CA 51: Juan Vargas
This slide shows the election results for Congressional District CA 51 from 2008 to 2018. CA 51 contains Imperial County and the southernmost parts of San Diego County along the US-Mexico border, and is represented by Juan Vargas. Vargas has been in this office since the 2012 election, after former Democrat incumbent Representative Bob Filner resigned in order to run for (and become) San Diego mayor. CA 51 is a safely Democratic district, and has not had a Republican representative since 2003. In fact, Vargas has won each of his elections with a supermajority, thrice with over 70% support and once with 68.8% support. This is Representative Vargas’s sixth year and fourth term in office.
I have chosen to focus on 3 main findings from existing literature about how local electoral context and MC characteristics generally affect immigration policymaking. The first is that a district with a higher Hispanic population has a higher likelihood of pro-immigrant policies (Wong 2014). Following the delegate model, in which the public’s views are delegated to representatives to carry them out, a Hispanic population is likelier to be Democrat and be foreign-born themselves, and thus would support policies welcoming to immigrants. The second point is that partisanship is one of the strongest indicators of voting on immigration policy (Wong 2012; Ramakrishnan and Wong 2010; Casellas and Leal 2013; Wong 2017). Democrats are likeliest to consistently vote for less restrictive and more pro-immigration policies, while the opposite is true for Republicans. Depending on the district and MC’s party, even the mobilization of Hispanics can differ. Lastly, a higher foreign-born population is linked to a MC that is less likely to vote for a restrictive immigration policy (Wong 2017).
Using the literature from the previous slide, we can now make some predictions about Representative Vargas’s voting on immigration policy, given the characteristics we know about him and his congressional district. CA 51 is 71.5% Hispanic, which is an overwhelming proportion of the district, and so Vargas will likely vote pro-immigration. The district has a 31.48% foreign born population, which is roughly half the size of the native born population (68.5%), which would probably make Vargas lean more pro-immigration, though a larger proportion of foreign born constituents would yield more definite support for pro-immigration policies. In addition, Vargas is a Democratic representative in a safely Democratic district (in the sense that it has not been Republican in the last 10 years) and this partisan influence would likely lead to pro-immigration voting. Moreover, Vargas himself is Hispanic and the child of immigrants, which would lead him to a pro-immigration stance.
After making our predictions, we now test their veracity by examining Vargas’s voting and sponsorship record, tweets, interviews, and website. Overall, we can see that pro-immigration policy is indeed a priority for Vargas. 19% of his sponsored bills have been immigration related, which is the largest percentage of any topic he has sponsored. Moreover, he voted against the 2019 Government Funding Bill (HJRes 31) that would continue federal appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security and border control (Massey 2019). Turning to his public image and social media, we can see this photo of the front of his website, which reads, “Deported veterans fought for us, we must fight for them,” again demonstrating Vargas’s commitment to the immigrant community. His website does not explicitly list what issues he is currently pursuing, but his bill sponsorship and signaling paint a good picture. 15% of his total tweets from January to March 2019 were related to immigration, and 100% of them were positive, expressing frustration at Trump’s border wall and decrying the separation of children from their parents at the border. In news media, the San Diego Union Tribune quotes his statement that “comprehensive immigration reform will improve border security while treating immigrants with human decency,” which is quite self-explanatory. Lastly, though a minor point, his entire website is also available in Spanish, which is a nod to the 69% of his constituents that speak a language other than English, and the 28% that speak English “not very well,” again showing his commitment to inclusivity of the Spanish-speaking community and immigrants.