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What Trump's Immigration Policies Mean For The Midterms


President Trump's hard-line immigration policy is injecting a highly volatile political issue into the middle of an election year. And that is making Republicans in Congress worry that it could endanger their majorities. The fear is that this will help motivate Democrats, who are already fired up over President Trump's policies. Here's NPR's Asma Khalid.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Polls this week show that as many as two-thirds of Americans oppose President Trump's immigration policy of separating children from their parents who come into the country illegally. But opinion among Republicans is more mixed. To find out why, I made some calls to check in with voters I've met before on the campaign trail. One of them is Robert Lee, a 37-year-old from Georgia.

ROBERT LEE: It's being used as leverage essentially.

KHALID: Lee called the policy an abysmal failure. He's the kind of Republican who wants a solution for DREAMers, the kind of Republican who does not support a big, physical border wall.

LEE: Our government should not be in the position of using people's lives as leverage to get some other policy prescription put in place.

KHALID: But then I called Connie Kessler, a 77-year-old Republican from Ohio.

CONNIE KESSLER: I love children, and I love people. But for me, if I was president, I'd send them all the hell back. Sorry.

KHALID: Kessler wanted me to know that she thinks the images of detained children on the news are being used to make Trump look bad.

KESSLER: The Democrats want to blame it on Trump all the time. And I am so fed up with that crap. We're taking care of these children.

TIM MALLOY: The president's people are loyal to him. They don't budge.

KHALID: That's Tim Malloy. He's the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

MALLOY: It's not surprising that the majority of Republicans support this separation issue because the country is so polarized now that it could be any issue and we would see this.

KHALID: While other Republicans want to emphasize tax cuts or the economy, Trump is eager to talk about immigration. Here he is at a rally in Nashville last month.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And you can say what you want, but I think border security and security in general is a great issue for the Republican Party. I think it's a great issue, not a bad issue.

KHALID: But the danger with Trump's immigration zeal is that Republicans are dealing with a very different political map in 2018. Whit Ayres is a GOP pollster who's wary of fighting culture wars.

WHIT AYRES: The Republican congressional seats that will determine control of the House in 2018 are largely located in suburban areas. Somehow, I don't think taking children from their mothers' arms and putting them in cages will go over particularly well with suburban moms.

KHALID: But immigration is an issue that helped Republicans in 2016. Exit polls show that among voters who said the most important issue facing the country was immigration, they heavily favored Trump. Steve Schale, a Democratic operative in Florida, says anger motivated Trump voters but now with policies like family separation, anger is motivating Democrats.

STEVE SCHALE: Things like immigration, whether it's taking on health care, whether it's the Muslim ban - you name it - it's that anger and frustration about the type of country Trump is trying to lead us into that is driving people to the polls.

KHALID: And that, he says, means immigration could resonate with Democrats, even if they're not personally worried about loved ones getting deported. As long as the reality of kids being separated from their parents sticks in voters' minds, as one analyst told me, you can bet Democrats will drag this issue out in every commercial until November.

Asma Khalid, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAKI KING'S "OOBLECK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.