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The Senator, “The General”, and the Sheriff: How “The Donald” Dictates the Terms on the GOP’s Approach to Immigration

Yesterday, we discussed when Republican criticism of the Trump administration is “too little, too late”. Today, I’d like to expand on that and examine why so many Republicans are so hesitant to criticize Trump. And considering the recent news on Trump’s “signature issue” (immigration), we might as well take a closer look at who calls the shots in today’s GOP, and how this power dynamic is taking hold here in Nevada.

What’s the matter with DACA

Last week, a federal court judge ruled in favor of the States of California and New York in their lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s decision to end the DACA program that’s protected some 800,000 DREAMers from the immediate threat of deportation. Now, the State of Texas is responding with its own suit challenging the legality of DACA. And not only did Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) file this suit to encourage Trump to double down on killing DACA, but he actually sought out a judge known for his anti-immigrant reputation to try this case.

Photo by Andrew Davey

U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) was quick to condemn the Texas suit, but Senator Dean Heller (R) thus far has maintained his silence. It wasn’t always this way, as Heller once boasted of his support for comprehensive immigration reform. Yet ever since Heller started working to get into Trump’s good graces, he’s more prone to echo Trump’s anti-immigrant platform.

Photo by Andrew Davey

At least Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) has been more consistent in his embrace of Trumpism. Not only has he parroted Trump administration attacks on “sanctuary” jurisdictions that refuse to carry out Trump’s deportation agenda, but Laxalt has previously signed onto Paxton’s litigation against then President Barack Obama’s executive actions to provide deportation relief.

And what’s with the (relatively) newfound love for Joe Arpaio?
Photo by Andrew Davey

Once upon a time, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) was considered to be on the fringe of conservative thought with his controversial approach to criminal justice and immigration, an approach that some conservatives still find abhorrent today. But now that the current Republican President espouses the same approach, Arpaio has become part of the party’s mainstream. During an appearance in Phoenix yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence praised Arpaio as a “tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law”. Ironically enough, Arpaio is now able to run for the U.S. Senate in Arizona because Trump pardoned him last August, after Arpaio was convicted of a contempt of court charge and was suspected of illegally detaining people he merely suspected of being undocumented.

Back in January, Pence praised Heller for his commitment to advancing the White House’s agenda. And had it not been for the blowback Heller, Laxalt, and other top Nevada Republicans received, Arpaio would have returned to Nevada in February to speak at the Douglas County Republican Party’s fundraising dinner, then again for the Clark County Republican Party Convention in May.

Once upon a time, a Republican President continually advocated a more moderate approach to immigration reform. And only half a decade ago, 13 Republican Senators (Heller included) voted for a bill that embodied his goals. It’s hard to imagine something like this happening now, as Trump has led his party to embrace a hard-line approach that favors deportation over integration.

So who’s calling the shots here, and what does this mean for immigrant communities?
Photo by Andrew Davey

It wasn’t that long ago when Heller sang to a very different tune. But now? Though he occasionally voices vague support for kinda-sorta-maybe doing something, his voting record tells a very different story. And again, same goes for Laxalt stateside, despite Governor Brian Sandoval’s (R) preference for more humane policies.

As I said yesterday, for words to have real meaning, they need to be backed up by action. Judging by the actions of the Trump and Pence, “the rule of law” simply means whatever fits their ideology. And judging by the actions of Heller, Laxalt, and other Republicans running for office this year, “immigration reform” means legislation that Trump and Arpaio approve of.

It really isn’t too hard to figure out who’s calling the shots here.

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