OPINION: By standing with Texas, Lombardo reminds Nevadans that our governor is Republican
It’s admittedly been a while since Nevada’s had a Republican governor that, well, acted like a Republican once in a while. Brian Sandoval, our most recent Republican governor (and current president of the University of Nevada, Reno), had a rather uneven relationship with the party faithful after he backed the Obamacare Medicaid Expansion, passed the Commerce Tax and fought against his fellow Republican attorney general on immigration and the death penalty.
Sandoval also won his two constitutionally permitted gubernatorial elections by double digits. Coincidence?
Even in Sandoval’s time, the Republican Party had its purity tests. In those days, however, winning elections usually took precedence over adhering to them. When Sandoval’s more ideologically pure predecessor became unelectable following an especially messy divorce, donors and supporters politely but firmly asked Sandoval to run against the incumbent Republican governor in the primary.
Donald Trump’s unlikely election to president in 2016, however, taught Republicans — or, at least, Republican primary voters, especially in Nevada — that they don’t need to compromise their purity for electability.
Granted, Trump never won a single electoral vote in Nevada.
Yes, Trump himself lost in 2020, despite protestations to the contrary from the party faithful.
In fact, Joe Lombardo is thus far the only candidate in Nevada endorsed by Trump who actually won an election.
But look — Trump won. Once. Against a uniquely unlikeable opponent, true, granted, and never in Nevada, yes, sure, but he won. He’s a winner.
To confuse and confound the increasingly feral and conspiratorial party faithful, then, every elected Republican, including the one elected to occupy the governor’s mansion, must periodically make vaguely Trumpian-sounding noises from time to time. Since Trump wants to run on immigration, Lombardo needs to occasionally sound somewhat tough on immigration himself.
Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on several occasions, including a recent order requiring Texas to restore access to the U.S.-Mexico border to federal border agents, that immigration policy and enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government, not state governments. Granted, even if it hadn’t, Nevada has open borders with all of its neighbors. True, the closest thing to border control a Nevadan will experience upon leaving the state, at least when traveling by car, is a California Border Protection Station.
So you might be forgiven for wondering why any governor of Nevada would have any business holding or expressing an opinion on immigration. Granted.
But look — Trump won. Once. And Trump thinks he’ll win again if he runs on immigration, unlike the last time he ran on immigration in 2020. How’d that election turn out, again?
It doesn’t matter. The Republican base has hated immigration for decades. Just ask former Republican California Gov. Pete Wilson, who ran ads in 1994 showing grainy footage of migrants running across the border. Thanks to his fervent anti-immigrant position, he won handily, 55 percent to 41 percent. Proposition 187, which promised to deny social services and public education to California’s undocumented immigrants, was approved by an even broader margin.
So, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the “federal government” had “broken the compact between the United States and the States” because the federal government did not take kindly to the Texas National Guard’s deployment of concertina wire on the border, Lombardo announced he, like Trump, stood with Texas.
Verbally. In spirit. Thoughts and prayers.
Does Lombardo stand with Texas in its assertion that the federal government has a compact with the states — a doctrine, incidentally, that was used by slave-owning states to justify their attempted secession prior to the Civil War? Or does he instead believe, as Abraham Lincoln did, that the federal government was created as a perpetual and indivisible exercise of sovereign power by we, the American people, as established in the first three words of the U.S. Constitution?
Will Lombardo answer Trump’s call to send the Nevada National Guard to Texas to oppose federal border officials — a call, incidentally, which strongly suggests that Trump still doesn’t accept that he’s no longer the commander-in-chief?
Thankfully, Lombardo already said no. He’s just trying to do the barest minimum required to keep his base from organizing a primary campaign against him — given how the party is treating his appointees, this is not an idle concern — and sees gentle posturing on immigration as a less alienating way to keep them happy than most of the alternatives.
Sadly, politically speaking he’s probably correct.
Since the start of this century, a majority of Americans has never been satisfied with the level of immigration in the country. Additionally, due in part to a marked increase in illegal border encounters straining an overly bureaucratic immigration system that’s designed to fail, an increasing number of Americans are beginning to view immigration as the most important problem facing the U.S. today.
Why the nation’s immigration system is visibly failing under the strain is, of course, a subject of some debate, though it frankly shouldn’t be. The purpose of a system is what it does, not what it claims to do. Some Republicans find it politically useful to keep immigration on the front page, so the immigration system is intentionally understaffed, underfunded and overly bureaucratized. This is sold to the base as a check against “growing the size of government” and a promise that, if there are fewer agents processing immigration claims, fewer immigrants will be legally processed.
Meanwhile, the asylum system — which, by law, allows applicants apprehended within the United States to stay within the country until they receive a hearing — incentivizes migrants to avoid legal points of entry where they might be quickly turned away. Instead, migrants are encouraged to cross the border elsewhere and apply for asylum once they’re in the United States. If they succeed, it can take years for an asylum application to be heard — years in which they can get a job, establish a family and build a life.
Again, the purpose of a system is what it does. What does the current immigration system do? Produce chaos and disorder. This is by design. Whose design? Certainly not the politicians who benefit from scaring voters with pictures and videos of chaos and disorder at the border — right?
There is a better way.
One option would be to treat the bureaucracy of immigration control the way we treat the bureaucracy of vehicle registrations. When the Department of Motor Vehicles runs slow or runs out of appointments, politicians don’t grandstand on “illegal unregistered out-of-state drivers” while refusing to provide the resources necessary for new and existing residents to register their vehicles. Instead, Republicans and Democrats alike propose more staff, better technology, simpler rules or some combination of all of the above.
With that in mind, the asylum system has a backlog of over 2 million cases and fewer than 1,500 judges and asylum officers assigned to process them. The current immigration system, meanwhile, is a labyrinthine maze of requirements, programs, certifications, lotteries and sponsorships. Increasing the number of asylum officers and simplifying the rules they’re required to operate under would go a long way toward developing a functional and predictable immigration system.
Another, even better way, though I’ll be the first to admit this isn’t the most politically viable solution right now, would be to recognize that the United States is currently at full employment and is equipped to readily employ anyone who wants a job. Many businesses are struggling to find applicants, much less hire workers. Additionally, we’re opposed by a geopolitical rival with three times the population of the United States.
Now, then, is the time to push for 1 billion Americans.
Or, failing all of that, we could stop declaring people to be illegal because they were born on the wrong side of a border. We could instead view people from other countries as equals and treat migrants the way Nevada treats migrants from California — as potential sources of gaming revenue and relocatable sports teams.
Treating people from other countries as equals who are every bit as deserving of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as the rest of us, however, might be the least politically viable solution of all.
David Colborne ran for public office twice. He is now an IT manager, the father of two sons, and a weekly opinion columnist for The Nevada Independent. You can follow him on Mastodon @[email protected], on Bluesky @davidcolborne.bsky.social, on Threads @davidcolbornenv or email him at [email protected].