them; a caravan of at least 4,000 threatening to enter the United States will alarm voters who support stronger immigration laws, and spur more support for Republicans.

Unfortunately for Democrats, it is not easy to defend this caravan from the Republican attacks and keep votes. After all, it is simply not feasible to suddenly let up to 4,000 migrants into the United States, even if they are merely seeking asylum right now. Supporting this would not be a politically wise move on the Democrats’ part, so it makes sense that their response to the issue has been quiet. Instead, Democrats are trying to keep the focus on issues like health care, as many people are dissatisfied with the Republicans’ efforts on the issue. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi issued statements insisting that Trump is “desperate to change the subject from health care to immigration because he knows that health care is the number one issue Americans care about.” It will be difficult to keep the focus on health care, however, as it is easier to get media coverage on a very controversial topic such as illegal immigration than health care.

By showing a weak response on the immigration issue, Democrats are hurting their image because it makes them seem indecisive on the issue. It also allows Republicans to take control of the narrative, and thus blame Democrats for weak immigration laws. Democrats should be addressing people that believe they are weak on immigration, and also defending the migrant caravan from Trump’s claims that the group consists of gangsters and “very bad people” (which is not supported by any evidence). Responding with answers about health care when asked about immigration is a great way to cause voters to lose faith in your party’s decisiveness.

If Republicans are able to keep up the narrative that gangsters and bad people are threatening to force their way into the United States, they will likely see more wins on Tuesday. Democrats have to find a way to muster up a response toward the issue that does not cause voters to think that they support letting in all of the migrants without any legal processing and that lets voters know that they are decisive, and not ignoring the caravan. Health care is important to voters, but when all media attention is on illegal immigration, they must adapt to the change in narrative. Doing so will help the Democrats much more come Tuesday.


Ben Crnic is a contributor for the The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at benjamin.crnic@uconn.edu.

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