Voters across the country on Tuesday night issued a strong rebuke of Republican efforts to crack down on immigration and cooperate with federal immigration officials.
In several key races, incumbent sheriffs who had previously been friendly toward Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were ousted and Republican candidates who had echoed President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric were quickly shown the door.
A handful of ballot initiatives intended to protect immigrants also passed with resounding support.
The victories were emblematic of a greater shift among the electorate, a backlash to Republicans’ overall racist, anti-immigrant midterm messaging. Though voters gave multiple reasons for backing Democratic House candidates, for instance — who managed to swing the balance of power leftward — some argued it was Republicans’ decision to come out hard against immigration that led their Democratic opponents to victory.
“House Republicans are furiously pre-spinning defeat by blaming Trump for talking about immigration, but that is crap,” former Obama adviser and Pod Save America host Dan Pfeiffer tweeted Tuesday evening. “House Republicans spent most of their money on immigration ads with racist undertones.”
The backlash to that messaging was evident at the local level as well. In several counties in North Carolina, New Mexico, and Minnesota, voters heavily favored Democratic candidates who had promised to face off with ICE and protect immigrant communities, soundly rejecting Republicans who had done the opposite.
Guilford County, North Carolina sheriff’s race
RESULT: Anti-immigration incumbent ousted
In Guilford County, Democrat Danny Rogers ousted Republican incumbent Sheriff BJ Barnes, who has held the seat for 24 years.
Barnes, who supported former Gov. Pat McCrory’s (R) anti-sanctuary law in 2015, and in an op-ed for The News & Record previously criticized the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gave temporary work authorization and deportation relief from certain undocumented immigrants who came to the United States when they were kids. Barnes called DACA a failed program that “sends the signal that it is OK to have broken the law,” and said that undocumented immigrants currently in the country should be fingerprinted and tracked for two years, and subsequently deported if they had not become citizens by that point.
“America is a land of compassion, opportunity … and laws,” he wrote.
Rogers, who previously worked in the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office and as an officer with the nearby High Point Police Department, has in the past condemned racial profiling and said he would comply with state and federal laws on the books, in regards to undocumented individuals. Separately, he criticized Barnes for incidents of police brutality that occurred on his watch.
After his defeat on Tuesday, Barnes lamented Rogers’ victory, writing on Facebook, “I’m just sorry you have to live with what you are left with. If he has any sense he will listen to the best officers in law enforcement, but I’m afraid history shows that probably will not be the case.”
The post was deleted or made private hours later.
Wake County, North Carolina sheriff’s race
RESULT: ICE-friendly incumbent ousted
In Wake County, North Carolina, Democrat Gerald Baker ousted ICE-friendly incumbent Sheriff Donnie Harrison Tuesday night. Harrison has served as Wake County sheriff since 2002.
Baker was specifically critical during the campaign of Harrison’s decision to partner his office with federal immigration officials under the 287(g) program. The program is an ICE initiative that deputizes local law enforcement, empowering officials to target and detain undocumented immigrants. It has come under additional scrutiny from immigration advocates in the past year, following the Trump administration’s decision to triple the number of agreements nationwide, according to the Center for American Progress. (Editor’s Note: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent newsroom housed within the Center for American Progress Action Fund.)
Harrison has defended his decision to enlist Wake County in the 287(g) program, saying it kept the region safe.
“If I turn a child molester or a bank robber loose, or whatever on the street, and I turn him loose because I didn’t know who he was and he went down the street and robbed a bank or molested a child, who’s going to be blamed for it,” he said, according to WUNC.
Baker, who said during the campaign he would end the program, didn’t buy that excuse. “You’ve got a guy who may get stopped out there for expired tags or no driver’s license and he gets in there and they put that detainer on him and he may have a wife and whole house full of children, babies and everything else,” he argued.
Hennepin County, Minnesota sheriff’s race
RESULT: ICE-friendly incumbent finishes behind pro-immigration challenger
The incumbent in Hennepin County, Minnesota, Sheriff Richard Stanek, finished behind challenger Dave “Hutch” Hutchinson in his re-election bid Tuesday night. A total of around 2,300 votes separated the two, though Hutchinson has already declared victory.
Stanek came under fire from immigration advocates and county officials last summer, after critics claimed he was not only willingly working with ICE, but going “above and beyond” to target and detain undocumented immigrants.
By contrast, Hutchinson has promised to cut the county’s ties with ICE and said doing so would keep all its residents safe.
“We’re not going to deal with ICE, because we have an obligation to our tax-paying people, and our people who live, visit and work in Hennepin County, to make sure they’re safe,” he said at a candidates forum in September, according to the Twin Cities Daily Planet.
He also noted that immigrants were statistically less likely to commit crimes than U.S.-born citizens.
