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How California's 50th District House Race Could Affect Immigration Policy

The outcome of the race for congressional representative of California's 50th District—indicted incumbent Duncan Hunter, a Republican, versus his challenger, Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar—could affect President Donald Trump's immigration policy, at least at California's border with Mexico.

The 50th District, which includes suburban San Diego, isn't on the border, but it's close—only about 10 miles from Mexico in its southernmost portions. United States Representative Duncan Hunter, who has held the seat since 2009, was federally indicted in September of 2018 on charges that he and his wife misspent $250,000 of campaign funds on vacations, parties, alcohol, video games, and more. (They've pled not guilty and a trial is pending.) His competitor, Campa-Najjar, wants to use that as a way in. But despite Hunter's indictment, he's still polling well in the traditionally conservative district, and the race is tight.

In recent weeks, Hunter's campaign has relied on what many have called racist rhetoric. He said that "radical Muslims are trying to infiltrate the U.S. government" and has called Campa-Najjar a Muslim with ties to terrorism multiple times, even though Campa-Najjar is a Christian who never met his grandfather (a Palestinian who was involved in the 1972 Munich Olympics attacks) and worked with security clearance in the Obama White House. Hunter also claimed Campa-Najjar, who was born Ammar Yasser Najjar, was named for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat; Campa-Najjar says he was named for his father, Yasser Najjar.

Hunter has long been stoking fears about the border. In 2014, he claimed he knew "at least 10 ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas." Barack Obama's Department of Homeland Security called the claim entirely false, and PolitiFact rated it "Pants on Fire." He's a proponent of the border wall and has advocated for using the military to build a road that would ease its construction. (Hunter is a veteran of the Marines.) This week, he called the caravan of migrants moving north "mostly military age males coming in," and implied that there were terrorists among their ranks. (In actuality, many of the migrants are women and children.) He also wants to build border detention facilities to hold asylum seekers while their cases are decided.

Meanwhile, Hunter has claimed that Campa-Najjar, a moderate Democrat and San Diego native, is for open borders and immigration amnesty. Campa-Najjar rejects these claims, though he doesn't believe asylum seekers should all be detained. He's repeatedly said he's willing to work with Trump on issues, and doesn't want to write off his supporters. He supports Medicare for All if it can be made "revenue-neutral."

If Hunter keeps his seat, he's likely to support Trump's more extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric—he was an early supporter of the president. Ahead of the mid-terms, Trump has been campaigning on ending birthright citizenship (provided for by the Fourteenth Amendment) and making it harder to apply for asylum (a right granted by U.S. and international law). However, Hunter's influence is limited until his trial ends, even if Republicans hold the House: He's been stripped of his committee assignments until the resolution of the indictments. If Campa-Najjar wins, he'll be a freshman representative and likely vote with the Democratic majority.