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Bost and Bailey trade attacks on immigration issues. How did they vote?

Incumbent Mike Bost, left, and Darren Bailey, right, are running for the 12th Congressional District of Illinois in the March 19 Republican primary. The candidates are pictured at February campaign stops in southern Illinois.
Joshua Carter
Belleville News-Democrat
Incumbent Mike Bost, left, and Darren Bailey, right, are running for the 12th Congressional District of Illinois in the March 19 Republican primary. The candidates are pictured at February campaign stops in southern Illinois.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

The two conservative Republican candidates campaigning to represent southern Illinois in Congress have been trading attacks on their voting records on immigration issues.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Bost and former state senator Darren Bailey are running against each other in the 2024 Republican primary for the 12th Congressional District.

Like other issues, they agree on some things related to immigration. In BND interviews and in response to the BND’s 2024 candidate questionnaire, both identified border security as the most important issue facing the U.S. Both believe finishing former President Donald Trump’s border wall is part of the solution to fixing the nation’s immigration system. And both oppose the bipartisan immigration reform deal with new border laws that federal lawmakers proposed earlier this year.

But on the campaign trail, Bailey has attacked Bost for voting in favor of some immigration policies he said he wouldn’t have supported and promises not to support in the future if elected. Bost has responded with an attack of his own about Bailey’s lack of action to get rid of an Illinois policy when he was in office.

Here’s a closer look at their records on immigration issues:

Past immigration legislation

Bailey disapproves of two bills from Bost’s tenure — the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act — because they would have created a path to citizenship for farmworkers who entered the U.S. without legal permission and people who came to the country as children. They were never signed into law.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act was introduced in both 2021 and 2019 with the goal of addressing labor shortages affecting farms and, ultimately, food prices. It would have also made changes to the temporary worker program.

The 12th District contains extensive farmland, making farmers an important part of Bost’s constituency.

At the time Bost voted on the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, the district had almost 7,000 farms covering 1.9 million acres of land, about 10% of state’s farms and farmland, according to the federal government’s 2017 agriculture census, which takes place every five years.

The number of farms in the 12th District has since grown. State lawmakers drew new congressional district maps in 2022 based on population counts from the 2020 census, which added southeastern Illinois counties to the 12th. Now, it contains about a quarter of the state’s farms and farmland with over 19,000 farms covering 6.5 million acres, according to BND estimates from county-level 2022 agriculture census data.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to release its congressional district reports in May, and the numbers may be slightly different because a couple of counties are split between the 12th and another congressional district.

Hundreds of agriculture groups like the National Farmers Union, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and other allies supported the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. Among its critics were some Republicans like Bailey, who is also a farmer, and conservative groups like Heritage Action for America and the Federation for American Immigration Reform who opposed the citizenship provision. The bill was approved in the U.S. House with mostly Democratic support each time.

The Border Security and Immigration Reform Act was introduced in 2018 to address then-President Trump’s immigration reform priorities, including building a border wall along the southern border and increasing personnel there. And his administration expressed support for the bill. But it got no support from Democrats and failed to pass the U.S. House. Bost described its defeat as a missed opportunity at the time. The group Heritage Action for America also opposed this bill’s citizenship provision.

Bost voted against other bills that included paths to citizenship for veterans and people who came to the country as children: the Veteran Service Recognition Act of 2022 and the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 and 2019.

Sanctuary state policy in Illinois

In response to Bailey’s attacks, Bost has accused him of doing nothing to end Illinois’ sanctuary state policy when he was in office in the Illinois House from 2019-2021 and in the Illinois Senate from 2021-2023.

The policy prohibits law enforcement from detaining people solely because of their immigration status or because of a request to do so from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Bailey said repealing sanctuary state policies like Illinois’ is among his solutions to fixing the immigration system. It was also one of his policy positions during his unsuccessful run for governor in 2022.

Bost previously served in the Illinois House from 1995 to 2015. He has represented the 12th District in Congress since 2015.

Neither of them were in office in the General Assembly when Illinois became a sanctuary state in 2017 through a law signed by former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Legislation has been introduced by Republicans in the last six months to repeal the law. It has support from metro-east lawmakers Kevin Schmidt of Millstadt, Amy Elk of Alton, Charlie Meier of Okawville and David Friess of Red Bud.

Current immigration reform debate

Both Bost and Bailey say they oppose the bipartisan national security compromise that Republicans in Congress have rejected since its unveiling last month.

It includes an overhaul of the system for seeking asylum and requirements to shut down the border when the system is overwhelmed by people entering the country without legal permission, with some exceptions.

Republicans opposed this immigration reform bill for both political and substantive reasons, according to a Brookings Institute analysis:

  • They believe the issue of border security is damaging to President Joe Biden and don’t see why they should help him in an election year. Biden and Trump are the likely nominees for president. Trump has urged Republicans in Congress not to pass the bill.
  • Many Republicans believe that the president already has legal authority to take action such as closing the border. Bailey is in this camp.
  • And many prefer the measures included in the border security bill the U.S. House passed last year. Bost is in this camp. He voted for the Secure the Border Act of 2023, which he said would finish Trump’s border wall and hire more border patrol agents.

“If Donald Trump defeats President Biden and reenters the Oval Office, they believe that they will get everything they want without enacting compromise legislation,” Brookings’ analysis concluded.
Biden continued to call on Republicans in Congress to take up the bill during his State of the Union address on Thursday.

Bost and Bailey will face off in the primary election, which takes place on March 19. Early voting is already underway. The winner will advance to the Nov. 5 general election.

Lexi Cortes is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Lexi Cortes is an investigative reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.