The Memo: Border surge spells trouble for Biden, Democrats
Immigration is hitting the headlines again — at just the wrong moment for President Biden and his fellow Democrats.
The Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday that March is set to see the highest number of arrests by the Border Patrol of unauthorized immigrants at the southern border “in at least 22 years.” The Border Patrol “has made approximately 7,000 arrests each day in March,” the Journal reported, citing preliminary government data it had acquired.
Unauthorized crossings at the southern border soared to the highest level in decades last summer, with more than 200,000 encounters being recorded by the Border Patrol in both July and August. There had been a modest decline since then, but now the downward trend has been reversed.
Complicating the picture, the controversial Trump-era measure used to bar migrants on public health grounds is about to be abandoned. Multiple media reports on Wednesday said the policy, known as Title 42, would come to an end in late May.
The Biden administration’s use of the regulation has come under fire from the left, immigration advocates and even mainstream members of the Democratic Party not known for breaking with the White House, such as Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
The administration knows that the revocation of the policy, which had been deployed ostensibly as a public health measure at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, is sure to see attempted migrations rise even further.
White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told reporters at Wednesday’s press briefing that the administration would “defer” to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on when to end the policy.
But Bedingfield acknowledged that “there will be an influx of people to the border” once Title 42 is lifted. She added, “We are planning for that contingency.”
The extent of the planning was made plain the previous day when officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told reporters that they were planning to manage as many as 18,000 attempted border crossings per day.
The officials may be playing the political expectations game with such a high number. If the 18,000 per day figure were to come true, it would amount to over 500,000 encounters per month — more than double the previous all-time high.
Either way, the public preparations are a vivid testimony to the potency of immigration as a political issue.
The Biden administration faced an unexpected crisis about six months ago, when thousands of unauthorized migrants, mostly from Haiti, gathered under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas.
Although the situation was handled relatively quickly, the story, with its distressing images of up to 15,000 people in squalid conditions, became a big political problem for the White House.
Republicans believe Biden has a broader vulnerability on the immigration issue. They cite the massively elevated numbers of border crossings as evidence that the president is soft on illegal immigration. They say the issue resonates with voters.
In liberal circles, there is a tendency to play down public concerns about immigration, deriding those worries as fueled by nativism or confected by conservative media.
But the polling numbers don’t bear that out. A new poll Wednesday from Arizona showed Biden getting very poor marks on the issue.
The poll, from OH Predictive Insights, indicated that 57 percent of registered voters in Arizona disapproved of Biden’s handling of immigration while only 33 percent approved.
Nationally, an Economist-YouGov poll released Wednesday delivered a similar result, with 52 percent of adults surveyed disapproving of Biden’s handling of the topic and 33 percent approving.
The Economist poll also demonstrated the political salience of the issue. Eighty-three percent of respondents said immigration was either “very” or “somewhat” important to them, while just 17 percent said it was “unimportant” or “not very important.”
The GOP is seeking to press its perceived advantage with the midterm elections just seven months away.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) on Wednesday released the first in a series of videos that it said would illustrate “the horrors of Joe Biden’s open borders crisis.”
The videos are to feature leading party figures including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who calls the situation at the border a “catastrophe.”
Meanwhile, The Hill also obtained memos that have been sent to every Republican senator’s office by the Senate Republican Conference. Those memos provide data intended to help GOP senators make the argument that Biden has “undermined America’s border security” and “created the border crisis.”
There is always the possibility of a backlash against such charges.
America’s Voice, a prominent group advocating for more liberal immigration policies, blasted back at the Republican attacks on Wednesday. Deputy Director Vanessa Cárdenas objected to a GOP “messaging onslaught” that she said was driven by “scare tactics [and] falsehoods.”
Cárdenas also sought to link the current GOP positions to those of former President Trump, who pursued a famously hard line on immigration and engaged in inflammatory rhetoric such as accusing unauthorized immigrants of bringing crime into the United States.
The Biden administration has also taken aim at another part of the Trump legacy.
Bedingfield on Wednesday complained that the current White House was trying to rebuild an immigration system “that was decimated by the previous administration.”
Whatever the truth of that charge, the fact remains that the high numbers of border crossings are about to soar higher.
As a political matter, there is little doubt this is bad for the White House. The only question left is, how bad will it get?
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.