The Immigrant/Crime Nexus

As we should know by now, the immigration issues is not a discrete policy area isolated from others. For many years, opponents of increased immigration on both ends of the political and ideological spectrum have tied it to concerns about unemployment and wage stagnation. In 2014, we saw Republican candidates tie it to national security, with lurid images of ISIS terrorists crossing the Mexican border.

It should also be clear by now that Donald Trump’s big innovation is tying the immigration issue to a growing backlash against supposed tolerance for crime. His original attention grabbing explosion was about Mexico exporting its criminal element to the U.S. He jumped on the Kate Steinle case in San Francisco (the woman killed in an apparent crossfire shooting by a man previously deported five times) instantly and brought it up constantly. His comments suggesting that gangs of “illegals” were behind street protests against police around the country made the ride-the-backlash motive unmistakably clear.

Now Trump is really going medieval on the immigration-crime nexus (h/t MoJo’s Miles Johnson) with an Instagram video wherein Jeb Bush’s famous comment about some people breaking immigration laws to be with their families being an “act of love” voiced over images of three “illegals” charged with murder, and the tag line: “Forget love! It’s time to get tough!”

Johnson compares the ad to the famous 1988 Willie Horton ad, but it’s arguably worse, since Jeb clearly was not referring to the criminal acts the immigrants in question committed after entering the country. Then again, the ultimate effect is not much different from the pounding Mitt Romney administered to Rick Perry four years ago for expressing sympathy for DREAMers.

But in the end, to give the devil his due, he’s recognizing that his targeted voter demographic, relatively conservative non-college educated white voters, are simultaneously freaking out about illegal immigration and about those people getting out of the control of the police, who have been handcuffed (remember that old 1960s metaphor?) by liberal and RINO politicians with all that bushwa about brutality. So of course he’s going to keep linking the two freakouts wherever possible.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.