To President Donald Trump, unauthorized immigration is a grave threat that must be deterred and repelled, with force if need be. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, the most populous state in the union, and Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, the nation’s most populous city, see things rather differently. Both have announced new initiatives to provide unauthorized immigrants residing in their jurisdiction with a more comprehensive suite of medical benefits, with an eye toward eventually going further.
The contrast between the promise of a border wall, Trump’s chief priority at the moment, and of reliable, subsidized access to what might otherwise be exorbitantly expensive medical treatment is unmistakable. The first says, in no uncertain terms, “Keep out.” The second: “Whether you’ve settled here lawfully or otherwise, you are very welcome to stay.” But the promises that de Blasio and Newsom are making also reveal a key vulnerability for their political coalition, one that stems from the gap between the rhetoric of those who champion immigration and the messier realities that exist on the ground.
Newsom’s and de Blasio’s latest interventions can be understood only in the context of the accelerating nationalization of U.S. politics, as documented by Daniel Hopkins, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. Policy domains that were once understood as almost exclusively local, such as public education, have long since become matters of national concern. Conversely, national issues increasingly resonate at the state and local level. Ambitious state and local politicians hoping to make a mark can’t just stick to, say, the intricacies of traffic management, not least because doing so would risk boring their constituents to death. Far better to weigh in on issues that are at the front of voters’ minds, and in the Trump era few issues are more salient than immigration.