Democrats play defense on border crisis

The surge of migrants at the southern border is putting Democrats on the defensive and building pressure on Congress to consider comprehensive immigration reform in the early months of President BidenJoe BidenBiden says Beau's assessment of first 100 days would be 'Be who you are' Biden: McCarthy's support of Cheney ouster is 'above my pay grade' Conservative group sues over prioritization of women, minorities for restaurant aid MORE’s new term in office.

Biden and congressional Democrats campaigned on reversing the Trump administration’s hard-line immigration policies with more humane alternatives, but it’s proving to be a tricky balance of wanting to appear firm on border security while encouraging compassionate treatment of migrants seeking asylum.

“I think we need to deal with this reality at the border. I’ve said to the administration, come forward with your plan,” said Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinPolice reform talks hit familiar stumbling block Biden's internal polling touts public support for immigration reform The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting MORE (Ill.), the Judiciary Committee chairman and second-ranking Senate Democrat.


Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasGas shortages spread to more states Biden officials testify that white supremacists are greatest domestic security threat Pentagon removing Chinese tech giant from blacklist after court loss MORE said Tuesday that the number of attempted migrant crossings at the southern border is on track to reach its highest level in two decades. The recent surge has been attributed to a variety of factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating economic hardship in Central America, hurricanes in Honduras, and border smugglers encouraging migrants to come under the new U.S. president.

Republicans are seizing on the perceived change in immigration policies under Biden as a primary factor, with

House and Senate GOP lawmakers making highly publicized trips to the border to showcase their concerns.

Democrats are accusing the GOP of trying to change the subject from their opposition to the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which polls show is widely popular with the American public.

“The Republicans have for a long period of time used immigration as a political football to impart fear and apprehension in the minds of Americans,” said House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerWhat's a party caucus chair worth? House fails to pass drug bill amid Jan. 6 tensions Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP MORE (D-Md.).

“We need to deal with this present problem, but what we need to deal with ... is comprehensive immigration reform so there is a rational system in place that we can all agree is a system that can and should and must work,” he added.



The House is slated to pass two piecemeal immigration bills on Thursday dealing with providing a path to citizenship for certain young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and granting legal status for agricultural workers.

House Democratic leaders made plans weeks ago to take up both bills this month, but the measures carry even more weight now with lawmakers eager to show they’re taking action on

immigration amid the border surge.

Hoyer appeared bullish on Tuesday that the House would eventually take up comprehensive immigration reform, but for now House leaders are moving forward with bills that have widespread Democratic support and drew some GOP votes in the past.

“These two bills are not the fix, but they are a fix to part of the problem. But we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform and we are going to do so in the coming months,” Hoyer said.

Yet comprehensive reform will be a much heavier, if not impossible, lift for Congress.

Democrats are starting with more targeted immigration bills this week because Biden’s proposed immigration overhaul — which would in part create a pathway to citizenship for about 11 million people in the U.S. illegally — doesn’t yet have the votes to pass in the House due to concerns from progressives and centrists alike. 

And even if the House passes such a bill, it would quickly run into a Senate filibuster. Even piecemeal measures, like those focusing on immigrants who came to the U.S. as children or farm workers, could face similar obstacles.

“Look, my strongest desire is to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden 'encouraged' by meeting with congressional leaders on infrastructure Republicans welcome the chance to work with Democrats on a bipartisan infrastructure bill Cheney sideshow distracts from important battle over Democrats' partisan voting bill MORE (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday. “We want to do as much as we can to make immigrants welcome in America, to make sure that America integrates immigrants into our system of government, and we’ll keep fighting to get as bold and strong a bill as we can.”

In the meantime, the White House acknowledged that it’s having difficulty getting a message across to Central American migrants that they shouldn’t take the change in administration as an invitation to illegally cross the border.

“We are doing everything we can and that includes Spanish language radio, social media, making sure that we convey the message that the border is not open, that the majority of people will be returned, and that it is not ever a good idea to come in this irregular fashion,” Ambassador Roberta Jacobson, White House coordinator for the southern border, said on CNN Tuesday. “But the smugglers’ message is very pervasive, they prey on people and they prey on their hope and they tell them things that simply aren’t true. But we are fighting back.”


Rep. Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarFive things to watch in Biden's first joint address to Congress HuffPost reporter: DCCC will help Dems fend off progressive challengers to 'keep them happy' Democrat: Ex-Trump aide Miller should be jailed for human rights violations MORE (D-Texas), who represents a district along the southern border, acknowledged that the White House’s efforts might not be enough given the depth of the underlying problem of Central American migrants fleeing crime and poverty in their home countries.

“A White House press secretary, or a Secretary of [Homeland Security], or even the president of the United States saying don’t come, it probably will not make the difference. The flow never stopped under Donald TrumpDonald TrumpWarren says Republican party 'eating itself and it is discovering that the meal is poisonous' More than 75 Asian, LGBTQ groups oppose anti-Asian crime bill McConnell says he's 'great admirer' of Liz Cheney but mum on her removal MORE. And look at everything that he did to people and the way that he stripped them of their humanity as a deterrent,” Escobar said on MSNBC.

Despite the focus on the migrant surge, Democrats argued that the pandemic is still affecting Americans more directly in their daily lives than the situation at the border.

“People’s lives are being affected by the economic recession and COVID crisis. So, given the scope of the real crisis that exists, I don’t think people’s attention is going to be turned in a way that Republicans hope it will be,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyKabul attack spurs fears over fate of Afghan women as US exits Sen. Murphy calls for Yemen's Houthis to accept ceasefire following trip to Middle East US, Iran signal possible breakthroughs in nuke talks MORE (D-Conn.).

“So we’ve got to deal with it,” Murphy said, referring to the border surge. “But for my constituents, they’re much more focused on COVID and the economic crisis than they are about what’s happening on the border.”