Immigration largely absent from Democrats’ 2020 policy blitz

The field of 20-plus candidates is united in condemning President Donald Trump’s support for hard-line immigration tactics. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 May 2019

Immigration largely absent from Democrats’ 2020 policy blitz

  • The dearth of formal policy plans signals the challenge that immigration could pose for Democrats
  • Other 2020 hopefuls have mostly focused on criticizing Trump rather than offering deeply articulated alternatives

WASHINGTON: Democratic presidential contenders are in a feverish battle to one-up each other with ever-more-ambitious plans to beat back global warming, curb gun violence, offer universal health care coverage, slash student debt and preserve abortion rights. Largely left out of the policy parade: Immigration.
The field of 20-plus candidates is united in condemning President Donald Trump’s support for hard-line immigration tactics, particularly his push to wall off as much of the US border with Mexico as possible, roll back asylum rights for refugees and since-suspended efforts to separate immigrant children from their parents. But only two contenders — ex-Obama Housing Secretary Julián Castro and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke — have released detailed, written policies addressing the future of the immigration system.
The dearth of formal policy plans signals the challenge that immigration could pose for Democrats. White House hopefuls can easily rally their party’s base with broad, passionate attacks on what they see as Trump’s failures, but it’s riskier to grapple with the complexity of the immigration system. Trump, meanwhile, has tapped into fervor around immigration to energize his own supporters and has worked to seize on it as an issue of strength — territory Democrats risk ceding to him ahead of 2020 if they don’t find a way to go deeper.
“For the most part, the Democrats aren’t even trying to make the case to a centrist voter of what a reasonable immigration plan would look like,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the Washington-based National Immigration Forum, which works with faith leaders and law enforcement to promote the value of immigration. Undecided voters “know that Trump’s simplistic approach to this isn’t working,” Noorani said, “but they’ve got nowhere else to go.”
The issue isn’t likely to recede as the presidential campaign intensifies. Much of the Democratic field is heading this weekend to California — it borders Mexico and is home to the largest Hispanic population in the US — for a state party convention. Meanwhile, the US Border Patrol has said it plans to fly hundreds of immigrant families out of Texas as it struggles to process the large numbers of Central American families that are reaching the US border with Mexico and asking for asylum.
Castro called in April for ending criminalization of illegal border crossings entirely. O’Rourke didn’t go that far in a plan he unveiled Wednesday, instead pledging to use an executive order to mandate that only people with criminal records be detained for crossing into the US illegally. O’Rourke also promised to send thousands of immigration attorneys to the border to help immigrants with asylum cases while wiping out Trump polices separating immigrant families and banning travel to the US from several mostly Muslim countries.
Other 2020 hopefuls have mostly focused on criticizing Trump rather than offering deeply articulated alternatives. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the early Democratic front-runner, has called Trump administration immigration policies an example of the president’s “demonization” of entire groups of people, but he hasn’t made the topic a top issue.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has laid out a case for “comprehensive immigration reform” on her campaign website while Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California have all previously voted for or sponsored plans to loosen immigration rules.
Then there’s Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has issued a steady stream of sweeping plans on such issues as forgiving nearly all student debts and offering free tuition at public universities, but she hasn’t released a written immigration proposal. Spokesman Chris Hayden noted Wednesday that Warren has previously praised Castro’s plan and said the senator supports an immigration overhaul that creates a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally, including those who came to the US as children.
The Trump administration has proposed its own overhaul that would bolster border security while creating a “merit-based” immigration system prioritizing people with in-demand job skills rather than relatives of people already in the US But that was largely seen as symbolic, and the president has repeatedly returned to his calls for extending the US-Mexico border wall and imposing stricter immigration policies to excite supporters.
Feelings on the issue, meanwhile, are far from settled. About 54 percent of national voters said they disapproved of Trump’s handling of immigration policies, compared to 45 percent who approved, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of the 2018 national electorate.
Tyler Moran, who was a senior policy adviser to former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, said that the primary campaign is still in an early phase and that candidates shouldn’t feel pressured to rush out policy positions on such a complicated issue.
“They have all said that they reject Trump’s approach and his vision of America and that we can do better,” Moran said. “Not everybody has packaged it together yet, but I think it’s coming, and I think every single one of them is prepared to answer the question of what they see as the plan on immigration.”


