WASHINGTON – President Trump’s hardline immigration policies and the controversial pardon of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio could catalyze the Latino vote in 2018, former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said Friday.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution, Napolitano discussed her home state of Arizona’s recent trend toward purple. In 2004, President Bush won Arizona by 10 percentage points, while President Obama lost the Grand Canyon state by 9 points in 2012. Trump in 2016 beat out Hillary Clinton by about 3.5 percent.
“The fact of the matter is that if the Latino population voted at the same percentage as the white population, Arizona would be a blue state now,” Napolitano said. “So all of these actions taken together, the rhetoric, the policy pronouncements, the pardon, I think could have the impact of, I think, increasing Latino voter turnout, and we will see that in 2018.”
According to Pew Research data from the 2016 election, there are nearly 1 million Hispanics eligible to vote in Arizona, making it the fifth largest Hispanic electorate among U.S. states – trailing four places behind California, which has 6.9 million Latino voters.
Pew records show that about half the state’s Hispanics are eligible to vote, and about 22 percent of Arizona’s entire electorate is Hispanic. A little more than 80 percent of the state’s white population is eligible to vote.
Napolitano served as Arizona’s governor from 2003 to 2009 before serving as Homeland Security director for four years. She is now president of the University of California system.
Trump’s controversial border wall and his recent decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program repeatedly came up in conversation Friday. Napolitano cautioned against the notion that if Congress does not act on DACA, that 800,000 so-called dreamers will immediately be deported. She said that if there is inaction from congressional leaders, the courts will decide the fate of DACA participants, given the lawsuits that are mounting.
“The notion that you just flip a switch and remove 800,000 people is a myth. It just doesn’t work that way,” Napolitano said.
Doris Meissner, who served as commissioner of U.S. Immigration and Naturalization from 1993 to 2000, said that if the DACA reversal is upheld she doesn’t believe there will be a targeted effort to round up the several hundred thousand DACA recipients. Instead, she said that DREAMers would be picked up incidentally.
There are currently about 21,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents and about 20,000 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees. The White House has voiced support for hiring an additional 1,500 Border Patrol and ICE agents.
Meissner noted that there is a high bar for hiring these law enforcement officials, given the physical and bilingual demands of the job. Napolitano said that there needs to be an enormous applicant pool to recruit the right officials, and academy training can take months. Meissner estimated that the proposed recruitment could take between five to 10 years.
Napolitano and Meissner both spoke against Trump’s proposal to build a Southwest border wall, which DHS has estimated to cost $21 billion while other projections are as high as $70 billion. Among the issues Napolitano listed were geographical impediments along the border, private property rights and Indian reservations that straddle the border, where leaders have said they will not support the wall.
Napolitano argued for greater diplomatic efforts with Mexico in trying to prevent traffic reaching the border in the first place. “Waiting until the traffic hits a mythological structure does not suffice as an immigration policy,” she said.
While Meissner said she is a proponent for border structures along the Southwest border, it must be combined with personnel. About a third of the existing border, she noted, already contains barriers in some fashion.