The Riggs Report: The DACA decision’s fallout in California

September 7, 2017

California’s Republican seats are prime targets in 2018

The Trump administration’s decision to nail the door shut on the DACA program has revived talk of a long-elusive issue—that of passing comprehensive immigration reform. But it also guarantees an epic campaign fight next year in California in which a handful of Republican-held congressional seats will be squarely in the bull’s eye.

California is home to more than 200,000 Dreamers. That’s more than 1 in 4 of the total nationwide, so the stakes here are greater than in any other state.

Let’s be clear, the Democrats were always going to target a number of seats here as part of an overall effort to capture 24 seats and regain control of the House in 2018. But DACA gives strategists an especially potent campaign message that will saturate the airwaves in television ads.

Targets next year include the seats held by Jeff Denham in Modesto, David Valadao in Hanford, Steve Knight in Palmdale, and Duncan Hunter and Darrell Issa in San Diego County.

It’s significant that Valadao and Denham have publicly broken with their party and have expressed support for efforts to preserve legal protections for Dreamers.

“We should be dedicating our resources to securing our borders and deporting the violent criminals preying on our communities, not going after individuals who were brought to America as children through no fault of their own,” Denham said this week, in a statement. “The government asked these young men and women to come out of the shadows, and they have passed background checks, opened bank accounts, gotten jobs, enrolled in our universities—all positive contributions to our society and our economy. To target them now is wrong.”

Valadao voiced a similar sentiment.

“I will continue to advocate on behalf of Dreamers,” Valadao said in his own statement. “America is the only home these young people know and I will do everything in my power to ensure those who were brought to the United States through no fault of their own are not unjustly punished.”

Whether lawmakers like Valadao and Denham can separate themselves from the DACA backlash will be their campaign challenge, given the large number of Latino voters in their districts.

The GOP could limit that backlash if House leaders choose to pass immigration legislation that establishes protections for those in the DACA program. But it seems unlikely that Speaker Paul Ryan will go that route.

Allan Zaremberg, president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce, is pushing for that kind of reform to provide certain legal status for Dreamers. In comments this week, Zaremberg noted the tremendous economic stakes facing the state if DACA is dismantled.

“The end result of uprooting 200,000 Californians—95 percent of whom are gainfully employed or enrolled in college—would create change for which we are unprepared,” Zaremberg said. “Congress must act swiftly to address this issue so we aren’t left with a problem of losing productive tax paying jobs.”