In This Episode
This week on Rubicon, Brian Beutler and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) discuss the child-migrant crisis and the ways it complicates efforts to pass immigration reform. They also explore why Democrats shouldn’t freak out over Donald Trump’s performance with Latino voters, why some of his Latino voters already regret their votes, and how Democrats can combat the scourge of disinformation in Latin communities.
[clip of WH Press Secretary Jen Psaki] Today, President Biden sent an immigration bill to Congress.
Brian Beutler: If Joe Biden had his druthers, Congress would make immigration reform a top priority.
[clip of WH Press Secretary Jen Psaki] The US Citizenship Act modernizes our immigration system. It provides hardworking people who’ve enriched our communities and lived here for decades an opportunity to earn citizenship.
Brian Beutler: Or at least that’s the message he sought to convey when he sent Congress a comprehensive immigration proposal on his first day in office. That plan, like the bipartisan legislation that passed the Senate eight years ago, centers around a simple bargain: stepped up enforcement going forward, in exchange for a reprieve from deportation, and eventually citizenship for the existing unauthorized population. There’s a problem, though. Actually, there’s a bunch of problems. First, Republicans in Congress have abandoned that framework. They controlled the House back in 2013 when the immigration bill had the votes to pass, but GOP hard-liners saw to it that it never got to the floor. Then Republicans ran into the arms of Donald Trump, and they remain committed to his nativist vision of a country that expels non-white immigrants, and makes life hell for those who seek a better life here. Democrats could, in theory, abolish the filibuster and pass Biden’s plan by themselves. But they have a bunch of other problems to address first. To start, Democrats lost ground with Latinos in 2016 and 2020. They assumed that Republicans would deepen the hole they’ve dug with voters of color by making Trump the face of their party. But it didn’t happen.
[news clip] Now Miami-Dade is 70% Hispanic. You would expect that that would depress the votes for Trump in Miami Dade County. But the opposite happened. He’s doing better there with non-white voters than he did four years ago.
Brian Beutler: Instead of beating Republicans in a historic wave, the Democratic majority in Congress actually shrunk, leaving the party riven with doubt over which appeals to immigrant communities actually work. Then, a few weeks after Inauguration Day, a migrant crisis at the southern border re-erupted.
[news clip] The US is holding some 13,000 unaccompanied minors after a surge in arrivals that began in January.
Brian Beutler: Conditions along the border have worsened, fueling demands, both good faith and bad, for Biden to fix them. But without political resolve and the willingness to act alone, Democrats in Congress may not be able to give Biden the tools he needs. And as long as the problems go unresolved, it will threaten to derail his larger immigration agenda and maybe even more than that. So what should he do? More importantly, what can he do? And how should Democrats in Congress balance the politics and substance of the issue to best help him? My guest this week is Congressman Ruben Gallego. He represents Arizona’s 7th District and has emerged as a leading voice within the party as it seeks to increase its margins among Latinos. We invited him on to answer these and other questions the party will have to answer in Biden’s first 100 days. I’m Brian Beutler. Welcome to Rubicon.
Brian Beutler: Congressman Ruben Gallego, great to have you on the show.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: Thanks for having me, Brian.
Brian Beutler: So before we zoom out a bit, can you help our listeners understand what’s happening at the border, why conditions seem to have deteriorated recently, and how, if at all, this differs from past migrant influxes?
Rep. Ruben Gallego: So I think the most important thing we have to understand is that the border is a very complicated thing, as well as immigration. Right? And so you have a lot of things that are going on right now. Most importantly, you have what is consistent migrant flows from Central America that’s been going on for the last five years, coming to the United States. Now, to add to the addition of that, there has been hundreds of thousands of these families that have already been on the other side of the border waiting in Mexico, to be processed into the United States. Now, in addition, you have a big flow of unaccompanied minors that are coming in now, which are putting a big stress on the system, as well as your just normal—if there is such a thing as normal—undocumented people crossing the border. But you add the extra element of COVID-19 and you’re adding this new stress to the whole system. Because what usually happens is if a unaccompanied minor comes to the border, Border Patrol will pick them up and they will transfer them to HHS, and then HHS will make sure that they don’t have COVID-19 and then they turn them over to what’s called or ORR, which is in charge of refugees, and they try to move them out of the custody they’re in right now and into a foster home, or a family member’s home as fast as possible. Because we don’t want to have these unaccompanied children in these housing situations. I would say the most important thing that I know is that this administration has certainly been more humanitarian for these unaccompanied minors than we had seen under the previous administration. We, we’re, one of the main reasons why we’re having housing problems is because they’re trying to make sure that these young men and women are actually able to live momentarily in as healthy of a COVID-free environment as possible. So normally where you can fit, you know, for example, a couple of young children in a trailer, now they’re only putting one or two children in that trailer. So all that is causing this back up. And then at the same time, you do have a very reluctant Border Patrol and ICE culture that I think are also contributing to this problem.
