5 races where immigration matters

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

Border brouhaha is back.

Midterm elections take place this November and immigration is flaring up as a campaign issue in states with hotly contested Senate races, especially those in Colorado, Arizona, and Louisiana. Even in Kentucky, where only 3.2 percent of the population is foreign-born, voters are seeing television advertisements about "illegal immigrants who broke the law."


That's no accident. Over the summer, the Obama administration grappled with a rapid influx of Central American migrants streaming across the southern border; as a result, public attitudes around immigration have shifted.

Republican voters in particular are inclined to view immigration as an important issue in this election. GOP candidates have been rolling out the attacks on President Obama's desire to grant "amnesty," or a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, in order to win over voters.


Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a group that supports immigration reform, believes the GOP strategy is myopic.

"The Republicans are playing for today and not thinking about tomorrow," he said. "They're really undermining years of hard work that I think comes back to get them for future elections."

But it's not just the GOP using immigration as a wedge issue. Democrats are using it as a political cudgel in key races, too. Here's a look at states where immigration will come into play.


The election forecasters at the stat-driven news website FiveThirtyEight view the race for control of the Senate as almost even between Republicans and Democrats. Kentucky isn't one of the places where they see Democrats winning a seat, but supporters of the Republican incumbent, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, aren't taking any chances.


McConnell backers released a television ad this week lumping Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes together with President Obama as "two liberals for amnesty; too liberal for us."


This is a sign that Republican leadership hasn't abandoned the self-deportation platform that hobbled Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential contest.


Colorado is one of the places where roles are reversed. Groups in favor of immigration reform have gone after Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.


The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) spent six figures earlier this month on Spanish-language television ads targeting a handful of Republicans in Colorado, California, and Nevada. The aim: mobilize Latino voters, who make up sizable portions of the electorate in those states.

The ad calls out Gardner for blocking immigration reform and voting to deport young undocumented immigrants (statements Politifact considers "mostly false").


"Gardner will continue blocking opportunities for our community," the ad claims.



Last year, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu called the border fence "dumb" and said "it's not working."


She sounds a lot different in this recent advertisement defending her record on border security. The spot brushes away criticism from Republican challenger Bill Cassidy, boasting that she voted to build triple-layer fencing on the border, among other hawkish accomplishments.


Landrieu has also spoken out against President Obama circumventing Congress to change immigration policy. "We're all frustrated with our broken immigration system, but the way forward is not unilateral by the president," she said in a recent statement.


Rep. Ron Barber is another Democrat hoping to build a reputation as tough on border security. One of his television ads talks about hiring more border agents and working to stop drug smuggling.


But backers of Republican challenger Martha McSally released an ad on Tuesday featuring an Arizona rancher who tears down Barber's immigration record. "When it comes to the border, Ron Barber is missing in action," the rancher says.


Change of tone

Not all Republicans are preoccupied with stopping what they consider "amnesty," according Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, a group working to mobilize Hispanic voters.


“I can see some changes happening, specifically in the areas where more Latinos can make a difference in the election," he said. Monterroso cites Rep. David Valadao (R), who backed a 2013 immigration reform bill, as an example.

Colorado is perhaps the most vivid illustration of a change in tone on immigration. The state's sixth congressional district was once held by immigration hawk Tom Tancredo (R), the type of politician who wasn't afraid to lump "aliens who've come to take our jobs" with Islamic terrorists.


Rep. Mike Coffman (R) took that seat in 2008, and subsequently adopted hardline positions on immigration. But when the district was redrawn in 2012 to include a more diverse electorate, including a significant Hispanic population, Coffman's rhetoric shifted.

In this election, he'll need to prove his credentials on immigration, but the standard will be more about how he can help immigrants than keep them out of the country. In a first for modern politics, Coffman will debate Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff in Spanish, a second language for both candidates (The event is hosted by Univision, a parent company of Fusion).


Patty Kupfer, managing director at America's Voice, an organization advocating on behalf of immigrants, told Fusion that Republicans like Coffman have changed their tone, but haven't backed up the talk with actual legislation that would help immigrants.

"It's like they're making this calculation that if they just change the way they talk," she said, "no one is going to look closely enough to see that what they're doing doesn't match up to what they're saying."


Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter