The president decried Trump’s migration approach but a series of recent steps, critics say, are hardly different
As a candidate in the 2020 election, Joe Biden assailed Donald Trump over what he cast as his rival’s ineffective and un-American approach to immigration – one that undermined the nation’s long history of welcoming those seeking refuge in the United States.
Now as president, facing a migrant crisis that is straining resources at the border and feeding into major US cities, Biden has taken a series of steps that critics on his left say are hardly distinguishable from his predecessor.
This week, the Biden administration announced that it will waive a series of federal laws to expedite construction of new barriers along the southern border with Mexico and, separately, resume deportation flights to Venezuela. The actions represent a striking reversal for a president who stopped construction of the border wall on the first day of his administration, after promising on the campaign trail that there would “not be another foot” built on his watch.
Biden insisted on Thursday that the move did not reflect a change of position and were simply appropriated funds being spent as they were allocated. Yet they underscore the complex political landscape the president faces in confronting this crisis ahead of next year’s presidential election, with humanitarian disasters across the globe driving more people to the US’s borders.
As Biden’s challenges at the border deepen, Republicans are intensifying their efforts to put immigration at the center of the political debate in 2024. Republicans believe immigration and border security are among the president’s biggest political vulnerabilities. According to the latest NBC News poll, voters also give Republicans the overwhelming advantage on the question of which party is better equipped to handle immigration, a margin that has doubled since Biden’s first year in office.
But the issue has also created a wedge between the administration and some of Biden’s staunchest allies.
Democratic leaders in New York, Illinois and elsewhere have publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with the administration’s handling of the situation, bluntly accusing the federal government of doing too little to address the increase of migrants in their states.
“There is much more that can and must be done on a federal level to address a national humanitarian crisis that is currently being shouldered by state and local governments without support,” the Illinois governor JB Pritzker wrote in an open letter to the president. Pritzker declared the situation in his state “untenable” as officials strain to house and feed the influx of migrants.
New York City mayor Eric Adams, in an interview with Semafor this week, said the White House was “wrong on immigration,” continuing his sharp public criticism of the federal response.
Blue-state leaders had also urged the administration to expand protections for Venezuelans, arguing that it would ease the burden on shelters by making it easier for them to live and work in the US.
And, as part of his response, last month the Biden administration announced it would extend temporary protected status (TPS) to nearly a half-million Venezuelans currently in the US. The surge of migrants has been fueled in part by Venezuelans fleeing political upheaval and economic hardship. In September, a monthly record 50,000 Venezuelans crossed the US southern border.
The move was roundly welcomed by blue-state leaders and immigration advocates, who had been pushing the administration to extend protections to Venezuelans for more than a year.
But when the Biden administration announced on Thursday it would resume deportations of Venezuelans who enter the US unlawfully, advocates were outraged.
“This decision further exposes troubling policy inconsistencies from the administration,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said in a statement. She added: “While the challenge of managing migration is very complex, this administration continues to lean too heavily on the stick over the carrot.”
Immigration and border security have bedeviled the past several administrations. Efforts to reform the nation’s outdated immigration system have repeatedly faltered in a divided Congress, even as both sides claim it as a priority. Instead, pressure has grown on the executive branch to act unilaterally.
Biden insists he has tried. On the day he took office, he proposed legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants and expand visa eligibility for workers and families. But it has gone nowhere in the face of Republican opposition. Meanwhile, conservative judges, taking up challenges brought by Republicans officials, have thwarted a number of the administration’s immigration efforts.
On Thursday, Biden defended the decision by his administration to build additional barriers along the border with Mexico, doubling down on the idea that he had no choice but to allow construction after Congress appropriated the funds in 2019, when Trump was president. Yet by waiving 26 federal laws to allow construction along sections of the border wall in south Texas, critics say he helped to expedite a project at the heart of his predecessor’s immigration legacy.
Asked by a reporter whether he had changed his mind that border walls work, Biden said on Thursday that he had not.
Conservatives were quick to mock the president for building a wall he didn’t believe would be effective, while immigration advocates decried the president’s actions as an attempt to insulate him from political attacks.
In a statement, Jonathan Blazer, director of border strategies at the American Civil Liberties Union, called Biden’s decision to extend the border wall a “profound failure”.
“This politically motivated action will only harm border communities,” he said. “It’s time for the Biden administration to choose humanity and real solutions over politics.”
Source: The Guardian