Texas Elections 2018

Ahead Of Midterms, Houstonians Diverge On Immigration Issues

The wedge issue of immigration divides Houstonians, just like the rest of the country.

Election signs at an early voting location at Spring First Church, in Spring –a suburb north of Houston– on October 28, 2018.

Democrats and Republicans seem to be more divided than ever this election season – but one issue divides Americans more than any other: immigration

Pew research shows while Republicans see ‘illegal immigration’ as the single most pressing issue facing our country, Democrats ranked it their lowest priority among 18 different issues.

Democrats also scored the treatment of undocumented immigrants as a high priority, which was much less important to Republicans, according to the Pew survey.

You can hear these divisions in the barrage of political ads this season:

So what do these divisions sound like in a city that prides itself in its large immigrant population? An array of Houstonians weigh in: 

“I know more politics here than in my country,” says A.J. Dhannayak who works in IT.

Dhannayak came to the U.S. from India 12 years ago and is here legally on a work visa.

Dhannayak says even though he pays taxes here, he can’t vote or even change his job because of his immigration status.

He wishes becoming a citizen was easier and complains about a long case backlog. He and his wife want to have kids, but they haven’t yet because they’re worried they could lose their work visas and be forced to leave immediately.

“It’s hard to sleep at night sometimes because I invested so much of my energy, my life and my money into this country,” says Dhannayak. 

Dhannayak used to support Senator Ted Cruz, but now he says, “I think we should go for another candidate this time. When I say ‘we’ I know I can’t vote but, yes, Texans should go for another candidate and see how it works – at least.”

G. Torres, a paralegal, says she’s not sure who she’s going to vote for – or if she’ll vote at all. She’s a supporter of legal immigration, but also thinks Dreamers should be able to stay in the country.

“A lot of Dreamers are either college graduates and want to further their education and I think they should be allowed to have some kind of legal status to continue because I do think they would benefit the U.S.,” says Torres. 

An older Republican man who wished to remain anonymous says he thinks immigrants do add to the country but says they should have to learn English and assimilate – and they should come here legally. He supports a wall and thinks border security should be a priority and says it’s a matter of national security. 

Harris County Republicans gather at a debate watch party in Houston to watch Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Beto O’Rourke spar over immigration, other issues

Those sentiments were echoed during Cruz and O’Rourke’s last debate – many energized voters spoke enthusiastically about border security at the debate watch party at Harris County Republican headquarters.

But not all Republicans agree.

Attorney Chase Bradstreet also works as communications director for the Houston Young Republicans.

He says he’s voting for Senator Cruz, but when I ask him which candidate reflects his views on immigration he says, “I disagree with a lot of the rhetoric from our own party about it.”

He’s for a merit-based immigration system.

And instead of building one big border wall, Bradstreet says, “That is, of course, infeasible, however border structures are important. They help facilitate a patrol.” 

In terms of what to do with Dreamers, Bradstreet says, “It really depends on a case by case basis.” 

He says either way presidents shouldn’t be making that decision at all.

Overall, though, he says it shouldn’t be up to the President.

“Only one body has been given the constitutional prerogative to define admissibility and that is the Congress,” says Bradstreet. 

Of course, it’s members of Congress we’ll be electing this November who will have the chance once again to reform the laws that decide who gets to call the United States home.

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