Tuesday, July 20, 2021

If You Don't Think Immigration Is a Serious Political Problem for the Democrats, You Haven't Been Paying Attention

Immigration is back in the news and not in a good way for the Democrats. The excellent Nick Miroff (with Sean Sullivan) has the story at the PosT.

"The huge increase in illegal border crossings that President Biden described as “seasonal” is growing larger despite the summer heat. Americans rate his handling of immigration poorly, polls show. And the president himself worries that Republican attacks on the issue will resonate politically, according to people familiar with his thinking.

When President Barack Obama faced a similar situation, he toughened enforcement, detained families and increased deportations. But under Biden, such measures have become anathema to Democrats who feel they were badly abused by President Donald Trump.
That leaves Biden in a vise, caught between the costly reality of a historic border influx and supporters who erupt in anger when his administration hints at tighter controls....
The cross-pressures are expected to come to a head in the next few weeks as the administration faces critical decisions about how and whether to unwind Title 42, a public health order Trump invoked to swiftly return most border-crossers to Mexico during the pandemic. Immigrant advocates are pressing the White House to fully abandon the policy, but doing so could trigger an even larger border influx — and a bigger political headache.
Federal authorities have logged more than 1.1 million apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year, after more than 188,000 illegal crossings in June — a 20-year-high — prompting a fresh round of Republican criticism. About one-third of those taken into custody were repeat crossers who had been previously detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency said.
Nearly six months into his presidency, Biden’s inability to shake off early struggles on immigration is creating growing anxiety for Democrats in swing districts and border areas who face tough congressional elections next year.
“I don’t want to beat up on the administration, but we have to make decisions that are not easy and soft,” said Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Tex.), whose district includes the Rio Grande Valley, the busiest stretch for illegal crossings. “We need to be humane and treat people with dignity, but we have to have orderly process on the southern border.”....
[T]he basic tools of immigration enforcement — detention, deportation and strict bans on who can enter — remain stigmatized among many Democrats, and unacceptable to former activist leaders who now hold key positions in the White House.
As one former U.S. official who worked on Biden’s transition team put it, “We did the positive stuff quickly, but not the deterrence part.”
The official, who maintains close ties to the Biden team, described the president as “super concerned” about the political ramifications of the tumult at the border. “He knows the damage this can do and what a gift this is to Republicans,” said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.
In a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 33 percent of survey respondents said they approved of Biden’s handling of immigration while 51 percent disapproved. It was Biden’s worst-rated issue in the survey....
“Biden is a centrist, but he depends on his staff like any other president,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), who represents a border district and has urged the administration to toughen its approach. When it comes to immigration policy, Cuellar said, “the more ‘open borders’ vision is winning out at the White House.”...
Administration officials...say they will reduce illegal migration by making it easier for temporary workers and immigrants’ relatives to come to the United States legally. They plan to implement a new system to expedite asylum claims. And they hope to expand the use of electronic monitoring, so migrants will not have to stay in detention while awaiting a ruling on their asylum claims.
Critics respond that such moves will do little to reduce illegal crossings as long as migrants who fail to qualify for asylum find it easy to stay in the United States anyway. Immigration arrests and deportations from the American interior are down by more than half under new Biden policies that curb ICE enforcement."
That outlines the situation rather well I think. As I have noted previously, Democrats need to accept the reality of American public opinion and politics that border security is a huge issue that cannot be elided in any attempt to reform the immigration system. Indeed, the most popular part of the Democrats' proposed (and now probably dead) immigration bill was the provision most directly related to border security (technologically enhanced port of entry screening) according to a Morning Consult survey. And public opinion polling over the years has consistently shown overwhelming majorities in favor of more spending and emphasis on border security.
This suggests a serious revamp of the Democratic approach to immigration flows and immigration reform is needed. The public has indeed become more sympathetic to immigrants and immigration, partially as a thermostatic reaction to the practices of the Trump administration. But that does not mean that Democrats can simply be the opposite of Trump on this issue. He was closed; we’re open! He was mean; we’re nice! Any moves toward greater leniency at the border and the creation of legalization regimes for undocumented immigrants raises the possibility of knock-on effects and unintended consequences that would be highly unpopular. How do you prevent people from gaming the system? How do you handle the possibility of surges at the border to take advantage of leniency and legalization regimes? Any immigration reform approach worth its salt must have serious answers to these questions.
America is a very desirable destination and it is simply a fact that many more people want to come here than can possibly be accommodated. Therefore, choices will have to be made about the numbers to be let in. What is, in fact, a desirable level of legal immigration? If Democrats wish it to be higher then they must have an answer for who these people should be. How are slots to be allocated—would the country be served well by moving to more a skill-based system or at least a hybrid that leans in that direction? And if the immigration system is to be more more generous, how are levels of illegal immigration to be controlled? It will not do to make the immigration system more generous, while doing little to control flows of illegal immigration. Most of all, voters want an immigration system that is both reasonably generous and humane and under control. Democrats ignore the “under control” part at their peril.
Those are the political and policy realities of this issue. The Democrats current strategy boils down to hoping that the border situation doesn't get completely out of control and that immigration is not a salient issue in 2022. That's not much of a strategy.

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