Biden's border negotiations mark a sea change in immigration policy


On his first day in office, President Biden sent a bill to Congress to “restore humanity and American values ​​to our immigration system.” Nearly three years later, he is considering imposing sweeping restrictions on migration in exchange for aid to Ukraine and Israel.

It's the latest sign of how dramatically immigration policy has changed in the United States, where polls suggest there is growing support, even within the president's own party, for border measures once denounced by Democrats and championed by the former president. Donald Trump.

But it's also a gamble for Biden, who risks moving away from some of the Democratic Party's most deeply held principles and angering key sectors of his core constituency, such as progressives and young voters.

“There's no question that there's been a change in this in part because of the influx of these immigrants into these big cities,” said David Axelrod, a top adviser to former President Barack Obama. “There are limits to where you can and should go, but it's almost a gift to have it, under the umbrella of this broad package, to be able to do things that were perhaps harder to do before.”

The southern border is a political vulnerability for Biden, who has failed to contain record numbers of migrants heading north to escape gang violence, poverty and natural disasters. Republican-led states have sent busloads of migrants to liberal strongholds like Washington and New York to protest what they characterize as Biden's failed policies.

As border crossings increase, the political center of gravity on the issue has shifted markedly to the right. Polls conducted by The New York Times and Siena College in battleground states found that voters preferred Trump over Biden on immigration by 12 points.

Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, a swing-state Democrat with left-wing policies, said his position on restricting immigration leaves him out of step with the liberal wing of his party.

“I'm not a progressive,” Fetterman told NBC News.

And some of the country's most prominent Democratic governors and mayors, whose communities are under pressure from the cost of serving immigrants, have pressed Biden to find new ways to address the crisis.

The fact that Republicans have refused to support more aid to Ukraine without a new crackdown on immigration may give Biden that opportunity, pollsters, political experts and some Democrats said.

Biden has said he is willing to make “significant commitments” on border security to satisfy Republicans, who say they will not support more aid to Ukraine without a new crackdown on immigration.

Some of the proposals on the table include making it more difficult to obtain asylum in the United States, something the White House has indicated it is willing to consider. The idea would be to raise the standards that immigrants must meet when they say they need asylum in the United States because they fear persecution in their countries of origin.

But Republicans also want to restrict the use of an immigration policy known as humanitarian parole, which has allowed thousands of Afghans, Ukrainians and others fleeing war and violence to come to the United States. Democrats have not yet accepted that proposal.

Republicans and Democrats are also discussing a policy that would quickly turn people away at the border once border arrests reach a certain height.

“It was pretty clear that they were considering things that were going to be controversial,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said this week of the White House approach to the negotiations. “We have to make changes to our border policy.”

The White House held a call with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Saturday to discuss the negotiations, and senators continued to meet over the weekend to discuss the issue. But there were few signs of a possible breakthrough before the end of the year. And although the White House and Democrats have not approved the restrictions, the fact that they are even considering them has angered progressives and immigration advocates.

“I just think it's unfortunate that we do this constantly, where we accept and try to outdo Republicans,” said Pramila Jayapal, leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “It has never worked. “The strategy of just enforcing the law does not work.”

Jayapal is one of many progressives who appear to have reached a boiling point with the White House. They say the recent poll does not ask voters about the long-term effects of the policies being considered, which they say would include the deportation of refugees seeking refuge in the United States and the separation of families.

“Throwing immigrants under the bus, something I have seen happen time and time again, is not a good electoral strategy,” Jayapal said.

“You don't attract Republicans,” he added. “You just lose your base. And we have to pay attention to our base.”

Biden aides say he is trying to find a compromise to secure the financial aid Ukraine needs to win the war against Russia. They say Biden's approach is not comparable to that of Trump, who separated thousands of families at the border.

When asked about the possibility of adopting Trump-era policies in exchange for aid, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said this week that the White House strategy is consistent with Biden's approach. in past negotiations on Capitol Hill.

“We understand that to reach a compromise and get things done on behalf of the American people, we need to find a bipartisan way to do it,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said.

But some party members fear policies will turn away asylum seekers in the coming years.

Rep. Gabe Vásquez, D-New Mexico, said Democrats “need to look at more than today's political moment and what the polls say.”

Karoun Demirjian and Hamed Al Aziz contributed reports.

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