Republican Closing Ads: Immigration

In the final days of the 2018 election, Republicans across the country are running TV ads about immigration that falsely accuse some Democrats of wanting “open borders,” plotting to “abolish ICE,” supporting “sanctuary cities” and more. The ads contain evocative images of tattooed gang members and “caravans” of Central Americans traveling through Mexico in search of asylum.

The Republicans are following the lead of President Donald Trump, who in recent days has labeled the Central American asylum seekers “an invasion” and ordered the U.S. military to guard the Southern border. He also has said he will sign an executive order ending birthright citizenship, although the legality of such a unilateral action has been challenged by constitutional scholars.

A database of TV ads maintained by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group shows that 162 TV ads airing in the last seven days, since Oct. 27, contain “anti-immigration” messages. Here we look at some of those ads.

Arkansas: Tucker Not ‘Anti-ICE’

TV ads in Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District falsely portray Democratic candidate Clarke Tucker as wanting to abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Rep. French Hill, a two-term congressman, is airing a TV ad called “We Must Enforce the Law” that shows images of tattooed members of a transnational gang known as the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, and warns that they are “infiltrating America.” (As we have written, the MS-13 gang has had a presence in the U.S. since the early 1980s, beginning in Southern California, and currently numbers about 10,000 — a figure the Department of Justice has been using since 2006.)

The announcer says, “MS-13, the most dangerous gang infiltrating America, but Washington liberals want to get rid of ICE, the police enforcing our immigration laws and protecting our border from MS-13.” Photos of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer appear on the screen as the announcer says “Washington liberals,” even though neither Pelosi nor Schumer support abolishing ICE.

The ad then says that Tucker “attended an anti-ICE rally” and “refused to take a position” on the “abolish ICE” movement. It quotes Tucker as saying, “I don’t know what it is.” This is misleading. Tucker did not attend an “anti-ICE rally,” and he has taken a position on ICE.

On the immigration issue page on his website, Tucker says, “Like the vast majority of Americans, I support ICE and our Homeland Security agencies in carrying out the mission to keep our borders safe and strong, while increasing accountability and transparency in our immigration enforcement through common-sense strategic investments.”

So what is the ad talking about?

The ad misuses a short clip of a GOP partisan asking Tucker a question at a “Families Belong Together” rally (not an “anti-ICE rally”) on June 30. The rally opposed the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which caused the separation of families. Tucker was asked if he supports Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s position on ICE; two days earlier, on June 28, Gillibrand said in an interview: “I believe you should get rid of [ICE], start over, re-imagine it, and build something that actually works.”

In the full video, which can be found on YouTube, Tucker can be seen politely saying he wasn’t familiar with Gillibrand’s position on ICE. “I have not had a chance to look at that,” he said. “I don’t know what it is, so –” He was told that Gillibrand wants to “abolish ICE,” and he repeated: “That’s not something I’ve spent any time thinking about. I don’t have any information about it.”

Since then, Tucker has given it thought and has taken a position — but the TV ad ignores that. So does another ad by the Republican Majority Fund, which is a PAC affiliated with Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

The Republican Majority Fund falsely accuses Tucker of being on the side of “Hollywood liberals” and “Washington politicians” who want to get rid of ICE. It shows the same clip of Tucker at the June 30 rally, and then the announcer says, “Clarke Tucker won’t tell us where he stands because he is on their side.” Kantar/CMAG says the ad first started running on July 29, but it has been back on the air in the last seven days.

The TV ad by the Hill campaign also makes the claim that Tucker is now “embracing sanctuary cities,” saying he “just doesn’t get it. We must enforce the law and stop MS-13.” The ad provides no support for that claim, and the campaign did not get back to us when we called. However, we did find one mention of Tucker taking a position on so-called “sanctuary cities.”

In a Sept. 21 article, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote that Tucker said he supports protecting those living in the U.S. illegally from federal immigration officers only when they are seeking emergency health care or reporting a crime. “Tucker said Thursday that he supports sanctuary cities in the limited context of allowing people in the country illegally to go to the hospital or report crime without fearing deportation.”

That’s the opposite of shielding MS-13 gang members from ICE, and nothing at all like official sanctuary policies that are adopted by some cities and municipalities.

Such policies, among other things, prevent local law enforcement from investigating civil and criminal immigration violations, limit local law enforcement from complying with federal immigration detainers and warrants, and refuse to give ICE access to local jails, according to an analysis of “over 500 sanctuary policies spanning nearly four decades” by a group of law school professors for an article published May 29 in the Boston College Law Review.

Tennessee: Bredesen Didn’t Give ‘Driver’s Licenses to Illegal Immigrants’

Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and Rep. Marsha Blackburn are vying for an open Senate seat in a race considered a toss-up by The Cook Political Report.

Tennesseans for a Better Tomorrow, a group supporting Blackburn’s campaign, has been airing a TV ad in the last seven days on immigration that makes one false and one misleading claim.

The ad falsely claims, “Bredesen gave driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.” In fact, Bredesen wasn’t governor when that bill became law. He took office in 2003. State records show the bill was signed into law by Republican Gov. Dan Sundquist on May 3, 2001.

The 2001 law turned Tennessee into “a haven for illegal immigrants seeking driver’s licenses” for ID purposes, as the Associated Press put it, and Bredesen’s office responded by developing legislation that ended the practice of issuing driver’s licenses to those living in the U.S. illegally. Instead, a new law — which Bredesen signed May 28, 2014 — allowed them to receive “driving certificates” that could not be used for ID purposes.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel called the new law “the toughest driver’s license policy in the nation in dealing with illegal aliens.” The paper said that “the present driver’s license system will remain for Tennesseans who have a valid social security number or proof they are a legal, permanent resident of the United States.” However, it wrote, “For others, a new category of ‘driving certificate’ is created. The certificates carry, in bold letters, the words ‘for driving purposes only — not valid for identification.’”

