February 21, 2017
KJZZ – 91.5 FM All Things Considered
You might have seen an ad on TV lately here in Arizona questioning whether U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake is really willing to work with President Donald Trump on immigration.
The ad was paid for by a group called Californians for Population Stabilization. So, why does a California group care about what Arizona senators are up to when it comes to immigration?
According to Joe Guzzardi with CAPS, the group was formed in 1986 by academics and environmentalists who are concerned about California’s population growth, which they think has a lot to do with immigration.
Also in 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act was signed into law by Ronald Reagan, which Guzzardi says resulted in high levels of immigration into California.
So, they’re interested in stricter immigration control. And, according to Guzzardi, they’ve targeted this ad at Flake largely because of his work with the so-called Gang of Eight.
“Senator Flake has in the past aligned himself with some of the most ardent supporters of expanded immigration,” he said. “He was a big advocate for that bill, which would have given amnesty to whatever the total number of illegal immigrants there are in the United States, between 10 and 12 million, and vastly expanded guest worker provisions so that is completely inconsistent with that President Trump has said that his goals for immigration are during his administration.”
CAPS has also targeted U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and John McCain of Arizona, Guzzardi said. And, he said, Flake could likely be a key player in future immigration legislation.
“Our feeling is that for key players in the immigration debate, what happens in Senator Flake’s office has an effect on everybody in the United States and not just Arizona.” He said. “So that is our motivation.”
But, do these ads get the message out to Arizonans?
According to Terry-Ann Jones, director of International Studies and associate professor of Sociology at Fairfield University, this kind of attack can work with a certain audience. “I think that will emphasize the division,” she said.
To Jones, who studies immigration and politics and where they intersect, public opinion has to shape legislation, because legislators are beholden to the public. But, she doesn’t think anti-immigrant public opinion is what shaping the Trump administration’s agenda when it comes to immigration.
"The Trump administration’s perspectives and the inciting of fear is influencing the public and is making them believe that there’s something to fear from immigrants,” she said.
She said she doesn’t think that this backlash against Flake is necessarily based on his perspectives on the wall that Trump has said he will built on the U.S.-Mexico border, but they’re rooted in his participation in developing the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill.
“That was seen by those who support a more restrictive approach to immigration as simply amnesty rather than a means to integrate into the existing undocumented population,” she said.
She said that the “center” viewpoint on immigration is being lost.
“I think views on immigration have become more divided in the sense that there’s less of a centrist view,” she said. “The center has been reduced as the public has taken a stronger stance either one way or the other.”