Feb 14, 2024 - News

How the southern border became a campaign issue in Indiana

Photo illustration collage of images portraying barbed wire at the US-Mexico border, layered over a photograph of a sign stating the Port of Entry is closed in Arizona, as well as a motif of the bars of the border wall framing the whole illustration.

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios; Photos: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP, Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Indiana's southernmost point is more than 1,000 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, yet it's become one of the biggest issues for Hoosier politicians this year.

Why it matters: In response to a request from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Gov. Eric Holcomb is sending 50 members of the Indiana National Guard to Texas' southern border.

The big picture: U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have seen record levels of migrant encounters at the Mexico border for the last three years, hitting 2.5 million crossings last year.

  • Many people have survived journeys not just through Mexico, but from Central and South America and beyond.
  • As the Biden administration grapples with the soaring number of migrants and asylum-seekers at the southern border, conservative pundits and politicians have upped accusations that some Democrats support "open border" policies, Axios' Russell Contreras reports.

What's happening: Republican politicians across the country have been siding with Abbott in Texas' ongoing battle with the federal government over immigration and border policy.

What he's saying: "Federal negligence enforcing immigration law and the failure to secure our country's border jeopardizes national and economic security, affecting every state, including Indiana," Holcomb said in a statement announcing the National Guard deployment.

  • "We've worked too hard in Indiana attacking the drug epidemic for more Hoosier lives to be put at risk by a constant supply of killer drugs spilled over an open U.S. border."

Zoom in: Even before Holcomb's move last week, border security had become one of the biggest talking points among GOP hopefuls running to succeed him and congressional candidates.

  • Businessman Jefferson Shreve, who lost his Indianapolis mayoral bid last year, talked about the necessity of defending the border when he announced his bid for the open 6th congressional district seat last week.
  • U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, who is running for governor, posted on X: "Build the wall. Enforce the law."
  • U.S. Rep. Jim Banks brought up the border several times at a press conference earlier this month after filing to run for Braun's Senate seat, saying that "fentanyl is now the leading cause of death of Americans my age, in Indiana, because of the open border."

Reality check: Prominent Republicans have conflated the flow of illicit fentanyl from Mexico across the U.S. border with the country's migration crisis, which experts say is inaccurate, writes Axios' Caitlin Owens.

  • Although the majority of the U.S. fentanyl supply comes from Mexico, which makes it clearly an issue tied to the border, the vast majority enters the country through legal ports of entry.

Between the lines: Indiana may be far from the U.S.-Mexico border, but it's top of mind for many GOP voters, according to recent polling.

  • Immigration has overtaken inflation as the top voter concern, according to one poll, and another found border security was the highest priority immigration issue among Republicans.
  • With primaries just three months away, candidates will appeal to voters in any way they can.

The other side: Democrats have decried Holcomb, who is term-limited and in his final year in office, for using troops in a political stunt.

  • "Indiana is better than this, and I call on the Governor to prioritize human life over partisan politics and reverse the embarrassing deployment of our National Guard members for the purpose of putting on an unnecessary political performance in fealty to Donald Trump," Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) said.
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