In 2006, more than 70% of Arizona voters helped pass a ballot measure that denied state benefits to undocumented immigrants. That mean-spirited ban included a stipulation that undocumented students could not receive an in-state tuition discount or state-sponsored scholarships to the state’s public universities as their documented counterparts could.
This marks a transformational moment in American politics.
During last week’s midterm election, 51% of voters in that same state, a state whose voters have become increasingly young, Latino and progressive, rejected the past. That majority supported Proposition 308, a ballot measure allowing all who’ve attended Arizona high schools for at least two years, no matter their immigration status, to pursue their college dreams while paying in-state tuition.
“I was a 19-year-old college student when Arizona voters decided to take away in-state tuition and state-funded scholarships for undocumented youth who grew up in the state,” immigrant rights leader Erika Andiola told me. “I lost the scholarships I had worked so hard to get and was asked to pay thousands more. Sixteen years later and after years of organizing by undocumented youth, we changed the minds and hearts of Arizona voters.”
This marks a transformational moment in American politics. The anti-immigrant nativist fervor from Arizona has been challenged and has begun to be dismantled by a generation of grassroots organizers who have grown up and politically matured during some of the state’s darkest days.
The darkest days of all came in 2010 when the state’s extreme Republican wing pushed through Senate Bill 1070, a “show me your papers” law, some provisions of which the U.S. Supreme Court later struck down. The subsequent organizing that emerged and the political victories in the 2020 presidential race win and in the 2022 midterms are lessons that Democrats should embrace and replicate nationally.
The “children of SB 1070” are now young adults who believe in democracy. They are major players in voters’ push to move Arizona from red to a more purplish state. The organizing and advocacy around Proposition 308 is just the latest example.
Former President Donald Trump's announcement that he’s running for president in 2024 came about the same time that the Proposition 308 victory proves that grassroots organizing for immigrant rights is a winning strategy against nativist xenophobia, but Democrats and their progressive allies need to fully lean in on that strategy.
The Proposition 308 victory proves that grassroots organizing for immigrant rights is a winning strategy against nativist xenophobia.
Andiola, whose family home was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in 2013, said, “This win is evidence that not only is Arizona changing because of the tireless work of immigrant-led organizations in the state, but also that our state will no longer stand for anti-immigrant rhetoric from political leaders. We’ve come a long way and we won’t stop fighting.”
The opportunity is there for the taking. What organizers such as Andiola accomplished indicates what 2024 could look like for Democrats. As MSNBC contributor and Voto Latino CEO Maria Teresa Kumar tweeted earlier this week about the Proposition 308 victory, “Take note lame duck Congress, AZ just passed in state tuition for undocumented youth. How? 16,000,000 US Citizens coming of age live in mixed status families. Immigration is a top 3 issue for young Latino voters—the largest vote share of Latinos in AZ, NV, TX, PA, GA & NC.”
Imagine if this current Congress actually acted on helping undocumented students? The first two years of the Biden administration has amounted to the old college try for immigrant rights, but nothing has really materialized. This week, immigrant youths and activists planned to descend on Washington in attempts to have lawmakers codify Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This won’t be the first time that activists have applied such pressure, but the midterm results indicate there is political capital to act. According to one poll of 12,208 midterm voters, 68% of respondents supported post-election legislation that would grant permanent legal status to DACA recipients and Dreamers.
Because Republicans will control the House during the next Congress, the time is now for permanent DACA legislation or even a version of the Dream Act. Andiola thinks so, too. She tweeted Thursday that “Now more than ever, we need a DREAM Act bill passed before Republicans take power. Otherwise, it will be almost impossible to get something good on immigration through the house. We have no time to lose! DACA is in danger.” So do Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who noted this week that it’s time to “roll up our sleeves” and follow the will of the midterm voters who “rejected the deeply anti-immigrant message of the MAGA Republicans.”
Such action from Democrats could cement another reality about a new winning coalition that goes beyond Arizona and spreads to other Western states, such as Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington. During the last two election cycles, the West has continued to lean blue, giving Democrats the necessary electoral power to neutralize the Latino Republican states of Florida and Texas. With young voters becoming an important bloc and with young Latino voters being part of that mix, delivering on immigration issues could lead to Democratic dominance in the West.
Delivering on immigration issues could lead to Democratic dominance in the West.
There’s no guarantee, however, that Democrats have the courage to follow such a lead. Consider what happened this week with Title 42, the Trump-era policy that uses the excuse of public health safety to expel asylum-seekers from the country. A federal judge blocked the policy, but President Joe Biden has asked for a temporary delay. In the end, migration continues to be falsely viewed by Democrats as a major national security problem.
“We continue to work with countries throughout the Western Hemisphere to take enforcement actions against the smuggling networks that entice migrants to take the dangerous and often deadly journey to our land borders and to address the root causes of irregular migration that are challenging our hemisphere as a whole,” noted a Department of Homeland Security statement about the Title 42 decision.
It would be a political mistake for Democrats to continue acquiescing to Republican fantasies of a chaotic open border, actual racist tropes that Trumpists pushed and still lost because of it, if one considers the national exit polls listing immigration as a low priority issue this midterm cycle. The Democrats have a golden chance to uplift migrants instead of degrading them, which can lead to a more successful 2024 election cycle. Arizona has proven that taking positions that knock down immigration extremism can lead to political victory.
Democrats can be transformational on the issue of immigration and they can make that change today. The electorate is there and they’re voting for immigrant rights. Arizona has changed. It’s time Democrats did the same