Refugee ‘Caravan’ Reaches 3rd District Debate in Kansas
By Samuel Ast, Political Contributor
Republican Representative Kevin Yoder and Democratic challenger Sharice Davids traded jabs during a fast paced debate on Tuesday afternoon, with both candidates stating their positions on numerous topics such as health care, immigration, climate change, political civility and gun control.
Although Tuesday’s debate touched on a variety of issues commonly discussed by candidates this election cycle, or any election for that matter, a few notable exceptions should be highlighted.
With the debate set against the backdrop of the president’s new proposition to rescind America’s constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship, along with heightened right wing rhetoric regarding the refugee crisis Central America is facing, it is not surprising that immigration heavily factored into the discussion.
On October 12, refugees from Honduras started slowly making their way north towards the United States border. The “caravan”, as these refugees have come to be known, at its peak numbered close to 7,000 people by one UN estimate, though this number has likely lowered significantly as many in the group leave at various locations along the route. The individuals still traveling north are not expected to reach America’s southern border for another two weeks at least. The demographics of this group vary, though many reports show that a majority are women and children who are fleeing violence in their home countries of Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Many will likely apply for asylum status upon arrival.
The refugee issue has increasingly been utilized by Republicans in midterm races across the country to create an atmosphere of fear and xenophobia among the electorate. With recent polls showing Yoder’s support in the district declining, and the categorization of this race as a toss-up, Yoder is no doubt feeling the pressure. Given the ruby red nature of the state as a whole, the success David’s campaign is having might be surprising. But as the 2016 election illustrated, this district has a history of supporting Democrats. Hillary Clinton won the district, albeit by a slim margin, in 2016, which exemplifies Republican’s declining influence over suburban voters in the era of Donald Trump.
During the debate, Kevin Yoder emulated much of the rhetoric employed by the president in recent weeks. According to Yoder, the root cause of immigration issues is “the failure to secure our borders.” As the president seeks to deceive voters by spreading misinformation, Yoder seeks to deploy these same tactics, falsely linking his opponent’s immigration policy to the caravan. Yoder went on to falsely state that his opponent is in favor of open borders, and said that he believes that’s the type of policy that acts as a “magnet that drives the caravan to the United States.”
Republicans often frame their policy positions related to immigration in a zero-sum way to the public, characterizing the debate as a dichotomy between two broad theoretical concepts: open borders, or secure borders. This is a dubious technique because it fails to accurately represent the more nuanced aspects of any potential immigration reform debate. It is worth clarifying that Davids has not advocated for open borders.
Davids was quick to tie Yoder to the president, sparing no energy while attempting to portray what she considers to be Yoder’s unconditional support for the administration’s policies. “We continue to have unproductive policies coming out of the White House that congressman Yoder supports,” she said. With respect to immigration, Davids was reluctant to give many specific policy proposals, instead saying that the district needs “people willing to take leadership and explore all options,” and adding that any reform would need to have the support of both Republicans and Democrats.
Voters in the third district have until Tuesday, November 6 to determine who they want representing them in Washington.