Presidential Debates Ignore ‘2000-Lb Elephant’ of Immigration

Colombian immigrant Paola Parra swears to tell the truth before taking her oral citizenship test at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Queens office on May 30, 2013 in the Long Island City neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The branch office is located in an …
John Moore/Getty Images

The first Presidential debate and the Vice Presidential debates avoided any mention of the hot-button, trillion-dollar immigration issue that got Donald Trump elected in 2016.

“I’m consistently surprised about the lack of focus on immigration in these debates given Trump’s pitch in 2016,” tweeted Ali Vitali, an NBC reporter.

“Me too!” responded Julia Ainsley, who covers migrants’ issues for NBC. “Would have liked to hear more on Biden’s border plans and Pence’s response to recent reporting on family separation. Trump/Pence should be asked if they would ever separate migrant families again.”

“Agreed!” responded Michael Shear, a White House reporter for the New York Times, who sometimes writes about immigration issues.

The issue is not getting time in the debates because “the question isn’t being asked,” said Kevin Lynn, founder of U.S. Tech Workers. “The questions are being created without input from either of the parties, so it’s really the media and the entities that are putting on the debate that are not talking about immigration.”

“They really should have brought it up because [Trump’s] immigration policy is impacting wages in a positive way,” he added.

“It’s the 2000-lb elephant in the room that’s been egregiously omitted even though this is what got Trump elected,” said an experienced and unemployed network engineer from the Midwest. He continued:

I’m not holding my breath … The moderators get to pick the questions all by themselves, and they’re clearly going to show bias. They’re totally pretending like its not an issue — even with this horrible labor market when there’s still so many foreign workers here.

“I have long past hit the point of accepting that a presidential debate is not going to have the candidates discuss immigration,” tweeted Dara Lind, a former writer who is now working at She continued:

Or if it does, it will ask a question in such a broad way that it can be answered with the candidate’s single canned talking point on immigration.

This was true in 2016, when Trump was running on immigration far more than he is now.

I’m sick of specifics being asked on other policy issues, and immigration being treated as a culture war issue instead of a policy one.

The Vice Presidential debate moderator was Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief for USA Today, which has a pro-migrationpro-business skew.

Page asked about climate change, the coronavirus crash, abortion, President Donald Trump’s willingness to leave office after a defeat, and other questions from an establishment, corporatist perspective. But she did not ask about the public’s preference that employers hire Americans before importing migrants, or the impact of immigration on wages, or the Democrats’ promise to import more immigrants, visa-workers, and refugees, or the GOP’s preference for skilled workers over unskilled migration.

Trump’s campaign is not pressuring the issue in 2020 as it did in 2016, said Jessica Vaughan, policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies. Trump’s “campaign staff seemed to fear offending people,” she said, adding:

But they’re separate from the actual immigration agency officials who understand the issue and how it resonates with Americans. There’s some disconnect there between those in the Trump administration who understand how important this issue is to Americans — and who want to see Trump carry on what he has started with respect to controlling immigration — [versus] the campaign staffers whose goal seems to be to avoid offending anyone, and by doing so, squandering an opportunity to attract support for the president.

“Trump has a lot to talk about, and it’s good,” said Lynn. “When you look at what he did with the Tennessee Valley Authority [workers], and when you look at the H-1B rules that were launched this week … that are going to save America jobs and that are going to save job opportunities for Americans,” he said.

“This is why I believe there’s no mention of it — Immigration is what Trump won on in 2016,” he said, adding:

The Democratic party– the party of labor — is scared to talk about immigration because with so many Americans, either furloughed, unemployed, or underemployed, they know how the public would react to the [Democrats’] concept of open borders. And as our country faces an economic crisis like we have now, and people are not optimistic about the future, they naturally will become more insular when it comes to immigration. So that’s why the Democrats don’t want it mentioned.


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