But even that new law proved problematic. Bredesen signed legislation ending the program entirely after it was discovered that “some testing centers were selling licenses and certificates to out-of-state illegal immigrants,” according to an Associated Press account at the time.

The TV ad also takes a Bredesen quote out of context. The announcer says, “Bredesen said, ‘I don’t believe the wall is the right answer.’” He said more than that.

The Tennessean, which conducted that interview with Bredesen, says the Democratic candidate also said that he preferred more technological security measures.

Tennessean, Sept. 28: Bredesen’s comment came in response to a question about whether he would support a compromise bill that would include fixing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program with funding a wall along the southern border of the United States.

Bredesen said while the country is entitled to control its borders, he added there are “technologically much sounder and less expensive ways of doing it than building a wall.”

So, Bredesen supports border security, but thinks there are less expensive and more effective ways of doing it.

Texas: O’Rourke Not ‘Against Background Checks’

Texans Are, a super PAC that supports Sen. Ted Cruz, is running an ad that makes the false claim that Rep. Beto O’Rourke is “against background checks for refugees from terrorist hotbeds.” 

O’Rourke is not in favor of eliminating the screening process for refugees.

The ad starts with scenes of Central Americans walking in the street, leaving their countries to seek asylum from Mexico and the United States. “The caravan is coming,” the announcer says. “Some say criminals among them.” 

To support its claim about O’Rourke opposing background checks for refugees, the TV ad cites O’Rourke’s vote in 2015 against H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, or the American SAFE Act. That bill, which passed the House but failed in the Senate, would have added additional screening for refugees coming from Iraq and Syria, and required the FBI to investigate applicants in addition to the Department of Homeland Security.

O’Rourke argued that the process at the time was already thorough.

In a post on the blogging platform Medium, O’Rourke explained his “no” vote, in part, by saying: “The process proposed in today’s bill would create unnecessary, duplicative work and processes for U.S. security agencies. This would significantly delay the current rigorous process by up to 2 years, according to the Administration. In effect, it would close the door on refugees during the single greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.”

In 2015, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said refugees already receive “the highest degree of security screening and background checks for any category of traveler to the United States.”

The process includes fingerprinting and checking records against databases maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Defense, the FBI and Interpol. Each refugee applicant is also interviewed personally by specially trained USCIS officers. And those from Syria are subjected to special measures including iris scans and an “enhanced review” by Homeland Security.

Georgia: Abrams Won’t Let ‘Illegal Immigrants Vote’

In the Georgia governor’s race, much has been made of comments from Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams that an upcoming “blue wave” of Democratic victory in the midterm elections would be comprised of a variety of people including “those who are documented and undocumented.” Abrams’ opponents have seized on the comment to argue Abrams wants to allow immigrants in the country illegally to vote in the upcoming election.

Abrams says her words are being twisted, and she has repeatedly clarified that she does not believe people in the country illegally ought to be allowed to vote.

The attack surfaced in an ad from the Georgia Republican Party, which uses a clip of her comment, then says, “Abrams will let illegal immigrants vote.”

The comments used in the ad came during a recent campaign event attended by Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Here’s the full context of Abrams’ comments:

Abrams, Oct. 9: We are 28 days from real change. Twenty eight days before we tell Georgia who we are. And when we change Georgia, we change the South. And when we change the South, we change America. And that change starts right here. Because the thing of it is, blue waves aren’t blue. That’s what we use because that’s the color that we embrace. The thing of it is, the blue wave is African American. It’s white, it’s Latino. It’s Asian-Pacific Islander. It is disabled. It is differently-abled, It is LGBTQ. It is law enforcement. It is veterans. It is made up of those who’ve been told that they are not worthy of being here. It is comprised of those who are documented and undocumented. It’s made up of those who have been told they are successful and those who have been told they are left behind. But the real wave is when we come together and we tell Georgia, “We’re here and we’re not going anywhere.”

In an appearance on Fox News on Oct. 15, her opponent, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee, cited those comments to claim that Abrams “wants illegals to vote in Georgia.”

“I think hard-working Georgians should decide who their governor is, not people here illegally like my opponent wants,” Kemp said.

Abrams responded that Kemp was “willfully” twisting her words.

“I’ve never once argued for anyone who was not legally allowed to vote in the state of Georgia to be allowed to vote,” Abrams said. “What I’ve asked for is that he allow those who are legally allowed to vote to actually cast a ballot.”

Abrams has repeatedly criticized Kemp for championing an “exact match” law, which requires voter registration information to match driver’s licenses, state ID cards or Social Security records, and which resulted in more than 53,000 voter registration applications being put on hold.

In a debate on Oct. 23, Kemp again challenged Abrams on her “blue wave” comments.

“Well, Miss Abrams, as you know in a recent video you called on illegals to vote for you in this election,” Kemp said. “I was actually shocked, I had to watch that video twice. It clearly shows that you are asking for undocumented and documented folks to be part of your winning strategy. So my question is, ‘Why are you encouraging people to break the law for you in this election?”

Abrams again repeated that Kemp was distorting her position.

“Mr. Kemp you are very aware that I know the laws of Georgia when it comes to voting,” Abrams said. “In fact, I am one of the foremost experts in the state on expansion of voting rights. And I have never in my life asked for anyone who is not legally eligible to vote to be able to cast a ballot. What I’ve asked for is that you allow those who are legally eligible to vote, to allow them to cast their ballots.”

Later in the debate, she reiterated that point, saying, “I only believe that those who have the legal eligibility to vote should cast a ballot.”

Editor’s Note: For our story on Democratic ads, see “Democratic Closing Ads: Health Care and Taxes.”

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