Brian Beutler: What has President Biden done so far to mitigate the situation? What more can he do on his own? I mean, you hinted that that CBP and ICE could be more constructive partners, for lack of a better term. Could, maybe that’s one area Biden could do something—and what can Congress or should Congress do to kind of help the situation in the immediate term?
Rep. Ruben Gallego: So what the president has done right away, for example, is that, you know, just even stop the flow of people. They’ve been spending money in Central and Latin America doing advertising and telling people to stay in Central America.
[clip of President Biden] I can say quite clearly: don’t leave your town or city or community.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: Don’t come. Don’t make the border crossing. It’s too far is too dangerous. And, you know, it only is going to slow down a process when you could do it in a legal and safe manner in another way. The other thing they’re doing is under the Trump administration, if the unaccompanied minor or a minor came across with his or her family, and the Trump people separated them from their family, in order for that young person to leave and go live with a relative, the relative also had to prove that they were in this country legally. So a lot of these young men and women stayed in detention because most of their family members that they could go live with were undocumented. So President Biden has lifted that restriction. And so now people are calling and saying: yes, this is my niece is my nephew, I’m coming to pick them up. Right? Because that’s the ideal situation. Ideally, you want them to be with families. That’s the safest. Safest things we can do. And then it’s just, for example, bringing FEMA to set up even more bed spaces for these children. I think that’s really important to. Again, we’re trying to process them and at the same time trying to keep them COVID safe. And by treating it like a real emergency, using FEMA with their abilities to basically coordinate and find the bed space, I think that’s going to solve a lot of these problems.
Brian Beutler: Do you see, like, the situation itself and maybe fear of political consequences around the fact that there’s this sort of crisis environment at the border, contributing to some paralysis in Congress on this issue of migrant flows specifically, or immigration reform more generally?
Rep. Ruben Gallego: I think this always is going to be a perpetual problem that we just have to really get over. I think there are some Democrats and then some moderate Republicans that as soon as something happens at the border, the automatic response is to snap back. Right? And you actually kind of saw that in 2018, where we had, again, this situation, and the Democrats still won in 2018. But the natural inclination is just to kind of retrench, which I think it’s a really dumb thing to do. Right? It’s a really dumb thing to do and you’re playing into the hands of the Republicans when you do that. This is a problem. The border and you know, being where it is right now, is a problem and we have to figure out a way to fix it. But it’s going to happen every year, at least until Central America fixes itself, or we contribute to fixing it. But it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still go for immigration reform because Number one, the the communities are crossing over the border right now, they’re not going to be eligible for immigration reform. Right? And whenever we play that game, into the Republicans game, where we lump all the immigrants coming together, all the refuges together as one, it’s always going to be easy for them to stop immigration reform. So we need to continue moving forward. We need to continue educating the voter, just everyday citizens, you know? The fact, and most Americans understand that these refugees are not like other undocumented people that cross the border. They’re not even getting caught by Border Patrol, they’re literally turning themselves in so you get processed for refugee status. And if you don’t get the refugee status, you get sent back to your home country. You know, and they somehow think that this is like, what it would be like a Mexican national crossing the border and they’re kind of the same thing. They’re not. They’re totally different.
Brian Beutler: OK, so apart from the migrant crisis, how do you assess the Biden administration’s early, I guess, immigration-adjacent actions? So I’m thinking things like his nominees, his early process trying to reunite families that Trump separated—things along those lines that are sort of separate from his forward-looking immigration agenda.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: I would say, like I have been pleasantly surprised. I think Biden has actually been much stronger and more assertive when it comes to immigration than he, and certainly the Obama administration was in the first 100 days.
Brian Beutler: Let me break in for a moment to explain how immigration got lost in the shuffle after President Obama took office. First, it fell down the priority list due to the financial crisis and a year-long legislative fight over health care. Second, Obama spent quite a long time trying to gain conservative support for a comprehensive plan by ramping up immigration enforcement. But the strategy didn’t work. His allies weren’t happy, and Republicans weren’t interested in playing ball. Only then did Obama change tacks and implement DACA, a legal reprieve for Dreamers, on his own. But Biden has been able to dispense with all of that buildup.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: He was quick to overturn the DREAM Act lawsuit, and pulling the United States out of that. You know, he has worked with the Hispanic Caucus to start putting together immigration reform bill. You know, he hired Mayorkas, which is something that we were very, very proud of that he did, because he’s a great and honest servant. And he’s communicated with us his intentions when it comes to the border, when it comes to immigration reform. So, you know, I’m not, not tooting his horn just because I’m a Democrat, but like, honestly, compared to the Obama administration, where we were really played second fiddle for quite a while, this has been a vast improvement.
Brian Beutler: What did you make of the fact that the first bill he sent to Congress—given sort of everything that’s happening in America—was a comprehensive immigration reform bill? Did it surprise you that that was his first move?
Rep. Ruben Gallego: Yes, it surprised me, because, you know, he, even I as a politician and cynical when I hear politicians promise, like, that’s the first thing I’m going to do, right?
[clip of President Biden] On day one, I’m going to send the legislative immigration reform bill to Congress.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: I kind of thought, when do I get to the, one of the many first things I’m going to do—when it actually was the first things he did, I’m like: OK, well, that’s impressive. You know. And look, I think he’s right. One of the things that people forgot about this last election is that one of the main reasons why Democrats slipped with Latinos—among many reasons—is because we didn’t talk about immigration reform as much. And we need to really own that issue and in order for us to continue to get support of the Latino community, but also just to get into social justice areas.
Brian Beutler: That’s interesting to me because I was going to ask a more cynical question, which is like how much of the thinking around that decision to send Congress a comprehensive immigration reform bill as the first order of business, do you think predated the election and the ensuing debate over why Trump did better than many expected he would do with Latino voters? Like it seemed to me like maybe that would make the new administration kind of want to back off.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: Well, I mean, I think if you if you just looked at it from the outside and didn’t quite understand what’s happening in the Latino community, you would assess that: oh, these Latinos that voted for Trump were anti-immigration Latinos. And that’s not necessarily the case. You know, if you look at all, it’s all over the spectrum. Like Cubans, I mean, Cubans have been the beneficiaries of some of the most loosest immigration laws that we’ve ever had in this country. You know, if you look at South Texas, it’s a combination of people that want immigration reform but at the same time, also were worried about housing and jobs that they felt they were losing because of the shutdown. But the fact is, is that what should really tell you what the issue was, is that Donald Trump himself did not campaign on immigration. If you listen to the Spanish radio, he didn’t talk at all about cracking down on the border. He didn’t talk about the border wall. As a matter of fact, he went on Univision and said that he’s going to legalize all U.S. citizens by executive order, two weeks before the election. So everyone seems to forget—it’s just like recreating a campaign that did not happen. Right? And it’s hard for, you know, I think like a lot of Anglos just want to accept the easiest answer, which is like: well, these Latinos must be Latinos that don’t like immigration. Like, no, Latinos are very complicated voters and they vote on very different things. But if you look at it—like we should have been campaigning also on immigration reform.
Brian Beutler: I am glad you brought this up, because I take it you’ve heard there’s been some debate over this matter of Democrats performance among Latino voters in the last few months. Before I get into the bigger question, do you have a theory of the case, and or, and beyond your theory of the case, do you have an assessment of sort of how alarmed Democrats should be about how the election came out?
Rep. Ruben Gallego: Well, my theory the case is it was death by papercuts. Now, to begin with a Republican incumbent will always do better with Latinos the second time around. Right? You look back in history, Latino voters will always vote for the incumbent a little more than last time. Right? It doesn’t matter who it was, whether it’s Clinton, Bush, and Trump was not going to be any exception. Right? So there’s that movement that happened right there. Number two, I think COVID was a big psychological break for the Latino community. A lot of us lost jobs, lost housing, they were afraid of being shut down again. They, they actually were affected by the Trump stimulus and saw the Trump checks coming through. And I think that, again, was a little slice that kind of moved the needle a little more. And then what matters is, is where you campaign and how you campaign. When you have someone like Donald Trump who is just like omnipresent kind of personality, you know, and also kind of brings in something that is very attractive within Latino communities—like it’s called La Mano Dura, right, the Hard Hand, like the kind of fascist side of politics. Latinos are actually attracted by that, and I think people, especially white liberals, don’t want to accept that, but that is true. There’s a reason why there used to be so many fascist regimes in Latin America. Right? And all those things combined, plus the fact that we couldn’t do door canvasing, swayed communities in certain areas. And where did the sway? It swayed communities where there was no active campaign by the Biden campaign. Right? So if you look at, for example, Springfield, Massachusetts, Trump moved, I think, like 10 points. I mean, he still lost the Latino vote by huge areas in there. But the reason he did, is because there was no active campaign against Trump. Now look at my area, Maricopa County, and even in my district, Trump only moved one to two points in my district. And again, that’s the incumbent effect. But the reason why he couldn’t move so much in my district, because we have an active campaign that had been hitting him and hitting Republicans all year. Now you go over to California, you saw these big swings, again where there was no active campaign. So if you let things stand as they are, if you let an incumbent and if you don’t canvass and in the middle of a pandemic, you’re going to end up doing better with Latinos. Better meaning that you got not actually 30%, but you got closer to 30%. And by the way, had he gotten 30%, he probably would have won the election. But where it mattered, he lost the Latino vote by significant numbers: Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. Now you get down to Florida, the Florida political world is entirely different from anything else. So like the Florida Cuban is not at all closely related or reminiscent at all to like the Tejano or the Chicano or the LatinX—I don’t like that term, but there’s people that use it. Right? But you know, that environment there, if you go down there and campaign, it is, it is very multicultural. It is very sophisticated. And by the time the Biden campaign wrapped up the primary, and then were able to [unclear], there had been a four year campaign by the Trump campaign that was very impressive that it was just not going to be able to turn around. And it was it was beyond just that, I mean, they even had Colombian conservative members of Congress endorsing Donald Trump and calling into Colombian radio shows saying that you need to vote for Donald Trump. Right? And I ended up getting to shouting matches with these Colombians because of them—I’m Columbian-American—and tell them to stay out of our business. But there’s a very sophisticated campaign that by the time Biden came along, it was too late. So what does it mean for the future? I’m going to tell you right now, no matter what happens, Biden is definitely going to be doing better than he did last time with Latinos. And again, it’s the power of the incumbency. It’s the fact that the stimulus that he’s doing right now is going to have a huge effects. He’s going to make movements on immigration. And all those things are going to make a pretty big, sizable dent, to the point where you’d see places like Texas and Arizona, Texas going to be bluer. And then, you know, Texas is going to be, I think, turning blue by by 2024. Florida, I think, is going to always be a Florida, we’ll just have to figure that out. So the lesson you have to learn from this is that if you want the Latino vote and you want it at the levels that you want it, right, which is about 70%, you need to spend the money. You need to spend the time and you need to, and actively use and treat them as not just a base vote, but as a swing vote. And that’s what we saw in Arizona. This is why Arizona—you know everyone talks about, you know, the swing Republican, they came over and voted for Democrats. There weren’t that many of it. The biggest story about Arizona was we had a huge surge of young Latino voters and a huge surge of Native voters that overcame the surge that that Donald Trump pulled out.
Brian Beutler: In my reading of the situation right now, there’s this sort of dominant narrative taking hold, which is that you look at the raw data and the full context of the past few years and the story people are telling is that, like a large segment of the Latino population, particularly Latino men, are easily spooked by propaganda and they’ll switch parties over it. And so Democrats need to tread really carefully around policy issues that trigger that tendency, particularly any policy issues that pit Democrats against law enforcement in particular. Right?
Rep. Ruben Gallego: And I disagree with that, too. I mean, like, I actually over-performed Biden in my district by four points and I am way to the left of Biden.
Brian Beutler: Right. Right! And so you point to all these confounding elements, or elements that confound that version of events, but then an alternative story is that you have turnout through the roof, which means that a bunch of poorly-understood voters, like voters that don’t normally vote and that aren’t well understood by either party, participated this time and some of them got checks with Donald Trump’s name on them. And some of them achieved a level of economic prosperity during his administration. And some, like you said, may have been taken with his authoritarian style of politics.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: By the way, some of this is racism, too. That’s the other thing. People are totally—Latinos are racists, too. And there was, there was a big element, an underground element, about how the Biden administration was, quote unquote “just focusing on black people.” And there was, there was propaganda, there was commercials on it. And you had to remember, especially for a lot of Latinos, first generation Latinos, especially males, racism does run through our community. And, and it will take effect if someone actually learns how—like the Trump people did—learns how to just kind of push at it. Right? But this is one, it’s actually been interesting to see a lot of our friends, all these, you know, very practical and pragmatic people— the one thing they haven’t all brought up is, you know, the fact that some Latinos are into fascism, some Latinos are racists, and Trump called them out and they came out and voted. And it’s OK that we can acknowledge it because we should work against that. But like, not even considering that that’s the case is is very dangerous too.
Brian Beutler: Right. Right. Like the appeal of story one is that, well, if we just avoid these hot-button issues, the problems that we stumbled over in this election will just go away. The more nuanced story, the more complicated one, the one that forces Democrats to confront things like racism within the Latino community that you just mentioned, that maybe make people feel uncomfortable— but also the incumbency issue and the, you know, the economic conditions issue—they deprive people in the party of a simple explanation for what happened and so there’s no lesson to be drawn from it. And my sense is people are just like, they want to know that something caused it so they can fix it. And it’s just not the case.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: Well, I mean, the easy answer they want is like—there’s a couple of these answers. Number 1) there’s an aberration, it only works for Trump, and once he’s gone, the Latinos come back. Like number 2) we just need to run the right type of campaigns and we’ll get them back. Or number 3) we should just stick to these issues and then we’ll get them back. No. It’s a very complicated situation. It’s a very complicated community. And we need to treat them with the respect that they deserve. Right? Like any other community. Right? The amount of—I actually pointed out this to a political consultant: how many different ways do we campaign to try to get that last white moderate vote. We talked to him in 35 different ways. Right? But when we talk to Latinos, we talk to them in only one or two ways. Right? And only two types of messages. When in fact we are so diverse, and we are, you can’t just talk to us with one commercial. If you really want us to come out strongly, again, you have to spend the money and when you spend it, you get it. Which is what happened in Arizona, for example.
Brian Beutler: Coming up, why Congressman Gallego believes some Latinos now regret voting for Donald Trump. And we talk Republican disinformation. Why Democrats must get better at playing whack a mole with it, and whether they have a plan to do it. When we return.
Brian Beutler: Welcome back to Rubicon. My guest is Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego, who represents parts of Maricopa County. Before the break, we were talking about what President Biden and the Democratic Party can do to win back Latino voters in future elections.
Brian Beutler: So you have all these factors at play, some of them are within Biden’s control to some extent, right? Like he can be a good president, and if he governs well and the economy is good when he—
Rep. Ruben Gallego: Basically. That’s it. Honestly, I’m sorry to say, but if he does that, he gets the Latino vote.
Brian Beutler: You know, stipulate that. But, you know, beyond that, you can also communicate more openly with all the Latino communities across the country. And, you know, Donald Trump, if he doesn’t run again, Republicans probably don’t have a larger than life celebrity figure with these authoritarian—
Rep. Ruben Gallego: I’m going to blow your mind: if another Republican runs instead of Donald Trump, they would do better than they would, the Trump. And the reason why is because January 6th.
[news clip] Trump mob storms capital, forcing lawmakers into shelter and pretty much having their way with the Capitol building.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: That had huge, deep impact within the Latino community. Because one thing people don’t understand, is Latinos are very deeply, deeply patriotic. Deeply patriotic. You know, I’m a Marine. I have, tons of my friends that are Latinos are in the military. We have history, families that all have people in the military. Right? And so we’re very deeply patriotic. And which is why you—that also, by the way, draws some votes across the line to help Trump. One of my theories of why I performed Biden in Arizona, is because I’m a veteran and I got more, I got Latino males in my district to vote Trump and then vote for me. Right? I’m a veterano—because other than that, there’s no really like policy wise, I’m actually—again, more to the left of Biden, right? January 6th was deeply and psychologically impactful in Latinos to the point where there’s—except for maybe the pockets down in Miami, a lot of them will never be able to vote for Donald Trump again, because it reminds them a lot of what they grew up with in Latin America, or they heard about in Latin America. And it’s what makes them very prideful that we’re not those countries anymore. Right? That the United States is not that.
Brian Beutler: This is a great detour. I hadn’t even thought to ask about January 6th. So I think what you’re saying is that there is a like a substantial population of, let’s say, Clinton-Trump voters or people who didn’t vote in 2016 and then voted for Trump, Latinos who having just voted for Trump, now regret their vote because of January 6th.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: Absolutely. Yep. Guarantee it. And a lot of them are first generation, like first-time voters, like they had just gotten their citizenship and it’s the first-time voters.
Brian Beutler: Got it. OK, well, so we can shunt that issue off to the side. We can say that if Biden governs well, it’ll solve a lot of problems on its own, et cetera, et cetera. But this problem that you mentioned of propaganda, I’m less clear on what democrats, progressives, the mainstream media, whoever—
Rep. Ruben Gallego: Can do to combat it.
Brian Beutler: Yeah, so I mean, you recently called out House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for spreading disinformation about terrorists infiltrating the country across the southern border.
[clip of Ruben Gallego] We asked him which countries are people coming from: Yemen, Iran, Sri Lanka. They even talked about Chinese as well.
Brian Beutler: And then as a subcommittee chairman, you got briefed on the matter and you said that the briefing undermined McCarthy’s claims.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: He was exaggerating, essentially,
Brian Beutler: Hey, it’s me again, popping in quickly to tell you what exactly Congressman Gallego said when he called McCarthy out on his bullshit. Soon after the cable networks began airing that McCarthy sound bite, Gallego tweeted “I am the chairman of the Intelligence & Special Operations Subcommittee. I had a briefing 90 minutes ago . . . What I saw is a far cry from what we got out of the Minority Leader earlier today.” The implication is simple: McCarthy’s full of it, and using the cover of classified information to mislead people. That’s why Gallego has requested a briefing for all members of the House—so that everyone understands how dishonest the Republican line on this is.
Brian Beutler: I mean, I don’t know if you’re allowed to say any more than you said on Twitter?
Rep. Ruben Gallego: That’s all I can say. Yeah. [laughs]
Brian Beutler: That was, that was just my obligatory question. But the main thing I want to get at is: are there other ways the House, House Chairman, President Biden can leverage the power that they have by being the majority to combat this kind of disinformation? Because I kind of saw what you were doing there as trying to use your influence as part of the majority party, to push back on disinformation. And I haven’t seen a whole lot of creative thinking along those lines about how to use legitimate, small D democratic power to combat propaganda.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: The most important thing you need to do and just like from, you know the training I’ve gotten so far, is that the way you stop misinformation and propaganda, is you try to stop it as early as possible. Because once it spreads, it’s too late, right? And so one of the things that Republicans are really good at, or just conservatives are really good at is, like planting the seed and letting the seeds spread to the point where by the time we get involved, the lie is so big it must be true. Right? And I’m sure you’ve heard that saying before. So when, you know, having I would say—in the military we call quick reaction force, I don’t know what you call it, rapid response, I guess—having rapid response people with like the data, and like the kind of credibility to kind of say like “no, that’s not true, you’re misconstruing this” right away helps at least from it not moving as fast in the information currency. The fact that, you know, look at what happened. Because I challenged him, you know, now it’s up in the air, right? At least it’s up in the air. But before had I not even challenged, this would have just been accepted as truth. Right? When, in fact, from the intelligence I see, that’s not the case. But the problem that you have here is like this: the misinformation is just it’s not like people running commercials, it’s like this organic, insidious kind of way to do it. I’ll give you a good example. For example, the Colombians, what they would do, it they’d have these huge WhatsApp groups. Right? And me being nosy and kind of understanding what they were up to, I actually would get myself involved in these WhatsApp groups. What they would do is they would first start by legitimizing themselves, by saying like: hey, you know, I’m raising money for this little village in Colombia, you know, if you want to donate money here. Or like during COVID, like: hey, I’m helping COVID patients, you know, could you donate money here, oh hey, I want to give you guys information about where to get tested for COVID. So they do that a couple of times and then they start pushing smaller and smaller pieces of misinformation, to the point where they radicalize that whole group in that WhatsApp group, right? But you don’t see that. Right? You don’t see that. And that’s only three hundred people. Right? But you don’t see it individually. So you have too, the way to combat that is not like me being nosy and get in there and saying: no, that’s not true. Because if you try that, by the way, automatic pushback, full community pushback, because they’ve already gotten all the hype mentality. You need to come in with the big message that overrides the smaller individual like needling messages that are propaganda. And that has to come from the bully pulpit of leadership of the President and things of that nature.
Brian Beutler: This almost reminds me of how chain email—
Rep. Ruben Gallego: Yes, exactly! It’s exactly chain emails. Yeah.
Brian Beutler: And so do you find that something that starts off in a relatively small WhatsApp group like sort of filters from the people who become true believers in those chats into—
Rep. Ruben Gallego: —into Facebook and then yeah.
Brian Beutler: And then so suddenly you have you have whole towns that believe—
Rep. Ruben Gallego: Correct. Well then the algorithms then start jumping into this too, because the way that our social media works—because they’re for profit companies—if something gets clicked on, they try to find more people to follow those clicks. Right? I’ll give you a good example, unfortunately, this is true: me being a veteran, I put down that I’m a veteran, at some point, like I got this like Russian time story—not about Russia attacking the United States or anything like that, about how these brave Russian soldiers were fighting in Syria against, you know, jihad, against the jihad. And I clicked on it, because, like, I’m like, oh, that’s interesting. Like, you know, let’s see what are saying. Right? And it was very clearly propaganda. But the links I would get after that, like suggested, were moving away from just like what Russia was doing, to like what’s the problem with Islam and towards like, you know, all of a sudden, like, you know, Sharia law is being spread throughout the United States. Right? That was the progression. And that, that is what happens all the time. And it’s very, again, very difficult to combat.
Brian Beutler: Is there even a policy solution to this that as a member of Congress you can encourage or ask the Biden administration to pursue, that is, you know, like—does it have some major constitutional defect because it’s still speech, even if it’s meant to—?
Rep. Ruben Gallego: Yeah, I mean, I think we have to treat this—like this is literally psychological operations. This is the kind of stuff that Russia was doing to us and we were doing to them. We have to treat this as psychological operations, both domestically—and actually have a domestic source for that, like do the FBI or someone else in that—and then internationally, actually be able to fight it off internationally. Some of this stuff is actually, in my opinion, going to be eventually transnational. You know, I entirely see the Russians eventually tapping into the white supremacist network here and being able to try to motivate them, train them or guide them. Right? Much like they used to do to, like the young communist clubs here back in the back in the day when they were Russian times.
Brian Beutler: Well, not to not to, like, sort of make an abrupt turn back to the topic at hand, but I just want to close by asking you what you think should happen from here? Like, assuming this current migrant crisis slows and the news environment around it changes, how do you think Biden and Democrats in Congress should approach the immigration issue more generally over the next two or four years?
Rep. Ruben Gallego: Look, I think we have to explain two things. Number 1) make sure we educate people like this is the immigration flow, this refugee flow, is separate from our overall immigration problem. Right? So we need to solve that problem at hand. But we also need to communicate one thing I think is really important, is that we want to fix immigration, want Congress immigration reform to fix this problem, because we don’t want to keep doing this for the next 10 years. We want to have people come in here legally. We want people to be able to apply for a visa to come and work. We don’t want people coming through coyotes. We don’t, we’re not for open borders. I think Democrats should be, not be afraid to say that. Right? And it’s OK to say, like: you know what, we’re not for defunding ICE. We can say like: we’re for enforcement, we’re not for abuse. Right? We’re for making sure that we target the drug dealers, you know, the human smugglers, and not the mothers and the fathers. Right? And there’s, we need to be able to communicate that. We need, because it matters. Latinos, voters understand this more than anybody else. Like, who did the polling? I did the polling. But someone did the polling that showed that in Latino neighborhoods, you asked them: do you want to defund ICE? They’d say no. Right? Because they actually, actively understand what happens with these committees. Now, is ICE a problem? Are they abusive? Yes. So you reform it. Right? But like, we if, we want to win this messaging war, we need to win it by getting the people that are still ambivalent on our side, not just to score points by being able to say, like, who is the most left or who’s the most progressive on it. Right? Because at the end of day, these are millions of people’s lives on the line. Right? And I would rather get them, you know, the, you know—legalize in this country than to be able to score points to see who is more liberal, more left.
Brian Beutler: The last time Congress tried to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, it did pretty well in the Senate and would have passed the House, I think, if it had received a vote.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: Yeah.
Brian Beutler: But Republicans prevented it from getting a vote at all. And then a kind of a lot has happened since then. The legislation that Biden has proposed, and it’s just seems like the center of gravity of that debate is where it always was, like you trade a pathway to citizenship for most immigrants, for stricter enforcement. That brings Democrats and Republicans together. And you get a coalition that can support it. And now Democrats control the House and Senate, so you can guarantee a vote in both chambers. But do you think that that moment has passed?
Rep. Ruben Gallego: I think the moment is passed because I’ve been here and I’ve been, you know, living in Arizona since 2005, and then my family is you know—I was born in the United States, but I lived in Mexico for a couple of years and we used to cross the border, back and forth for work and everything else like that all the time. So this idea of immigration reform has been around forever. I’ve seen it. And this idea of we exchange, you know, more money for the border industrial complex in exchange for citizenship hasn’t occurred. Never, never occurred. Right? And so the border is well-financed. The Border Patrol is bigger than most armies in this world. Right? So if we’re going to live in this like lala land that, you know, we’ll get immigration reform once we secure the border: it’s never going to happen, because Republicans are never going to say it’s ever going to be clear. Right? So we just need to go forward with an affirmative idea that immigration reform is good for this country. Right? And it’s actually better in terms of providing security for this country, that we can get people to come here legally in a very transparent and simple process. Because if not, we’re just going to hire thousands more Border Patrol agents and put more useless walls up, and you’re never going to get, you’ll just never get the Republican votes. This is not going to happen.
Brian Beutler: So the advice to the Biden administration, it sounds like, is something like: you have a better chance just sticking with the humanitarian aspects of a comprehensive immigration reform bill—advanced those, try to do it among Democrats, if Republicans want to support it, that’s up to them.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: It doesn’t just have to be humanitarian, though. It could—it’s economics, right?
Brian Beutler: Right.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: We’re not having children anymore—you want to keep this economy humming and growing? You need to have a growing population, right? We need immigrants for that. Right? You want to just talk about pure patriotism, like this country is great because we’ve had generations of immigrants from all over the world have been coming here for hundreds of years and really rebranding and rewriting the fire of America. Right? Why not continue doing that? Right? And so this is the better argument than I think, in my opinion, than just a pure humanitarian argument
Brian Beutler: From your lips to President Biden’s ears. I’ll leave it there. Ruben Gallego, thank you so much for joining us.
Rep. Ruben Gallego: Thank you for your time.
Brian Beutler: Keep sending us your questions. Our email address is Rubicon@Crooked.com. Listener Michael writes: What should the playbook for Democrats be in dealing with Republicans who are already touting the passage of the Biden COVID-19 relief bill? No sooner than the House passed the Senate’s version of the bill, then Senator Wicker began bragging about the money going to small businesses and restaurants—he didn’t even vote for the damn bill! Should Democrats get ahead of the narrative now and call it out?
Brian Beutler: No one’s ever offered to pay me for political advice, but I think a playbook will materialize, whether it’s the Democratic Party or the White House, these are organizations that know how to mount a rapid response operation. But I also think the problem will take care of itself to some extent. Last time Republicans tried this game—trashing the Obama stimulus while taking credit for the projects it funded—social media was still pretty young. Now it’s one of the main ways politicians and their critics communicate. And when Republicans run this play again, the blowback will likely be automatic and sustained. As Roger Wicker learned.
Brian Beutler: Rubicon is written and hosted by me, Brian Beutler. It’s produced by Andrea Gardner-Bernstein. Veronica Simonetti is our audio engineer. Production support from Brian Semel. Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back next week.