Last week, Rep. Paul Gosar (R–Ariz.), who's running unopposed for reelection in Arizona's 9th congressional district, was caught in a covertly recorded video seemingly expressing sympathy to people who claimed they'd been shooting at undocumented immigrants.
"We've shot at them," the man, an undercover activist, told Gosar. "I'm worried that the Democrats are gonna send me to jail." Gosar replied, "They have more rights than we do."
"I might've hit someone," the man said before thanking Gosar for his work. "Say a prayer because this country needs you," the congressman replied. "There's a bunch of people that are ready to go into action."
Gosar, who's previously proposed a 10-year moratorium on all immigration, is part of an Arizona GOP that's taken an increasingly militant turn on migrants and the border.
With Election Day less than one week away, the results of Arizona's midterm races could shake up both national politics and recent statewide trends. Immigration has emerged as a central plank for high-profile Republican candidates, including Senate candidate Blake Masters and gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who routinely lean into their party's worst impulses. Their platforms include policies that are legally fraught and unlikely to solve persistent problems at the border.
Both Masters and Lake say they will finish the construction of former President Donald Trump's border wall, which currently covers about 245 miles of Arizona's 373-mile border with Mexico. Trump's project cost roughly $20 million per mile to construct, dwarfing the cost of reinforcements installed under the Bush and Obama administrations. Despite that expense, the wall hasn't thwarted illegal migration. Immigrants have been able to climb over it with ladders, cut through it with cheap tools, and tunnel under it. With fewer legal migration pathways and a far more fortified border, the number of migrants injured or killed as they fell from the wall spiked.
Renewed border wall construction could end up hurting Arizona communities, including private landowners robbed of their land by eminent domain and Native Americans who've had their sovereignty violated despite explicit opposition. Lake says she'll veto "any budget that fails to fully fund the border wall's completion," despite the economic and political costs she might incur.
Lake and Masters see illegal immigration as an "invasion" to be combated. "It's time to militarize this border," Masters said in a campaign ad. Lake's first "solution" to secure the border involves invoking Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution "to fend off the invasion at our southern border in the absence of federal protection." She claims this will allow Arizona—and "a compact of like-minded states"—to "arrest illegal immigrants" and "return them back across the border."
As David Bier, associate director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute, explained for Reason last year, the Constitution does indeed require "the federal government to protect against an 'invasion'—what every court that has reviewed the question has interpreted to mean an 'armed hostility from another political entity.'" Further, "the Constitutional Convention debates connected the power to repel invasions with the power to raise armies."
Incoming migrants seeking safety and economic opportunity do not match the Founding Fathers' concept—nor any modern one—of an invasion. As Bier wrote, migrants "want to be us, not conquer us." Lake's misinterpretation of the Constitution could be truly damaging: It severely distorts the nature of the people crossing the border, reinforces anti-immigrant animus, and could help open the door to an extraordinary allocation of state funds toward misguided enforcement schemes.
Washington could be doing plenty more to restore asylum and expand work visa access, which would help make migration flows more predictable and help reduce illegal migration. That's something Masters could work on if elected, though his legal immigration plans include "we want good immigrants, not bad ones" with no actual call for the U.S. to accept more legal immigrants than it currently does.
For Masters, who in a now-deleted sentence on his campaign website argued that "the Democrats dream of mass amnesty, because they want to import a new electorate," it's a particularly disappointing turn. The erstwhile libertarian-leaner, according to Jewish Insider, once blogged under a pseudonym that "illegal immigration is an ethical contradiction in terms," arguing that "'unrestricted' immigration is the only choice." Certain migration patterns aren't illegal "because this makes rational or ethical sense, but because a State or some form of Government so declared them," he wrote.
GOP candidates' militant fixation on the border also doesn't reflect voter preferences. In a September Marist poll of registered voters in Arizona, just 13 percent of voters ranked immigration as their top issue when thinking about the midterms, putting it in fourth place behind inflation (36 percent), preserving democracy (26 percent), and abortion (15 percent). Though 24 percent of Republicans listed immigration as their number one issue, twice as many said inflation was their top priority.
With one-third of Arizona's electorate composed of independent and third-party voters, Republicans will need to look beyond their party's base to win seats. Unfortunately for moderate and liberty-minded voters, the anti-immigrant tenor of the Arizona GOP pushes reasonable conversations about border security out of reach.