Governor candidates talk immigration as they enter runoff

Photo by Unique Rodriguez | The Signal

The fight for the republican gubernatorial primary victory has centered on several issues including policies on Medicaid expansion, gun laws, medical marijuana, religious liberty and abortion. On the topic of immigration, it was a competition for the candidate with the toughest policy.

On Wednesday, May 16, Michael Williams, Republican candidate for Governor of Georgia, began his Deportation Bus Tour through several sanctuary cities in Georgia. The bus tour gained immediate attention following a video advertisement which features both Michael Williams and the bus. The bus is labeled on the back with “Follow me to Mexico” and “DANGER! Murders, rapists, kidnappers, child molestors, and other criminals on board.”

Despite Williams escalated campaign days before the primary election, which was held on May 22, he did not advance toward further elections. Instead, the results have pitted two other Republican candidates, Brian Kemp and Casey Cagle, against each other in a runoff election which will be held on July 24. Cagle and Kemp are no exception to the intense debate about immigration reform.

In May, a dispute between Cagle and the City of Decatur broke out on the matter of sanctuary cities. Cagle, the leading Republican candidate for governor, accused the City of Decatur of not requiring local law enforcement officers to report undocumented immigrants to ICE. The feud has not come to a resolution.

Kemp garnered public attention from a campaign ad titled “So Conservative.” In the video, Kemp emphasises his key policies, including immigration. “I’ve got a big truck just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ‘em home myself,” Kemp says in the video. “Yep, I just said that.”

Williams was the first state official to endorse Donald Trump in his campaign for presidency, relating his rhetoric to that of the president’s.

During President Trump’s campaign announcement, Trump used similar language. The same day William’s bus tour began, May 16, a discussion on immigration in California took place in which Trump said, “These aren’t people. These are animals.”

Dr. Judd Thornton is an assistant professor of American Politics at Georgia State, and his research specializes in political behavior. He examined the rhetoric of the candidates and why the Republican party’s focus on several issues has shifted.

“The Williams ad was the most explicit in mimicking President Trump’s language of ‘They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.’ But, all of the candidates seem to be influenced by Trump’s positions on immigration,” Thornton said. “This includes Cagle who states that liberals allow immigrants to ‘terrorize us on the streets’. Kemp’s line of ‘I own guns’ certainly lacks subtlety.”

Thornton addressed this change of focus and its relation to the Republican party as a whole.

“My hunch is that the language on immigration and the 2nd Amendment is result of two related forces: I think this is where the candidates believe the primary voters are on these issues,” he said. “And, the candidates think these two issues won’t divide the Republican base.

“I say this because we really didn’t see the normal level of discussion of the traditional Republican priority of cutting taxes; and the discussion of ‘cutting regulations’ was almost purely symbolic with no specifics,” Thornton said. “To me, this suggests Republican candidates don’t think these two issues are the safe bet they used to be.”

Ryan Carlin is an associate professor of political science and the director for the Center for Human Rights and Democracy at Georgia State. He analyzed the use of and purpose for “politically incorrect” language by right-wing candidates.

“So this cultural division has been used for political purposes, as a bit of a branding for the Republican party. They want to be seen as a party that is not afraid to ‘call it like they see it,’” Carlin said. “This helps them connect with their voters and mobilize them.”

Carlin said that this competitiveness between candidates to be the least “politically correct” is not abnormal.

“Primaries are always like this because it’s about getting out the base of the fervent partisan who votes in primary elections,” he said. “They do vote in regular elections but so do a lot of other less partisan people because they are seen as more important and there is far more media attention.”

“If you recall, Governor Deal had some very strong language about immigration on the campaign trail going into the primaries. At least he moderated quite a bit in office,” he said.

In 2011, Deal, despite his moderation, signed HB 87 into law, which required Georgia businesses with ten or more employees to prove their employees were legally able to work in the U.S. It also allowed the police in the state to determine citizenship status of some suspects.

Carlin does not see the importance of immigration as purely economic and political. He also sees a global and human rights issue.

“In 1948 there was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a very famous UN document. Article 13 has two parts,” he said, “the second part is everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own.”

Luisa Cardona is the deputy director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs for Mayor of Atlanta Keisha Lance Bottoms. Her and her team work with immigrants on the local level.

“The mission of our office is to ensure that all Atlantans regardless of the language they speak or country of origin have access to city services,” Cardona said.

The team Cardona is part of, Welcoming Atlanta, focuses on ensuring that the city remains one that is welcoming for all.

According the rhetoric of several Republican gubernatorial candidates, Cardona said, “It definitely inspires us to work harder, and to work harder to develop trust between the city and our public safety officials especially in our community.”

“If there isn’t trust between them, and this rhetoric kind of disintegrates that trust we are trying to build, then our communities are less safe as a whole because immigrant communities now fear public safety officials instead of seeking them when there is crime happening in their community,” she said.

She said that his office does not use that same rhetoric that she saw used by some of the Republican candidates.

“Certainly, we as an office do not use the rhetoric of calling an human being an illegal,” Cardona said. “We believe that all people deserve common decency and respect and therefore that is why we don’t encourage that type of rhetoric with inside the city.”

Despite change in state leadership, the City of Atlanta, Mayor Bottoms and Welcoming Atlanta said they would remain persistent.

Cardona said, “Mayor Bottoms and the City of Atlanta continue to be dedicated to inclusion and equity, regardless of the country of origin you come from. We will continue to do that and celebrate our immigrant communities and everything they bring to our city, regardless of who becomes Governor.”

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