Border security, an issue largely dominated by Donald J. What defines Trump’s victorious 2016 campaign is back on the national agenda, a potential boost for Mr Trump – and, for President Biden, there is no simple solution in policy or politics.
The end of a pandemic-era program that allowed authorities to rapidly expel migrants was expected to attract an additional 7,000 unauthorized people a day, adding to already record levels Migrants, from Latin America and elsewhere, were driven north by poverty and violence and by perceptions of a more welcoming border under Mr. Biden.
In a televised town hall this week, Mr Trump predicted Friday would be a “day of infamy” as the policy he first implemented, known as Title 42, expires. He used sinister rhetoric similar to his earlier campaigns, describing in broad and inaccurate strokes the migrants as being “released from prison” and “mental institutions”.
The Biden administration announced policies beginning in February to blunt growth, and so far the policy has shown no signs of dislodgement. But Mr Trump – along with Republican officials and conservative media – has in recent days escalated his years-long attacks on border security, claiming Mr Biden has ignored a growing crisis.
Fox News used a countdown clock to observe the end of Title 42, while broadcasting overhead video from a “Fox flight team” of thousands of migrants in a tent camp, with a reporter saying “illegally waiting until Title 42″. were waiting to cross.”
Former South Carolina governor and 2024 presidential candidate Nikki Haley told far-right outlet Newsmax that what she saw on a border trip was “incredible,” citing cartel people-trafficking and deadly opioids that have killed tens of thousands. Caused. of thousands of Americans and has become a primary subject of Republican attacks on Mr. Biden’s policies.
“Along with inflation, out-of-control limits are one of the administration’s greatest weaknesses,” said Whit Ayers, a Republican pollster. “If you look at Fox News, there are other issues that are important for the federal government to address.” Raising Title 42, he said, was an issue for Mr Trump “gift-wrapped with a pretty bow”.
White House and Biden campaign officials largely scoffed at this analysis, citing past efforts by Republican and conservative media to divert caravans of migrants to the border in an election-year crisis. For the most part, Mr. Biden has avoided focusing on the border itself, with polls showing that immigration inspires far more Republican voters than Democrats.
Still, there is a widespread recognition even among Mr Biden’s allies that the perception of lawlessness on the southern border is a political liability – although strategists are optimistic voters will have moved on to other topics by the time the ballots are cast in 2024.
Matt Barreto, who organized polling for Mr. Biden’s White House, said the “anticipated migrant surge” is coming at a good time because it’s not coming in June or May of ’24. “The election is not going to be held in June of ’23. So you’re going to see an extremely well managed process with the resources that we have.
But where the administration is likely to have handled the situation as a show of competence, Mr Biden’s record will be scrutinised. On his first day in office, he proposed an immigration package that offered a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented residents, protected so-called Dreamers and added technology to help secure the southern border. The bill, which faced solid Republican opposition, went nowhere.
As a candidate, Mr Biden promised not to separate families at the border, as Mr Trump did in 2018 – and which the former president suggested this week he would restore if elected in 2024 . Mr. Biden’s more humane messaging and policies, along with the easing of the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to a spike in border fears as the number of people trying to enter the country illegally has increased.
Now, with the end of Title 42, the administration has introduced stricter asylum rules to turn back undocumented arrivals and sent 1,500 active-duty troops to support the Border Patrol.
And when pressure mounted on the border earlier this week — more than 11,000 people illegally crossed the southern border in a few days and were detained — That number dropped slightly to less than 10,000 on Thursday, according to internal agency figures obtained by The New York Times.
But some Democrats aligned with Mr. Biden have also criticized him for not doing more to control the border and for failing to highlight his policies more forcefully.
“All of us who work in Democratic politics have been dreading this moment for two years,” said Lana Erickson, who runs the public opinion and social policy division at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. “It’s very clear that Republicans still have the upper hand on immigration and people don’t think that Democrats particularly care about border security.”
Progressives seem to agree. “He should have undone Title 42 on his first day in office. He didn’t,” said Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Labor Organizing Network, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Los Angeles. “Now they have to do what they should have done on their first day in office, and they’re doing it poorly.”
Polls show widespread dissatisfaction with the way the president is handling immigration. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll earlier this year, only 28 percent of Americans approved of Mr. Biden’s handling of the southern border.
In a Fox News poll in April of registered voters, 66 percent of white voters without college degrees said the White House was not tough enough on illegal immigration. A majority of Hispanic voters, 55 percent, also said the president was not tough enough.
Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said, “Biden won the 2020 election not just because he got big shifts among white college voters, but because he stopped the bleeding among white working-class voters.” “What happens to those voters now that he’s going into 2024 with an approval rating in the low 40s, and then you add to that a looming immigration problem — a problem that these voters care about so much?”
Other polls are more favorable to the administration. Recent polls by Mr. Barreto, conducted in seven battleground states for the Immigration Hub, a pro-immigration group, showed broad support for Mr. Biden’s policies, including Trump-era child separation and the Dreamer Act. This included developing pathways to citizenship.
Democrats point to recent election history as a counter to predictions that new scenes of disruption at the border will exact a political price. Republicans and their allies in the media have turned the prospect of caravans of migrants arriving at the country’s southern border into biennial programming designed to inspire the conservative base. But Democrats won convincing victories in 2018, Mr. Biden won the presidency in 2020 and the party outperformed expectations in last year’s midterm elections.
Part of the problem for Democrats is that their border policies tend to be more nuanced than Republicans’ blunt calls to get tough, such as Mr. Trump’s continued focus on building a wall. The Republican approach fires up the party’s base, while Democrats focus more energy on issues such as abortion rights and the economy, which could propel them.
Mr Biden is also under pressure within his own party, with centrist Democrats calling for tougher measures and progressives warning of the dangers facing deported migrants and pushing for due process rights for asylum seekers.
“The majority of the American people are with us on this,” said Maria Cardona, longtime party strategist for the Democrats. “It would be easier to interpret if they actually interpreted it, which is what we are for in strong border security and humanitarian routes of legalization.”
John Seaton, a Republican strategist who works in Arizona, said the latest surge of migrants is severely straining government services in parts of the border state and the issue could play a role in driving Arizona away from Mr Biden in 2024 . Defeated Mr. Trump by the narrowest margin.
Arizona’s sizable group of independent voters view immigration through a lens that is less ideological and more about government capacity, Mr. Seaton said. “These pictures are not just on Fox News, they are on the local news, they are widespread,” he said of scenes of people crossing borders and filling the streets of US border towns.
“When they see what’s happening, it’s really a potential problem for President Biden and his re-election, and for Democrats up and down the ticket.”
Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting.