- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2014

Iowa is more than 1,200 miles from the U.S.-Mexico line, but for political purposes this year, it has become something of a border state.

The humanitarian and security crisis along the nation’s southern border has crept into gubernatorial contests from the South to the Midwest to New England, along with races in border states such as Texas and Arizona.

Tennessee became the latest immigration battleground over the weekend as Gov. Bill Haslam — a Republican running for re-election in a crowded field that will be whittled down in the Aug. 7 primary — slammed the Obama administration for not telling him that 760 children were being placed at a Tennessee facility.

“Tennessee is a diverse and welcoming state, and we also understand that this is a complicated issue,” Mr. Haslam said in a letter to the president. “However, an influx of unaccompanied immigrant children to the state, with little information being made available to the public or state leaders, creates confusion and could be very problematic.”

Border security and unaccompanied minors may be fresh issues in Tennessee, but they are old news in border states such as Arizona.

Even there, analysts say, the influx of children at the border has added more fuel to an inferno.

“Ninety percent of the TV ads run by the gubernatorial candidates deal with immigration now,” said Douglas Cole, senior vice president of Arizona’s HighGround Public Affairs Consultants who has worked on numerous high-profile Republican campaigns, including those of Gov. Jan Brewer and Sen. John McCain in his presidential bid.

“This issue is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.

HighGround polling shows that nearly two-thirds of Arizona voters say immigration is the most important issue to them, even in races for state office.

That same polling shows a wide-open primary among six declared Republican candidates for governor. Ms. Brewer cannot run for another term. The winner of the GOP primary will face off against Democrat Fred DuVal.

Whether it’s in Tennessee, Arizona or elsewhere, candidates and governors across the nation are being forced to take positions on how to stop the influx of unaccompanied children and on whether those youths, mostly from Central America, should be given asylum in their states.

Analysts say any state executive or candidate who hasn’t taken a position must do so soon because immigration could remain a top concern in voters’ minds this fall.

“I’ll say this clearly: This is an issue that is impacting not just the Southwest, but it is impacting local communities in a very deep and a very dramatic way,” said Greg Chen, director of advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “Any governor is going to find it very difficult not to look closely at what’s happening.”

The issue has exposed clear differences among candidates in Iowa, where Gov. Terry E. Branstad, a Republican seeking re-election in November, has expressed serious reservations about housing the children in his state. Mr. Branstad also pressed the White House for more information about supposed “clandestine placements” of Central American minors in Iowa without his knowledge.

His Democratic opponent, state Sen. Jack Hatch, has distanced himself from that position. He says Iowans must address the grave “humanitarian need” represented by more than 50,000 unaccompanied children who have arrived at the border since October.

In Maryland, outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley recently made waves when he seemingly offered to house Central American children in his state, saying the federal government shouldn’t send them back to “certain death.”

The Democrat then found himself in a public spat with the White House after he opposed transporting some unaccompanied children to a shelter in Carroll County. The governor now says he is looking for a better location.

The campaigns of Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Democrat, and Republican businessman Larry Hogan, who are running to succeed Mr. O’Malley, did not respond to requests for comment on the candidates’ positions.

Much like Mr. O’Malley, outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has taken the humanitarian tack and has offered to find space for some of the children in his state.

“I believe that we will one day have to answer for our actions — and our inactions,” he has said.

The three Democrats running to succeed Mr. Patrick — state Attorney General Martha Coakley, state Treasurer Steve Grossman and former federal health care official Donald Berwick — each has backed Mr. Patrick’s position and praised the way he has spoken about the crisis, The Associated Press reported.

Republican candidate Charlie Baker, on the other hand, has stressed that Massachusetts cannot afford to become the “steward or financier” of services for those unaccompanied children, though he has said each state should work with the federal government to find a solution.

The issue is tricky for candidates of both parties, but analysts say Republicans face greater danger.

If Republicans come across as coldhearted and insensitive to the suffering of children from nations such as Honduras, the Hispanic voter gap that favors Democrats could widen further, said Kevin Leicht, who specializes in political sociology and immigration at the University of Iowa.

“Republicans are attempting to broaden their appeal to Hispanic voters. The appearance, even if it’s not reality, that you’re hostile to Central American children appearing at the border is not going to help that at all,” Mr. Leicht said. “I don’t necessarily think Democrats will get some big boost out of this, but the Republicans could be hurt pretty badly” among Hispanic voters.

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