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Focus group: Trump's immigration edge

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

WARREN, Mich. — The majority of a group of 12 swing voters we spoke to here said they think President Trump is handling the immigration crisis "professionally and responsibly.”

Why it matters: By all accounts, immigration is and will be one of the most important issues of the 2020 presidential election — and it could help Trump win over even some voters who haven't always supported Republicans.

  • That was the main takeaway from the latest Engagious/FPG focus group I watched here last week, which included nine people who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump in '16, and three who flipped from Mitt Romney to Hillary Clinton.

Why Warren matters: This town is a small blue area in a red county. It narrowly went for Clinton 51.9% to Trump's 42.7%, but Trump won Macomb County by 48,351 votes. Warren was one of the most divided areas in the county.

Immigration came up many times when these swing voters were asked to discuss their top issue heading into the presidential election. Their responses sounded a lot like the "America First" message President Trump has been championing.

  • And the room got really animated when discussing their opposition to 2020 Democrats proposing to give health care to undocumented immigrants. "Why would you want to give it to another person from a different country for free?" Larry S. asked.
  • "Give them free benefits, this that and the other thing. That is ridiculous," said Rhonda H. "They’ll come from anywhere and get a house and a car, too."

What they're saying: "We need to focus on Americans and not the immigrants," said Paul T.

  • "We shouldn’t give away our birthright like candy," said Shawn M. "Meaning that all they have to do is cross the border illegally, pop out a kid, and they’re a U.S. citizen. Two illegals do not a citizen make," she added.
  • "I don’t want to be a jerk," said Rhonda H. "I feel terrible for these people, but there are people in this country who are struggling to survive. We need to focus on the United States."
  • Others mentioned veterans or homeless people in the U.S. who they thought she be prioritized over immigrants. "Veterans ... need more help. So that kind of, that doesn't make me happy that they really haven't done more" for them, said Kathleen R.
  • A few others bemoaned the "endless supply" of migrants who make their way to the U.S. "There’s no end in sight," said Patricia B., a Romney-Clinton voter. "It’s just a frustrating, endless amount of people."
  • Larry S., an Obama-Trump voter, said he's noticed an increase in "foreigners" among Michigan's population. "We’re helping everybody else, so they’re coming here for free and we're babying them," he said. "It’s time that we stop. We gotta think about us first."
  • Even those who disagree with the president's way of handling it found agreement. "His stance on immigration is a little too far for me, but I tend to agree with it," said Anthony O. "His grandparents came from Italy 'the right way,' so to see people not following the rules … I have a problem with that."

Eight of these participants, including one Romney-Clinton voter, agreed with this statement: "When we give migrants food, clothing, toiletries, and shelter, all we’re doing is encouraging more of them to come to the U.S., and we don’t want that."

Go deeper: Trump isn't matching Obama deportation numbers