The basic facts are clear. David Leonhardt:
"After taking office, Biden...announced a 100-day halt on deportations (which a judge has blocked). He allowed more migrants — especially children — to enter the country, rather than being detained. And Central American migrants, sensing that the U.S. has become more welcoming, are streaming north in the largest numbers in two decades....
Republicans have pounced, accusing Democrats of favoring an “open border.”....Some Democrats are unhappy, too. Biden’s policy “incentivizes droves of people to come, and the only way to slow it down is by changing policy at our doorstep,” Representative Vicente Gonzalez of Texas told The Washington Post. Henry Cuellar, another House Democrat from Texas, said the administration was sending “a terrible message.”
It all stems from the fact that the Democratic Party no longer has a clear policy on immigration."
But they desperately need one! Leonhardt notes the difficulties Democrats are having coming to terms with the tradeoffs involved in articulating a clear policy.
"There are potential policy solutions....The U.S. could increase legal immigration. It could build more detention facilities with humane conditions. It could do more to improve conditions in Latin America and to push Mexico to control its own southern border. The Biden administration is pursuing many of these policies.
But if Biden and his aides appear to be less steady on immigration than many other policy areas, there is a reason for that: They are less steady.
Congress appears unlikely to increase legal immigration levels by much. And polls show that while public opinion favors a pathway to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants, it also favors rigorous border security and the enforcement of existing immigration laws.
I’m not even sure that these views should be described as conservative. Historically, many progressives supported immigration restrictions as a way to keep U.S. wages high. Today, working-class Americans — including many Asian-American, Black and Latino voters — tend to favor more restrictions than progressive Democrats, who are often high-earning professionals, do. This contrast may play a role in Republicans’ recent gains among minority voters.
“Unfortunately, the way the debate plays out too frequently feels like, ‘Everybody should come and the border should be open,’” Cecilia Muñoz, a longtime immigrant advocate and former Obama adviser, told me. “And that’s the thing that makes Americans anxious.”
One of the advantages to the Democrats’ old approach to immigration was that it was easy to describe: Be firm at the border, be generous to people who have lived in the U.S. for years. The new approach also has an abiding idea: Be more welcoming to people who want to enter the country. But Democrats still have not figured out the limits to that idea, which has created an early problem for the Biden presidency."
And this problem, if allowed to fester, carries grave political risks. Andy Levison, in a strategy memo at The Democratic Strategist, outlines these risks and offers an interesting approach to the problem that Democrats should consider.
"Democratic officeholders and candidates who plan to run in 2022 and 2024 need to face a simple, brutal fact – many will lose their next elections and will return control of government to the GOP if they do not offer a more plausible strategy for reducing the surge of immigrants at the border than the ambivalent, and contradictory set of policies that Biden and the administration have been offering since the election.
These policies and messages have tried to somehow “split the difference” between promising migrants more humane treatment and yet at the same time discourage any substantial increase in immigration. Unless the flow of migrants actually stabilizes and then begins to decline in the coming months, which it is extremely unlikely to do, this position will become increasingly untenable…..
Many Americans do genuinely sympathize with immigrants and recognize that violence, disastrous crop failures and depressed economic conditions are the fundamental forces driving the vast migration to the border. But this does not lead them to support the call for “open borders” or make them willing to passively accept a major, constant increase in the flow of migrants in the coming months and years.
It is necessary to face the basic reality: To have any chance of surviving in 2022 and 2024, Democratic candidates in many districts across America will need to have a convincing political alternative to the GOP’s demonization of immigrants – a plausible alternative that goes beyond “The GOP is mean, we’re nice.”…
What Democratic candidates need is an alternative to the GOP strategy that treats the immigrants themselves as criminals – a perspective that does not demonize immigrants but which offers a plausible, serious strategy to significantly reduce illegal immigration….
Here is how Democratic candidates can aggressively re-frame the debate:
“Immigration is not just a flow of individuals walking across Mexico. It is also a multi-billion dollar criminal business that involves thousands of workers and vast profits. It employs rumor mongers, con-men, drivers, scouts, coordinators, bribers, high tech surveillance equipment, night vision scopes, 2-way walkie talkies, telescopes, safe houses, cars, trucks, boats, radio stations and rural development banks. “
Any serious proposal to control our borders has to attack the vast, multi-billion dollar “human smuggling” industry. I have a serious four-point plan to do this, my opponent does not. His only strategy is just to call immigrants nasty names.”
The way to reduce illegal immigration is to reduce the flow before immigrants reach the border. Attacking the human smuggling industry will do this. Separating families or forcing people to live in tents on the border will not.
In the long run the only real solution to the immigration problem is to improve the conditions in the immigrants’ home countries. The administration is working on this approach but it is a long-term task. Attacking the human smuggling industry is a strategy that will produce results and that we can apply right now.”
An aggressive campaign along these lines will not prevent all losses in 2022 but it can make a substantial difference. It does not demonize the immigrants themselves but still suggests a militant and forceful approach. It allows a Democrat to be genuinely sympathetic to the immigrants themselves but still present a “tough” and realistic approach to the border and what will be required to get it back under control. This is the balance that most Americans want to see achieved."
Levison could be on to something! And the Democrats need to think creatively so surmount this very real challenge.