Democrats Have Walked into an Immigration Trap
The anti-Trump years have remade the Democratic Party on immigration, backing President Biden into a corner with little options to discourage mass border crossing.
This commentary is a collaboration with Unherd.
For the American Left, the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency offered ample opportunity to criticize his immigration policy. Those were the days of coast-to-coast airport shutdowns and street demonstrations, hipsters with “Abolish ICE” T-shirts, and a weekend in which the American Civil Liberties Union pulled in $24 million in donations just by promising to file court challenges to Trump’s executive orders. Activists and Democratic lawmakers alike traveled to the border to protest detention centers and the alleged fascism they embodied.
Two years later, their zeal appears to have backfired: faced with a record surge in migration on the southern border, the polarization of immigration has placed President Joe Biden in a political and bureaucratic bind. Border Patrol agents estimate that in just one 24-hour period in September, 10,000 migrants arrived in Eagle Pass, a small town on the US-Mexico border that is home to 30,000 residents. Further north, the Mayor of El Paso, Texas, has warned that the border city, experiencing a flow of 1,200 migrants per day, is at “breaking point”.
This unmanageable flow of migration, already overwhelming hospitals and shelter beds in New York and Chicago, is rapidly fuelling a backlash among local Republican and Democratic leaders alike. And the strain is spilling over into the presidential race. Recent polls show Biden is deeply unpopular, in part due to his response to migration. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 62% of Americans disapprove of his actions on the issue.
In response to the crisis, Biden appears to have doubled down, sending the signal that his administration welcomes more immigrants. Last month, he granted legal work status to nearly 500,000 Venezuelans who have entered the country over the last two years. Measures that might deter those considering the journey, such as greater enforcement of immigration laws or border security, appear off the table. Yet while the response is in tune with the modern Democratic Party’s approach to the issue, it is far from the historical norm.