October 1, 2022

OP-ED: Republicans MUST END their anti-immigrant rhetoric

OP-ED: Republicans MUST END their anti-immigrant rhetoric

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For the last year or so, I have been tracking horrible anti-immigrant and xenophobic attacks from Republican politicians in Florida. As someone who grew up undocumented, I am not a stranger to this type of rhetoric from Republicans. I remember watching ghouls like former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo go on Lou Dobbs’ old CNN show to spout nonsense about immigrants bringing diseases into this country.

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Nothing, however, compares to the current level of unhinged nativist rhetoric being disseminated by Republicans. The weaponization of anti-immigrant rhetoric by the GOP is at the center of their strategy to undermine the Biden administration and defeat Democrats in the midterm elections this year.

To achieve this, they have unleashed a salvo of anti-immigrant messaging to rain down upon voters from the usual right-wing media outlets. Well over 850 anti-immigrant ads across the country were commissioned by Florida GOP candidates. A good portion of these ads fixate on the racist “great replacement theory” by employing the rhetoric of a migrant invasion that is not actually taking place and that only serves to monger fear among their target constituents.

This is the same language employed by the white nationalist gunmen who murdered innocent people in Pittsburgh, El Paso, and Buffalo, claiming that a dangerous “other” is invading the United States to replace the existing white population. Despite seeing the real-life devastating consequences of their irresponsible rhetoric, GOP candidates continue to double down and, in some cases, have increased their use of it.

How widespread is this hateful messaging among Republican candidates and their organizations? America’s Voice adtracking project has identified over 100 different Republican ads employing the “invasion” language, over 100 different Republican ads fear-mongering about “amnesty”, a term weaponized to have one believe immigrants will quickly become U.S. citizens and vote against white American interests, and over 70 different ads employing both anti-immigrant themes and fears about election integrity.

Here are just some examples:

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This extremist messaging from the right-wing influences how mainstream media like The New York Times and The Washington Post cover immigration, outlets that at times irresponsibly parrot GOP talking points. Since January 2021, there have been over 17,000 mentions of the “border” in mainstream media outlets and over 57,000 in right-wing media outlets. The mainstream media’s highest peaks of “border” mentions occur on similar dates as right-wing spikes.

The GOP’s immigration buzzwords like “migrant invasion,” “caravan,” and “fentanyl” have also found their way into mainstream outlets. Since 2021, mainstream media has featured over 1,077 mentions of “fentanyl” within the context of immigration, over 1,395 mentions of “migrant caravan,” and over  975 mentions of immigration “invasion” rhetoric.

Is it any wonder that a third of Americans believe in some version of the “great replacement theory” and that we now see these xenophobic themes materialize in both mass killings and immigration policy proposals?

As a Floridian, I’m particularly disgusted by the anti-immigrant rhetoric employed by GOP Senator Marco Rubio, whose family are immigrants who left Cuba in 1956, two years before the Cuban revolution, looking for a better life in the United States.

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Instead of honoring his immigrant background and working to ensure others have the same opportunity, Rubio has increasingly used harsh nativist rhetoric to try and win back hardline Republicans who turned away from him after he sponsored comprehensive immigration reform in 2013. He ended up voting against his own bill due to pressure from the Tea Party and despite his own mother begging him to “not mess with the immigrants” on a voicemail that he himself played for journalists before he took his anti-immigrant turn.

Rubio is so desperate to prove his extremist MAGA credentials that he is willing to propagate the false talking point that Democrats want undocumented immigrants to vote in U.S. elections, one of the main tenets of the “great replacement theory” routinely spouted in hateful shows like Tucker Carlson’s.

Democrats can’t ignore this hateful messaging and they definitely should not try to outflank Republicans on it by employing anti-immigrant rhetoric. Not only is it morally wrong, but anti-immigrant voters will never be swayed by it. Democrats need to take this hateful rhetoric seriously and tackle it head-on by countering misinformation with facts and presenting the benefits of immigrants to our culture and economy.

Thomas Kennedy (Twitter: @tomaskenn) is an elected Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. 

This is an opinion column that solely represents the viewpoint of the author. 

Thomas Kennedy

is a reported opinion columnist and roving correspondent. He's an elected member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida and a Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.

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