June 3, 2023

The lifting of a pandemic-era restriction that rejected many migrants at the US border has sparked fierce debates within the Democratic Party over immigration and border security, fueling raw divisions within the parties over an issue that Democrats often find difficult to deal with , comes to light.

As U.S. officials brace for an increase in illegal crossings at the southern border following the expiration of the measure known as Title 42, Democrats grapple with competing political demands as they attempt to address the deepening of a long-running humanitarian crisis and bona fidely bending their border security in some cases.

Mayors, members of Congress and other Democrats have demanded more federal aid for their cities, districts and states. Some have sharply rebuked the Biden administration’s decision to send troops to the border, cheering the end of the Trump-era border policy but worrying about what will replace it. And several moderate Democrats, on the other hand, have criticized the White House’s decision to abrogate Title 42, sometimes making efforts to renew it.

Taken together, the moment underscores the crosscurrents President Biden faces within his party as he slowly begins his re-election campaign, and the challenges many Democrats face in competitive races next year.

“It’s a difficult issue because it’s a complex issue,” said Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat from El Paso, a border city who declared a state of emergency before Title 42 was lifted.

“For Republicans, it comes down to three words: Build the wall,” Ms. Escobar said, blaming Republicans for torpedoing previous immigration overhaul proposals. For Democrats, she acknowledged, reporting is more challenging.

“We want to talk about the multifaceted approach it takes to handle this,” she said, adding that sometimes “we lose people in the process, because everyone is looking for a quick, easy sound bite.”

Republicans have often used border security and the arrival of immigrants to fire up their base, sometimes deploying racist conspiracy theories. But that strategy has yielded inconsistent results in recent general elections.

And the White House has blamed Republicans for opposing Mr Biden’s efforts to pass immigration legislation.

But a series of recent polls illustrate the political dangers facing Democrats on immigration. A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 60 percent of Americans disapproved of Biden’s handling of immigration; a similar share of registered voters in a Fox News poll said the same thing. It is also an issue that troubled Mr Biden’s lead pollster early in his presidency.

“It starts with a safe and secure border and communicating what you are doing to make sure there is a safe and secure border, while at the same time providing a humanitarian and responsible way to become a US citizen,” said Dan Sena, a former executive director of the Democratic campaign arm of the House, the first Hispanic person to hold that position.

Both priorities, he said, “have to go together from a messaging perspective and from an actual policy perspective.”

In the days surrounding the removal of Title 42, some Democrats have tried to strike that balance, arguing that there should be no conflict between supporting border security and demanding compassion for asylum seekers. Title 42, a public health rule, had allowed border guards to turn down migrants quickly, without giving most of them a chance to seek asylum. not materialize.

But some moderate Democrats who compete in competitive races — such as Montana Senator Jon Tester — have quarreled against provisionally waiving Title 42 as they try to fight Republican attacks that the Democrats are weak on border security.

“We can have law and order at the border, and still be respectful of immigrants and their rights and treat them with respect and dignity,” said Representative Henry Cuellar, a conservative Democrat from Texas, who gave a mixed assessment of how the administration Biden had acted on the rollback.

Janet Napolitano, a secretary of homeland security during the Obama administration, recalled the pressure the White House faced from various factions of the Democratic Party as more and more Central American children crossed the border in 2014.

“Democrats have a much broader spectrum to cover, from those who are part of what I would call the immigration legal profession, to those I would consider the pragmatic moderates and everything in between,” Ms. Napolitano said.

Ms. Napolitano, who describes herself as an immigration pragmatist, said she had also faced these tensions as attorney general and governor of Arizona.

“There are people who honestly and honestly believe that the United States should not deport people,” Ms. Napolitano said. “And there are those who believe this is unrealistic and does not fully respect the sovereignty of the United States.”

Progressive Democrats have previously expressed frustration with Mr. Biden’s reliance on Title 42, especially given his criticism during the 2020 campaign of former President Donald J. Trump’s aggressive approach to migrants, including dividing families. And some suggest that moderates in their party are unfairly ceding ground to Republicans on this issue.

“We allow Republicans to win the conversation about immigration and asylum seekers in some cases,” said Representative Delia Ramirez, a left-wing Democrat from Chicago whose mother crossed the border while pregnant with her.

She urged her party to embrace policies including providing more emergency funding to cities taking in undocumented immigrants, making efforts to keep undocumented families together, and pursuing “flexible and expedited work permits” that would make the to combat labor shortages.

Many of the people arriving at the border want to work, she stressed.

Latino voters “have told me over and over that neither side has actually delivered,” she said. “We have a chance to deliver.”

Mr Biden’s plan to replace Title 42 with a so-called transit ban has also angered some of his fellow Democrats. This new rule would ensure that migrants who do not apply for protection in a country en route to the border are not eligible for asylum within the United States.

“The transit ban is a problem,” New York Democrat Representative Adriano Espaillat said. “The traditional asylum-seeking model should not be altered or distorted by this new policy.”

Some mayors of major liberal cities have expressed other concerns about managing the flow of migrants into their cities. New York Mayor Eric Adams has been strikingly critical of the Biden administration.

And Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser privately told the White House that she was far more concerned than she had let on about migrants being dropped off in the city last year, according to a former White House official. A representative for Ms Bowser did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s a thorny, thorny subject,” Mr. Sena said.