Des Moines, Iowa–Concerns about the flow of migrants over the southern border are becoming a major focal point for candidates and caucus-goers in the final days before the Iowa Caucuses.
Despite living thousands of miles from the southern border, GOP caucusgoers say they feel the effects of the situation at the southern border through the economy and drug trafficking.
And as Republicans in Washington scramble to reach a deal on the border, candidates are leaning into the issue on the trail.
“I’m sick of Republicans, you see what they’re doing right now in Washington with the senators doing some border agreement, which is basically caving on everything to the Democrats,” DeSantis told supporters in West Des Moines on Saturday.
The following day at a rally at Simpson College in Indianola, former President Trump took the opportunity to hit President Biden over his handling of the border.
“As soon as I take the oath of office, I’ll terminate every open border policy of the Biden administration and begin the largest deportation operation in American history,” Trump said speaking to supporters.
Haley has also addressed the issue, leaning on her own experience to make her case. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst (R), who has not yet endorsed a candidate, touted Haley’s experience on the issue on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
“Overall, if you look at national security, protecting our borders and pushing back against our adversaries worldwide, Nikki Haley does have the experience there, and she’s really spoke to that to the Iowa voters,” Ernst told moderator Kristen Welker. “So that may be one of the tipping points that resonate with so many different voters.”
Republicans and Democrats have raised concerns about the situation at the southern border. According to a report from CBS News, U.S. Border Patrol processed 225,000 migrants who crossed the southern border during the first 27 days of December. The count is a record for Border Patrol.
On top of that, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has ordered the transport of thousands of migrants to Democratically controlled cities like New York and Chicago. Abbott has cited the city’s statues as sanctuary cities as the reason for sending busloads of migrants. DeSantis sent migrants from the Texas border to Martha’s Vineyard last year.
The issue has dominated national media for months, making it front and center for Americans no matter how far away they are from the southern border.
“It’s a bit of a helplessness. They can see the videos of people pouring being put on the buses, being dropped off in these towns, and it’s just like ‘who are the adults in charge who are supposed to be doing something? So it’s a bit of a frustration thing,” said Brad Boustead, a volunteer with the Urbandale Republicans and a Trump supporter.
Forty-five percent of Americans said the situation at the southern border was “a crisis,” according to a CBS News poll released earlier this month. That number was up from 38 percent in May. The latest poll showed 30 percent saying it was very “serious.” Another 18 percent said it was “somewhat serious.”
Other polls show that the issue is of utmost importance to Iowa Republican caucusgoers as well. According to the Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom poll released in early November, eighty percent of Iowa Republican caucusgoers said “immigration and border security” were “extremely important.” The immigration issue narrowly ranked second to the economy and inflation, with 81 percent of GOP caucus-goers calling it “extremely important.”
“People talk about regular economic things. How much is gas? How much is food at the grocery store? I think candidates talk about inflation quite a bit but that sneaks up on you kind of invisibly,” Boustead said. “You go to the store and this thing is a penny more, and then you look back and man it’s 30 percent more, but when I go to rallies when the president talks about border security, that’s when people clap.”
Other Republican caucusgoers argue that the two issues are related.
“They’re all the same. They’re all one, one-A. It’s all important,” said Cheryl Sokol, a precinct president for DeSantis, during a meet-and-greet event with DeSantis in the rural town of Atlantic.
“As a taxpayer, I am sick of it. I am sick of all of it. Their health care is free, their phones are free, money is free, everything is free. That’s terrible,” she continued.
“Oh yeah,” interjects John Knutsen, an Atlantic resident who said he was deciding between Trump and DeSantis. “Somebody’s got to pay you for that,” he continued. “I’m retired.
At that same breakfast, caucusgoer Brett Altman cited national security as a prime reason for why he’s concerned about the southern border.
“We have way too many people coming into this country. We have no idea who they are, and it could be setting us up for a disaster, another terrorist attack,” he said.
Altman acknowledged Iowa’s vast geographical distance from the southern border but pointed to the border as to why other southwest Iowa communities have struggled with drug trafficking.
“I would say the answer to that is drug trafficking. I think that’s where our drugs are coming from, is Mexico,” Altman said. “We’re not quite a melting pot here in Atlantic as a lot of places but I think with drugs coming into our country, it’s probably the biggest thing for Atlantic, Iowa.
“It seems to make its way everywhere and I don’t think Atlantic is as bad as a lot of places in southwest Iowa.”
In recent weeks, the Republican presidential hopefuls have attacked each other over the southern border. Trump and DeSantis have accused Haley of being weak on the issue, while Trump has taken fire for not keeping his 2016 campaign promises on immigration.
But his supporters don’t blame him for not “finishing the job.”
“He didn’t get as far as he wanted to, which is true. Give him more time. Let him get the stupid thing finished,” Boustead said.
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