Can Biden Use Trump’s Signature Issue — Immigration — Against Him? - The World News

Can Biden Use Trump’s Signature Issue — Immigration — Against Him?

President Biden’s decision this week to seal the border temporarily to most asylum seekers was a striking policy shift. It sharply divided his party, invited comparisons to policies backed by former President Donald Trump and made him the owner of the most restrictive immigration measure ever to be carried out by a modern Democratic president.

It also aligned him with a broad swath of the public on a key issue in an election year.

A confluence of hyperbolic rhetoric from Republicans, led by Trump, and a surge in illegal border crossings in recent years has pushed immigration and border security to the forefront of the nation’s election-year psyche, turning immigration into a top concern for voters on both sides of the partisan divide — and a major liability for the president.

Biden’s executive order, which took effect at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, is expected to be the subject of lawsuits that could result in courts halting it. But he and his allies believe the order will help them politically anyway, by allowing them to portray him as willing to take steps that Trump personally blocked earlier this year. In doing so, they hope to neutralize an issue that the former president has made a major focus of his campaign.

“If you’re a good elected official or a politician, you’re going to listen to what the people are saying, and this is what the people are talking about,” said Representative Tom Suozzi, Democrat of New York, who won his House seat in a narrowly divided district on Long Island in part by campaigning on the very same topic, and who was among the officials who joined Biden at the White House for the announcement. “It’s part of the overall effort to not just neutralize but to show the Republicans for their hypocrisy.”

When Biden ran for president, he said he wanted to restore the nation’s “historic role as a safe haven for refugees and asylum seekers.” His tone was different on Tuesday.

“The simple truth is there is a worldwide migrant crisis, and if the United States doesn’t secure our border, there is no limit to the number of people who may try to come here,” Biden said at the White House.

Trump and his Republican allies have tried to use the issue to their political advantage. Trump accuses Biden of supporting “open border” policies, which he inaccurately claims are part of a plot to get undocumented immigrants to vote and “nullify the will of the actual American voters.”

The attention on the border seems to have shaped the views of the U.S. electorate. A Gallup survey in April found that 27 percent of voters named “immigration” as the top problem facing the country — more than any other issue, including the economy. A Pew survey in February found that 80 percent of voters — including 73 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters — disapproved of the government’s handling of the influx of migrants at the border.

And it’s an issue on which voters give Trump a major advantage. A national New York Times/Siena College poll in April found that 50 percent of voters approved of Trump’s handling of immigration, while just 32 percent of voters said they approved of Biden’s handling of the issue.

“Trump, unfortunately, has turned it into a major political issue for him to campaign on,” said Representative Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat who represents a border district in Texas.

Biden and his allies believe Trump gave them an opening when, earlier this year, the former president urged Senate Republicans to vote against a bipartisan border deal that would have poured billions of dollars into border security and given Biden new authority to shut the border. They see it as a twofer: They can depict Trump as chaotic and self-interested while showing voters that they’re taking concrete steps to stem illegal immigration.

“He told the Republicans — it has been published widely by many of you — that he didn’t want to fix the issue. He wanted to use it to attack me,” Biden said on Tuesday, calling it a “disservice to the American people, who are looking for us to — not to weaponize the border but to fix it.”

It could be difficult for Biden to make inroads on the border in a polarized country. Republicans immediately slammed Biden’s order as woefully inadequate. In a Times poll of battleground states released in May, most of the voters who cited immigration as their most important issue supported Trump. And my colleague Jazmine Ulloa wrote this week that Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration, which includes sweeping proposals to round up migrants and deport them, appears to be resonating.

But polling suggests that Americans are broadly supportive of proposals like Biden’s executive order. A CBS News poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans want Biden to be tougher on immigrants trying to cross the border. The proposal could also help Biden make inroads with Hispanic voters, three-quarters of whom see the situation at the border as a crisis or a major problem, according to Pew.

“I think the announcement today is in line with what the average American wanted to hear, and if anything, it will make it harder for Trump to accuse Biden of doing nothing,” said Matt Barreto, a Democratic pollster who does some work with the Biden campaign. “It neutralizes Trump’s false attacks.”

The executive order also comes with political risk. It has prompted a wave of pushback from Democrats like Representative Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, who represents a border district, and Senator Alex Padilla of California.

“By reviving Trump’s asylum ban, President Biden has undermined American values and abandoned our nation’s obligations to provide people fleeing persecution, violence and authoritarianism with an opportunity to seek refuge in the U.S.,” Padilla said.

Pablo Alvarado, the co-executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in an interview that the proposal felt like a “betrayal.”

“I remember when Senator Kennedy used to stand on the center of the Senate floor and defend immigrants,” Alvarado said, referring to Ted Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat. Now, he said, “we feel like we don’t have anyone.”

He added, though, that Trump’s proposals would be much more dangerous for undocumented immigrants — a view held almost universally, even among Democrats who are criticizing Biden’s proposal.

Read more:

Biden’s embrace of a restrictive new border policy is a major moment for a Democratic president — but it’s one that has been a long time coming, according to my colleague Zolan Kanno-Youngs, who covers the White House. I asked him to tell us more.

Biden’s executive order isn’t a carbon copy of Trump’s efforts to shut down the border — it contains key exceptions for certain asylum seekers, for example — but it does rely on the same underlying law. How has Biden’s approach to the border changed over the course of his presidency?

In 2020, Biden, like other Democratic candidates, attacked Trump for his restrictive immigration policies, and he promised to rebuild the asylum system. But during his transition to the White House, he warned immigration advocates that it would take time to lift Trump-era policies, whether that was the policy that forced asylum seekers arriving at the southern border to await approval in Mexico or a Covid-era border shutdown. It took some time for those policies to be lifted. He was kind of relying on some of those Trump-era rules to keep rising crossings — and they were rising to record levels — at bay. There was real tension inside the White House about when or whether to lift them, with Biden even shouting in the Oval Office at one point.

While this was happening, the dynamic on the ground was changing. At first, migrants were predominantly coming from three Central American countries. Now, there is a record global migration. On top of that, Republican governors began busing or flying migrants to Democratic cities, creating new tension in the Democratic Party, too.

How have you seen Biden embrace rhetoric around shutting down the border?

Before the South Carolina primary, I was at a dinner for the Democratic Party where Biden was speaking. There, in front of an audience that represents a core Democratic constituency, he talked about the Senate bill that would have given him the authority to shut down the border. This is language that Democrats once attacked from all sides during the Trump administration. But now, he is trying to show that he’s the more enforcement-minded person on the border, more so than Trump, and that he’s the one who can actually go solve this issue. That language was surprising, for sure.

Is Biden acknowledging the Democrats who oppose both his executive order and his tougher rhetoric on the border? What has he told them?

I think it’s on his mind. During his speech yesterday, he spoke directly to people who think his order is too strict and asked them to give him more time — a possible indication that there could be policies to come that could ease certain legal immigration requirements, which is something Democrats often push for.

There’s a political risk here when it comes to progressive anger. But I think the administration is thinking that they need to meet voters where they are — and they can’t deny the border is a top concern for Americans and really has been throughout Biden’s administration.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *