Who benefits from Ducey’s border theatrics?

April 21, 2021 3:17 pm

Gov. Doug Ducey speaks with a rancher on Arizona’s southern border. Photo by Doug Ducey’s 2018 campaign | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Gov. Ducey has a rare opportunity to help pass comprehensive immigration reform.

As chair of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), Ducey sets the tone for Republicans running for state offices across the country. He could choose one that embraces the benefits of immigration and the modernization of a broken system or one focused on scare tactics and discord, dooming any effort to reform the system.

To date, he’s chosen the latter.

From a purely political calculation, Ducey’s choice makes sense. Immigration scare tactics helped him win his last election.

In 2018, despite overwhelming momentum from the #RedforEd movement, Ducey and his allies at the RGA managed to shift voters’ attention from education to border security.

This shift was necessary considering Ducey’s opponent, David Garcia, was a well-known professor and education expert who was endorsed by the state’s teachers’ union and other education groups.

Today, as the political winds seem to favor Democrats, Ducey is once again using immigration as a cudgel to keep Americans divided, maintaining a status quo that he seems to believe benefits Republicans.

Last month, Ducey traveled to the border for a photo op with inflammatory (and what many considered, sexist) language to declare Vice President Kamala Harris as the “worst possible choice” to lead the administration’s efforts on migration. He insisted Harris “doesn’t care” about the border even though she has a history of working with Mexican authorities to combat drug smuggling and human trafficking.

He’s continued to ramp up border hysterics, making appearances on Fox News to declare the Biden administration as “AWOL” and proclaiming via tweet, “If the federal government won’t handle it, Arizona will.”

Ducey has made similar statements in the past. In 2015, he created the taxpayer-funded Border Strike Force, a special unit of the DPS that was supposed to do the work the feds wouldn’t.

The Arizona Sheriffs Association opposed the creation of the task force, saying the state could better tackle drug and human smuggling if it simply funded more DPS troopers and stopped sweeping money meant for the counties.

It seems the sheriffs were correct. As noted in the Arizona Republic, most of the drug seizures credited to the Border Strike Force happened during routine patrols and narcotics investigations, not because of any intelligence gathered by the task force.

But that hasn’t stopped Ducey from using the unit when it suits him politically, like when he staged a press conference complete with officers, guns and drugs for the purpose of filming a campaign video or when he sent out a press release ahead of his March photo op to tout drug seizures that occured far from the border.

It seems political calculations — who wins and loses elections — have become much more important to our elected officials than human calculations, and if we ever hope to turn this around, then we need to put pressure on those who fund the dysfunction.

Top contributors to the RGA include wealthy corporations such as Nike and TD Ameritrade, as well as insurance giants Blue Cross Blue Shield and UnitedHealth.

Some of these same organizations tout diversity and inclusion, yet seem to be fine giving millions to PACs and politicians who are more focused on partisanship and gridlock than sound public policy.

Do these groups believe inflammatory language and the continuation of the status quo is good for business? Good for the long-term health and well-being of our country?

I expect the governor and the Biden administration to have differing opinions on how to best secure the border and fix a broken immigration system. And I understand why Ducey would be critical of Biden’s flat-footed response to the surge of migrants seeking asylum after a year of being unable to do so.

Based on the month-over-month increases that had been occurring since April 2020, as well as the surge that happened in the spring of 2019, the administration should have anticipated a potential surge and created a plan to address it.

But the idea that Trump had “largely solved” this issue, as Ducey stated on a recent Fox News interview, is ludicrous.

As is the idea that Trump’s policies were more humane or less costly in terms of human lives. A University of Arizona study points to policies limiting the number of asylum seekers as well as the “Remain in Mexico” rule as two contributing factors in a rise in deaths among migrants.

Our immigration system needs an overhaul. The Biden administration has forwarded a comprehensive plan to Congress that deserves real deliberation.

If Ducey has the tiniest bit of political courage, he’ll put aside the name-calling and focus his arguments on the merits of that legislation. He’ll use his powerful position at the RGA for good, encouraging his Republican counterparts to work with Dems and pass reform that balances safety with humanity.

And if business groups have the tiniest bit of courage, they’ll practice what they preach, and stop rewarding divisive theatrics with million-dollar donations.

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Julie Erfle
Julie Erfle

Julie Erfle hails from North Dakota, but has called Arizona home for more than twenty years. She began her career in Phoenix as a creative services producer at KPHO-TV5 and 3TV. Blending her background in communications with her passion for community activism, Julie launched the political blog Politics Uncuffed in 2011, and began working as a communications director and consultant on candidate and initiative campaigns. She is the former executive director of Progress Now Arizona, a progressive communications and advocacy non-profit, and a fellow with the Flinn-Brown Arizona Center for Civic Leadership and Leading for Change.