Immigration Fights Flare Up as Midterms Yield Uneven Results

  • Pressure campaign restarts uphill push for deal on ‘Dreamers’
  • Absence of GOP ‘red wave’ emboldens some advocates

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Supporters of overhauling US immigration laws are descending on Capitol Hill next week, hoping to make a deal in the wake of midterm elections that left Republicans with less of a power boost than they expected.

The eleventh-hour pressure campaign focuses on protecting immigrant “Dreamers” from deportation, with the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on thin ice in federal court. Top negotiators have acknowledged they’ll likely have to make concessions on border security or asylum processing to bring enough Republicans on board before the end of the lame-duck session.

Fraught politics, a compressed timeline for negotiations, and uncertain election results add to the hurdles to updating immigration laws. The absence of a “red wave” of GOP victories in Congress, however, gives some advocates renewed hope Republicans will come to the table, said Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director of the advocacy group United We Dream.

Hundreds of DACA recipients and immigration activists will meet in Washington, D.C., next week to press their cause with executive branch officials and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Advocates are also pushing to get immigrant farmworker status, a citizenship pathway for Afghan evacuees, and easier legal immigration pathways into must-pass legislation by the end of the year.

Immigration Fights Face Make-or-Break Moment at End of Year

Uncertain Power Dynamics

While election results are still pending in many races, Republicans are projected to take at least a slim majority in the House. GOP leaders have pledged to prioritize border security and reject new pathways to citizenship for immigrants.

GOP lawmakers interested in serious immigration legislation may see that “now is the best time for the GOP to do something,” said Todd Schulte, president of the advocacy group Addressing the plight of Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children — has historically attracted significant bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and in public opinion polls.

Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, second from left, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, left, join DACA recipients and other lawmakers at an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of DACA, at the US Capitol in June 2022.

Conservative advocates and border hawks are gearing up to fight any movement in that direction, telling lawmakers border security measures must come first, said Lora Ries, director of the Border Security and Immigration Center at the Heritage Foundation.

Uncertainty over power dynamics in the Senate creates another potential hurdle for advocates — especially if the process drags out for weeks. Races in Arizona and Nevada haven’t been called yet, and Georgia is heading into a runoff next month.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who’s been engaged in slow-moving bipartisan immigration talks, earlier this fall said Republicans would be loath to negotiate on legislation for Dreamers if the GOP controls both chambers during the next Congress and has more freedom to pursue its own priorities.

“Having to wait longer before they can really understand those calculations is going to be problematic for getting immigration into that mix,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration and cross-border policy for the Bipartisan Policy Center.

There’s little time to craft a new compromise on contentious immigration issues, said Cris Ramón, an independent immigration policy consultant. “Off the shelf” legislative language on other immigration issues, including farmworker status and Afghan evacuees, might fare better, he said.

Immigration Rhetoric

It remains to be seen whether Republicans’ underwhelming performance in the midterms will spur any change in GOP lawmakers’ approach to immigration policy.

“The fact that the border chaos didn’t seem to be a major issue on election day might give a little more breathing room for constructive negotiations,” said Monument Advocacy founder C. Stewart Verdery, a former George W. Bush administration official and GOP Senate aide.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) wrote a Wall Street Journal opinion piece Thursday that encouraged his party to govern wisely instead of making “pointless noise.” He slammed the Biden administration’s management of the US-Mexico border but called on lawmakers to have “political courage” to reach a bipartisan immigration deal.

Schulte of and other advocates see the election outcome as a sign the anti-immigration rhetoric embraced by many Republican campaigns was ineffective. They also point to successful Democrats, including Sen.-elect John Fetterman (Pa.), who leaned in on pro-immigration messaging.

“If it’s true that the election result was a rebuke of Trumpism, then I think that Republicans, particularly Senate Republicans, need to look at that — and look at 2024, look at 2026, look at their longevity as a party — and consider whether they want to continue taking a hard line on immigration,” said Maunica Sthanki, a political strategist and former immigration staffer for Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee.

Then again, the approach seemed to work out fine for some Republicans, Ramón said. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who captured national attention for sending migrants to unsuspecting liberal communities, were reelected by wide margins.

Ries, of the Heritage Foundation, said Democrats shouldn’t view the closer-than-expected outcome as an endorsement of their policies.

“It does look like Republicans will take the majority in the House, and that’s worth something,” she said. “It’s happening for a reason.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anna Yukhananov at; Sarah Babbage at

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