President Joe Biden satisfied long-standing calls from conservatives by deciding to visit the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, over the weekend.
The visit comes alongside a host of new immigration measures designed to stem the record flow of illegal crossings. While border hawks remain skeptical, the move also comes with the risk of alienating Biden’s more progressive supporters.
BIDEN TO MAKE LONG-AWAITED BORDER VISIT AFTER IMMIGRATION STRATEGY REBOOT
Heritage Foundation border specialist Lora Ries told the Washington Examiner last August that Biden had “made the political calculation that he’d rather be beat up by the Right than by the Left” on the border issue, fearing he’d be labeled the deporter in chief in the way former President Barack Obama was in 2014 if he embraced enforcement.
Sure enough, Democratic resistance emerged soon after Biden’s announcement.
A quartet of senators released a statement slamming the president’s revitalized southern border strategy, pinning some of the blame on Republican “obstruction.”
“While we understand the challenges the nation is facing at the Southern border exacerbated by Republican obstruction to modernizing our immigration system, we are deeply disappointed by the Biden Administration’s decision to expand the use of Title 42,” the senators wrote.
They described Title 42 as a “failed and inhumane Trump-era policy” that will exclude thousands of immigrants fleeing violence and persecution.
Polling shows a sharp partisan divide on the issue of immigration, which helps explain the delicate balance Biden seeks to strike. A Pew Research Center survey from September found that 73% of all respondents said increasing border security should be a goal, with 91% of Republicans and 59% of Democrats agreeing.
But while 79% of Republicans wanted to see an increase in deportations, just 39% of Democrats agreed. Meanwhile, 80% of Democrats favored establishing a way for most illegal immigrants to stay legally, compared to just 37% of Republicans.
After ignoring the issue for most of his presidency, the record-smashing number of people crossing the border as 2022 drew to a close may have made the issue too big for Biden to ignore.
Between 2,378,944 Border Patrol encounters and an estimated 600,000 illegal crossers who slipped through without any contact, nearly 3 million people crossed the border in fiscal 2022. That’s up from 2.1 million in 2021, which itself was a record high. The figure was just 300,000 as recently as 2017 and 2020.
Border state Democrats, such as the mayor of El Paso and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), began calling out the president in the final weeks of the year.
Biden himself tried to carve out a nuanced view of the issue this week, acknowledging the need for a balance between asylum and order.
“We should all recognize that as long as America is the land of freedom and opportunity, people are going to try to come here. And that’s what many of our ancestors did, and it’s no surprise that it’s happening again today,” he said. “We can’t stop people from making the journey, but we can require that they come here in an orderly way under U.S. law.”
Asked if he agreed with activists that migration is a human right, Biden said it is for families who are being persecuted but then acknowledged that people already in the United States have a right to be assured that those who are coming are not criminals and have passed background checks.
Andrew Arthur, a fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies, agreed with Ries that any level of border enforcement is bound to upset some on the Left.
“They like the nearly unlimited migration which exists right now,” he said. “So anything that impinges on that is going to be something they will complain about.”
Border hawks aren’t necessarily thrilled with Biden’s moves either, with some calling it too little, too late.
Arthur disagrees strongly with the administration’s plan to admit up to 30,000 Venezuelan, Cuban, Haitian, and Nicaraguan nationals with a U.S. sponsor into the country per month, calling Biden’s moves ill-advised and illegal.
The move may have been necessitated by a record number of illegal crossings last year, but it still carries political risk for Biden among progressives, who are likening Biden to his hated predecessor.
“The plan [Biden] announced further ties his administration to the poisonous anti-immigrant policies of the Trump era,” reads a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union, “instead of restoring fair access to asylum protections.”