Hutchinson also said that he “opposes any local law officer asking a community member about their citizenship status.”
Ulster County, New York sheriff’s race
RESULT: ICE-friendly incumbent unofficially ousted
Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum lost his reelection bid to Democratic challenger Juan Figueroa Tuesday night, though approximately 7,073 absentee ballots have not yet been counted. Figueroa, who declared victory on Wednesday, told The Poughkeepsie Journal that the ballots would likely increase his total votes.
Van Blarcum, a Democrat who ran as a Republican on this year’s ballot, has come under heavy criticism in recent years for his controversial behavior. As ThinkProgress previously reported, the incumbent refers the names and information of everyone booked into the Ulster County Jail to ICE for immigration cross-check. According to The Appeal, his office also proactively cooperates with ICE by passing along the names of every foreign-born person and asking if officials are interested in picking them up.
“He doesn’t care if there’s a minor arrest of a major felony arrest,” Figueroa, a former Marine and state trooper, told ThinkProgress in September. “I am not contacting ICE for minor offenses if the individuals have not committed any major crimes. ICE, if they want somebody, they have to give a warrant from a judge, stating that this individual is wanted.”
Los Angeles County, California sheriff’s race
RESULT: ICE-friendly incumbent in dead heat with challenger
Former Sheriff’s Lt. Alex Villanueva pulled ahead of Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell Wednesday morning after being locked in a near dead heat with the incumbent for most of Tuesday night. As of Wednesday afternoon, the two were separated by a razor-thin margin of just under 5,000 votes.
McDonnell has been criticized for his pushback against Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s sanctuary law, SB-54, which prohibits law enforcement officials from inquiring about someone’s immigration status during routine stops or proactively cooperating with federal immigration officials. McDonnell has condemned efforts to stymie that backchannel, saying such efforts could “make our communities less safe.”
Villanueva has painted himself as pro-immigration, arguing during the campaign that he would “kick ICE out” of county jails, according to LAist.
Doña Ana County, New Mexico sheriff’s race
RESULT: Democratic candidate, less friendly toward ICE, leads over ICE-friendly former sheriff
After Doña Ana County, New Mexico incumbent Sheriff Enrique Vigil was ousted during the Democratic primary earlier this year, Kim Stewart took his place and faced off with former Republican sheriff Todd Garrison in the region’s general election Tuesday. Stewart finished ahead of Garrison with a commanding 53.6 percent to his 46.5 percent, according to the Las Cruces Sun News.
Garrison, who served as sheriff from 2004 to 2015, and left after his term limit was up, has pushed aggressive stances on immigration, echoing those of the Trump administration. According to CityLab, he denounced congressional efforts at bipartisan immigration reform in 2013, and his office has been accused of inquiring about immigration status during routine traffic stops. Garrison denied his officers had engaged in such conduct.
Both Steward and Garrison have said they have no problem with Operation Stonegarden, a $55 million Homeland Security grant from which $750,000 was given to the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office in September. In exchange, the sheriff’s office provides assistance in border patrol responsibilities. KVIA reports that the county has received millions in Operation Stonegarden funds since 2007.
“This funding was not used to round up illegal immigrants,” Garrison told the outlet. “As local law enforcement officers, we have no idea who’s here legally or not.”
Steward partially agreed, saying the grant had “never had a clear mission,” but on her campaign website added that she would not participate in any program that would “compel” the sheriff’s office to act as an arm of ICE or Border Patrol.
“When we become the immigration police, we shut the door forever on those who need our help,” she wrote. She added that she would make exceptions in cases of human trafficking.
Other key races
Immigration-friendly candidates scored big in non-law enforcement races Tuesday as well. In Anne Arundel County, Maryland, county executive candidate Steuart Pittman bested incumbent Steve Schuh with 51.8 percent of the vote. Schuh approved a 287(g) agreement with ICE previously — a power that lies with the county executive’s office in Anne Arundel — giving the agency authorization to hold up to 130 immigrants in one of the county’s detention centers.
Pittman has said he will end the agreement once in office.
The state of California saw its own major immigration victory Tuesday, when Democrat Gavin Newsom beat out Republican John Cox for governor. Cox previously promised to end state “sanctuary” laws.
Immigration ballot measures
A few cities and states also asked voters to weigh in on immigration proposals in ballot measures Tuesday. In Oregon, voters resolutely rejected Measure 105, which would have repealed the state’s sanctuary law, by a final tally of 62.8 percent to 37.2 percent. And in Humboldt County, California, voters were asked to decide on the Humboldt County Sanctuary Initiative, a measure that would prohibit local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal immigration officials. The initiative passed, 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent.
Law enforcement officials said they were already cooperating with statewide sanctuary law SB-54 and that the initiative was unnecessary.