Immigration takes center stage in final days of Texas campaigns

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Republicans across the country are embracing heated rhetoric and policies around immigration in the final days of the 2018 midterm campaign.

In Texas, the immigration issue has dominated the last part of the gubernatorial race and the Senate race.

Gov. Greg Abbott vows he will put a stop to Central American immigrants making their way to the U.S.-Mexico border, despite the fact that the so-called caravan isn’t projected to reach the border until late December.

“I've been working with the president, the Director of Homeland Security to ensure that the U.S. and Texas will do everything possible to make sure that caravan won't make it to the USA,” Abbott said at a recent rally.

Abbott is getting help from President Donald Trump. At his request, the Pentagon is deploying 5,200 troops to the southern border to combat what Trump calls "an invasion." To put that in perspective, the number of troops being sent is more than double the amount that are in Syria fighting the Islamic State group.

Abbott's Democratic challenger -- former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez – isn’t buying the GOP’s sense of urgency.

“Here we go again with the theatrics right before the election,” Valdez said.

She believes Trump and Abbott are engaging in "fear-mongering" just before the midterm election.

“There is a lot of people going to the polls and anything to distract from the real issues and of course Abbott is right in there with him. That kind of attitude brings the hate that causes harm,” Valdez said.

Valdez said Trump’s latest move on immigration, attempting to end birthright citizenship for children born in the U.S. to non-citizens, is wrong and goes against what America stands for. Abbott did not say if he personally agrees with Trump's view on ending birthright citizenship, but did say it's an issue for Congress to take up.

Valdez, who has spent a lot of time campaigning in border communities, said they are some of the safest cities and towns in the state. She said folks there are more worried about other issues.

“Their concern is about their children. Along the border are some of the highest poverty school districts. We should be talking care of that and that's where their interest and care is,” Valdez said.

Abbott is counting on voters to disagree.

“Either you're going to be voting for Republicans who close our borders or Democrats who will open our borders,” he said.

Trump’s comments also pitted both Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Beto O’Rourke on opposite sides.

“I don't know the reason behind the president’s suggestion, but this is not something that he can do by executive order,” O’Rourke said. “It's only something that he can do by changing the constitution, which is up to the people of this country.”

Cruz campaigned near the border on Tuesday. He told the Dallas Morning News he supports ending birthright citizenship, but he didn't say whether he agrees the president can do it by executive order.

On stage, Cruz shared a joke about O'Rourke yard signs offering free healthcare and housing for the migrant caravan.

“You don't have to work a lick. It's all going to be free,” Cruz said. “Each of those homes have helpfully self-identified with a little black and white sign that says ‘Beto.’"

UT Dallas Political Science Professor Robert Lowry says it's not all that surprising the president is pushing the topic seven days until the election.

“It seems to be his style,” Lowry said. “He's bringing up an issue that's polarizing that plays to his base and won't be resolved until after the election.”

Since the start of a migrant caravan, which isn't scheduled to reach the U.S. border for many weeks, some political experts have said it plays into Republicans’ theories that immigration is out of control.

What has yet to be seen is whether it will sway voters at all and impact a race in which many polls still have O'Rourke trailing five to six points.

“It’s a pretty big hurdle. I mean, if you take into account the margin of error, that's maybe three and a half points or so,” Lowry said. “But still, he would have to pick up a couple percent and have all the uncertainty in the poll going in his favor.”