Arabs in Middle East know the US election will affect their lives, experts say

Updated 29 October 2020

Arabs in Middle East know the US election will affect their lives, experts say

  • Editor-in-chief and columnist take part in US radio discussion of Arab News/YouGov survey of opinions on the presidential candidates
  • Whether Biden triumphs or Trump wins second term, the poll suggests most people in region want Washington to maintain a tough stance on Iran

CHICAGO: Arabs in the Middle East have a direct stake in the outcome of next week’s US presidential election. That was the conclusion reached on Wednesday by the guests who took part in a US radio discussion of a recent YouGov poll, commissioned by Arab News, that asked people across the region for their opinions on the candidates and their policies.
Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal Abbas and columnist Dalia Al-Aqidi agreed that one of the key conclusions that can be drawn from the “Election 2020: What do Arabs Want?” survey is that most people in the region believe the election will have an effect on their lives.
About 40 percent of those polled said Democratic challenger Joe Biden is the better choice for the region, compared with only 12 percent who preferred Trump. However, 53 percent said they had opposed the policies of Biden’s former running mate, President Barack Obama, who is currently on the campaign trail to rally support for his former vice president.
“What is very interesting about the study we did this time around is that while the majority thinks that Biden might be better for the region (about half of the respondents) don’t even know who Biden is,” Abbas said during the “The Ray Hanania Show” on WNZK AM 690 Radio in Detroit, which is part of the US Arab Radio Network. “They are voting for a candidate they don’t know just so they don’t vote for Trump.”
Biden’s close association with Obama is seen by many Arabs as a negative factor.
“You cannot separate Joe Biden from Barack Obama,” said Abbas. “Yet even people who said Biden is better for the region, 58 percent of them said that they would want Biden to distance himself from Obama’s policies, and they think Obama left the region in a worse-off situation.”
Al-Aqidi said it is unrealistic to expect that Biden would disregard his personal history with Obama.
“This is impossible — you cannot expect Biden to distance himself from Obama,” she said. “Actually, Obama is helping and trying to save Biden in the past two weeks, campaigning with him.
“Even in Biden’s platform, it always goes back to ‘I was a VP and as a VP I did this.’ It would be extremely hard for Biden to distance himself … if Biden wins, he will be a shadow of Obama.”
The YouGov survey, which was commissioned by the Arab News Research and Studies Unit, asked 3,097 people in 18 Arab countries about their opinions on a number of issues relating to the US presidential election.
The continuation of Washington’s recent tough stance on Iran was one of the top issues that respondents said the winner should focus on. Notably, the war posture adopted against Iran by the Trump administration, and the strict sanctions it has imposed on the regime in Tehran, received strong support from people polled in Iraq (53 percent), Lebanon (38 percent) and Yemen (54 percent), three nations that have been severely affected by the regional activities of the Iranian state.
“This is not a marginal issue for people living in the Middle East,” said Abbas. “You just have to look at countries, any country in the Middle East: where you find destruction, you will find Iranian fingerprints all over.”
The main issue is not religion or differences between Sunnis and Shi’ites, he added, it is Iranian interference in the affairs of other nations.
“As the former ambassador to the US, Prince Khaled, said, Saudi Arabia used to send tourists to Lebanon — Iran sends terrorists,” Abbas said.
“For people who have short-term memories let me remind them it was the Iranians who attacked the US Marines in Beirut. It’s the Iranians who transformed (Beirut) from a tourist destination … today, Lebanon is (experiencing) one of its worst-ever economic crises and it does not look like there is a way out for it.”
Arabs in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen are therefore very supportive of Trump’s tough approach to Iran, he added.
“Nobody is safe from the Iranian tentacles,” Abbas said. “This is a mad regime.”
On another important regional issue, slightly more than half of the Arabs polled said they do not support a bigger role for Washington in the peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis. However, the proportion of Palestinians living in the occupied territories who favor greater US involvement was higher.
“I think the Trump administration succeeded in this issue (pursuing peace between Israel and the Palestinians) more than any other previous administration,” said Al-Aqidi. “The US approach now is extremely different and it is driven by number one, the economy.”
She added that Trump’s strategy of brokering the recent agreements by the UAE and Bahrain to normalize relations with Israel was “the result of a different strategy.”
“The Ray Hanania Show,” which is sponsored by Arab News, is broadcast on WNZK AM 690, on the US Arab Radio Network, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. EST on Wednesdays. There is also a live simulcast of the show on the Arab News Facebook page.