PHOENIX — The outrage sparked by the sights, sounds and stories of children separated from parents at the U.S.-Mexico border underscores the outsized role immigration will play in the midterms in Arizona.
On all sides of the political spectrum, campaigns are emphasizing immigration policies with would-be voters as Democrats push to make gains in traditionally conservative Arizona, where more than 1 in 8 residents is an immigrant.
“The government hasn’t had enough to just say, ‘Out with the immigrants,’” Betty Guardado said to a crowd of around 100 attendees at a recent rally at the state Capitol to protest a policy of separating immigrant parents and children at the U.S. border. “Now they’re going after our children.”
Guardado, a vice president of labor union Unite Here Local 11, which represents hotel, gaming and other workers, spoke at the first rally organized by Mi AZ. The new advocacy organization joins together social justice groups to work on voter outreach for the midterm elections. Attendees blasted Republican Gov. Doug Ducey for not doing enough on the issue of separated families, while Guardado and others said they plan to vote out lawmakers over immigration policies.
“This state is going to turn blue!” Guardado said to cheers.
Republicans, too, are digging into debates about immigration, as they’ve focused on border security for decades. An advertisement from Virginia-based political nonprofit One Nation playing on Phoenix-area country radio describes “violent gang members” crossing the border, then praises U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Martha McSally and congressional candidate Rep. David Schweikert for supporting President Trump’s plan to build a wall.
Barrett Marson, a longtime Republican political consultant, said immigration is a top issue for both parties but especially among GOP voters, many of whom expect candidates to have a strong stance on border safety.
“Arizonans are very concerned about immigration and are paying attention to where candidates stand,” he said. “It is a hot button issue that truly piques the interest of the electorate.”
For many Arizona families, the immigration issue is personal. The American Immigration Council, a D.C-based advocacy group that studies immigration, said more than 13 percent of Arizona’s population as of 2015 were individuals who were born in another country. A little more than 56 percent of that group came from Mexico. Canada was the next most frequent country of origin at 4.2 percent.
As of 2016, 18.4 percent — or 1.2 million people —were native-born Americans who had at least one parent who was an immigrant. That same year, more than 25,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients lived in Arizona, the council said.
Jalakoi Solomon is the state director of NextGen Rising AZ, a youth vote initiative that holds registration events. She said immigration is one of the most common topics that’s cited on survey cards asking young voters what issues they care about.
“Young people are concerned about having a heart,” Solomon said. “We are looking for politicians that hold our same values, that believe in the dignity and humanity of every person, and those are the types of people we will be supporting in the fall.”
On the state level, Ducey isn’t shying away from his role as a border state governor — his re-election slogan this year is a multipurpose #SecureAZ. His new stump speech points out his creation of the Border Strike Task Force, an effort that relies on collaboration among law enforcement to address security.
Ducey told The Associated Press that he wants to see a border policy that keeps kids with their parents — but he won’t recall the National Guard troops that he sent down to the area after the Trump administration requested them in April.
“I believe that you can have border security, you can protect public safety and keep children with their parents,” he said. “I feel the responsibility and obligation to all three.”
The three Democrats hoping to challenge Ducey this November — state Sen. Steve Farley, former YWCA Southwest Arizona CEO Kelly Fryer and education policy expert David Garcia — have criticized him for not having a tougher response to the Trump administration’s policies. All three say they would pull the National Guard from the border, as several governors did in the wake of outrage over family separations.
Garcia, a fourth-generation Arizona resident, says there’s “no question” politicians here have used immigration and race for political gain. And he pointed out that a Latino hasn’t won statewide office since Gov. Rául Castro was elected in 1974.
“I can’t tell you the number of people who tell me, ‘You would’ve won if your last name wasn’t Garcia,’” he said of his failed 2014 superintendent of schools bid. “I get that all the time. But I just believe that someone with my last name needs to win in Arizona.”
Immigration is already playing a central role in the competitive three-way Aug. 28 Republican Senate primary between McSally, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and popular conservative Kelli Ward, a physician.
McSally, in addition to the One Nation ads, is citing her border expertise as one of nine House members whose districts touch the southern border. She was a co-author of conservative border security legislation that recently failed a House vote— and she also voted for a Trump-endorsed border plan that didn’t pass on Wednesday.
Arpaio, who gained national notoriety for the use of outdoor jails or “tent cities” is positioning himself as the only candidate “who spent his career fighting illegal immigration, the related violence, and drug trafficking and has a proven track record of success,” according to a recent fundraising email.
Ward, who has backing among far-right Republican voters, unveiled a new immigration policy speech Thursday in front of several reporters and her volunteer staff. She blasted “the open border establishment of both parties,” called out McSally for being too weak on immigration policies and pledged to support building a border wall.
“We need to secure our borders and protect the families of those who are here first,” she said, “then we can worry about how many and who we let in to join our great country.”