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Arizona Primary: Republicans Playing Immigration Policy Card Still Draws Voters


Utah and Arizona hold Republican contests on Tuesday. Donald Trump was in Arizona yesterday, and his crowd was as amped up as ever. At an event in Tucson last night, there were more scuffles between protesters and supporters, and one protester was punched.

Trump continued on with his message about border security. He's made a possible wall between the U.S. and Mexico key to his campaign. It's a message people in Arizona have heard before. For more, we called up Ed Montini, columnist with the website AZCentral.

ED MONTINI: I think it informs our opinions considerably, but it's not much of a conversation right now. It was so heavily a conversation for so many years and such a divisive issue here that's it's almost as if people would prefer not to talk much about it. It still plays really well with a candidate like Donald Trump who is very much, you know, using the playbook of any number of politicians, including Senator McCain in his last run for re-election, where they play heavily the immigration card.

You know, Senator McCain, who was one of the Gang of Eight hoping to get a comprehensive immigration bill, well, he produced a commercial for his last election where he's with a local county sheriff. And they walk along the fence line at the border, and they're talking about completing the danged fence. That plays well with voters when it gets right down to the nitty-gritty. And they're going to decide who they're voting for.

MARTIN: Because of, you know, the state law that was very controversial that was passed years ago SB 1070...

MONTINI: SB 10 - right.

MARTIN: ...Which allowed state officials to pursue undocumented immigrants. Since then, the whole topic has been put on the backburner. How so?

MONTINI: Well, the business community in Arizona was really worried about that. I mean, the business community in Arizona took a shot with that. And I think that they, in their own way, behind closed doors, sort of got the members of the legislature to tamp down on that.

MARTIN: Tamp down - you mean not enforce?

MONTINI: Well, it has more to do with the language and the image. If you keep pushing Arizona as a immigration-troubled state, that doesn't seem very inviting to businesses.

MARTIN: How are Cruz and Kasich doing in Arizona?

MONTINI: Well, I'd imagine Cruz would do OK in terms of evangelicals and religious people here. Kasich, I would imagine, he'll have some appeal with those few, what we would call, mainstream Republicans in Arizona. And many of them have drifted into the ranks of independents. There's a very large percentage of independents in Arizona. Most people look at them as sort of a shadow Republican Party - as sort of being the less extreme Republicans.

MARTIN: So do you think it's fair to say that Arizona still has, though, a problem with illegal immigration?

MONTINI: Oh, absolutely I think every border state has a problem with illegal immigration. There's no question about that. But the fact of the matter is that during the Obama administration, there have been a number of improvements along the border, so it's better. It still has issues. If you believe - if you're a politician - if you're Donald Trump, you play up those issues as much as possible. And if you're somebody like Hillary Clinton over on the other side, you're going to say it's more secure than it ever has been. Both are true to an extent. It's probably more secure than it ever has been, and it still has issues.

MARTIN: Ed Montini's a columnist for the website Arizona Central. Thanks so much for talking with us, Ed.

MONTINI: Oh, you're most welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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