WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s sweeping immigration bill he unveiled a month ago already faced long odds in a divided Senate, but a surge of child migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border has Republicans doubling down on their criticism of the president’s plan.
Over the past several weeks, the Biden administration has seen an increase of unaccompanied migrant children to the border and has struggled to quickly move the children from short-term holding facilities to temporary facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Biden promised to undo former President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies and to implement a gentler system. But he faces stiff opposition from Republicans in his quest to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, and a worsening situation on the southern border has opened him up to attack from Republicans who say his hopes to repeal Trump-era policies encouraged more migration.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday in a statement that the border surge was “difficult” and that his agency was “on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.”
“We are securing our border, executing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public health authority to safeguard the American public and the migrants themselves, and protecting the children. We have more work to do,” he said.
But the administration’s efforts haven’t slowed GOP criticisms.
Republicans blame Biden for border
Republicans have seized on the situation at the border to slam the Biden administration’s immigration policy. The White House has repeatedly said the border is closed and has called on migrants to stop trying to make the dangerous journey to the United States, but Republicans lay the blame at the Biden administration’s feet for what they describe as a crisis.
“Making matters worse for Biden, immigration is a hot-button issue for mobilizing Republicans in 2022, and turnout will be a deciding factor in the midterm elections,” said Lawrence Jacobs, founder and director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters Tuesday that the Biden plan was a “nonstarter.”
“The acute problem at the border has to be addressed in anything you do, and we’ll see where the left is at,” he said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., led a delegation of Republican lawmakers to El Paso, Texas, on Monday to tour a processing facility and pinned the influx of children arriving at the border on the Biden administration, which has reversed several of Trump’s immigration policies.
“I came down here because I heard of the crisis. It’s more than a crisis – this is a human heartbreak,” McCarthy told reporters. “This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration. There’s no other way to claim it than a Biden border crisis.”
Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, both Texas Republicans, announced their own trip to the border next week. Cruz told reporters the Biden administration’s reversal of Trump policies had “in effect, issued an invitation for unaccompanied children to come to this country.”
Biden ‘boxed in’ on immigration
Jacobs told USA TODAY Biden is “politically boxed in” on immigration.
“Progressives led by AOC, Ilhan Omar and others are pressing Biden to make due on his campaign promises for a more humane immigration policy,” he said. “The desperate surge along the southern border for security offers Republicans a much-needed line of attack after being on the defensive for months.”
Omar, D-Minn., led a group of progressive House Democrats on Monday in urging the Biden administration to end its Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts with state, local and county prisons.
“We must truly sever the financial incentives causing the expansion of an unnecessary and abuse-ridden system of mass incarceration. Now is our chance to stop this abusive system from causing more unnecessary harm,” Omar said.
James Curry, an associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Political Science at the University of Utah, said “a bipartisan immigration deal is going to need to be passed as a large package that includes some of the things that Democrats want and other things that Republicans want. But, for the moment, House Democrats are not trying to put together bills that can or will survive in the Senate or make it into law.”
In the absence of Republican support for a comprehensive package, the Democrat-controlled House is set to vote on two bills this week to create a shorter process to legal status for agriculture workers and “Dreamers,” undocumented people who were brought to the U.S. as children. Both pieces of legislation are portions of Biden’s broader immigration plan, which includes an eight-year pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants and an enforcement plan that includes deploying technology to patrol the border.
But even the smaller immigration bills face long odds in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who chairs the Senate panel overseeing immigration, acknowledged Monday that Democrats in both chambers probably do not have the votes to pass comprehensive immigration legislation.
“I think Speaker Pelosi has discovered that she doesn’t have support for the comprehensive bill in the House. And I think that indicates where it is in the Senate as well,” he said.
Border Democrats say Biden’s message isn’t working
Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who represents a Texas border district, told USA TODAY that beyond the two bills being voted on this week, “comprehensive immigration reform is a little bit more difficult” and will be looked at a later.
Cuellar also described Biden’s message to migrants of “don’t come now, come later” as “terrible.” He said it “has to be changed to be more concise and more direct.” He said the Biden administration needs to “put visuals” of the government turning people away so the influx of people can be slowed.
But Cuellar said it was not fair for the Biden administration to be blamed for the influx of migrants, because the numbers have been increasing since last summer, but the White House has a messaging problem that’s being “drowned.”
Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, who also represents a border district, said in a brief phone interview that the Biden administration’s message was not working.
He said he was “hugely concerned” about thousands of migrants being released in his district amid the COVID-19 pandemic and wanted a way for migrants to apply for asylum from their home countries.
“We don’t have the resources to deal with this mass migration,” he said.
He said he wanted to talk with the Biden administration, but “I don’t think they want to hear what I have to say.”
Despite Republican opposition, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., remained confident Democrats would still be able to pass a bill like Biden’s immigration plan.
“We need to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and we’ll do so in the coming months,” he told reporters on a conference call Tuesday.
Brushing aside Republicans’ criticism, he said they had historically used the issue “as a political football” to put “fear and apprehension” in the minds of Americans.
Cuellar agreed, saying Republicans will try to use immigration as a “political weapon against Democrats to say we’re weak on the border.”
Contributing: Rebecca Morin
Source: USA Today – Breaking News