Republicans return to immigration policy as medium-term strategy | US immigration
fOur years after Republicans embraced Donald Trump’s nativist and often racist playbook to retain control of Congress, the party is once again placing fickle immigration policies at the heart of its midterm election strategy.
From the US-Mexico border to the US Capitol, in hearing rooms and courtrooms, Republicans are hammering on the issue. At the forefront of the debate is a once-obscure public health regulation allegedly invoked by the Trump administration in March 2020 as a means to control the spread of the coronavirus along the southwestern border.
Republicans have seized on a decision by the Biden administration to lift such “Title 42” border restrictions and have sought to portray Democrats as pursuing an extremist immigration agenda that they say has cost the nation its sovereignty.
The provocative and often misleading messaging campaign came into full view when Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas testified on Capitol Hill.
For more than eight hours over two days, Republicans hurled accusations and insults at Mayorkas, urging him to take the blame for the dangerous and dire conditions along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico.
“We’re really all border states now,” Ohio Congressman Steve Chabot said somberly.
In another tense exchange, Colorado’s Ken Buck said his constituents believed Mayorkas was guilty of treason and deserved to be impeached – something conservatives have vowed to pursue if they win the House.
“What you just said – it’s so deeply offensive on so many different levels, in so many different ways,” Mayorkas replied, clearly annoyed.
Mayorkas staunchly defended the government’s handling of the border, saying it was up to Congress to act.
“We inherited a broken and dismantled system that is already under pressure,” Mayorkas said. “It is not designed to deal with the current levels and types of migration flows. Only Congress can fix that.”
The hearings exposed tensions within the Democrat ranks over Biden’s immigration actions, particularly Title 42.
For months, immigration advocates and progressives have been pressuring Biden to repeal Title 42, which gives officials the power to quickly expel migrants attempting to enter the United States rather than allow them to seek asylum and remain in the country while your application will be examined.
“Basically, you make politics after crises,” says Claudia Flores, an expert on immigration policy at the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress. “And that’s just not effective.”
For reasons of public order, Flores said it was dangerous to use a public health order to control immigration. Not only is the rule insufficient to address problems at the border, she added, it also has “serious humanitarian consequences” for asylum seekers.
However, some at-risk Democrats have appealed to Biden to delay lifting the order, fearing it could be a political obligation ahead of a difficult election cycle. They agree with Republicans and have expressed concern that the administration does not have a comprehensive plan to deal with the expected increase in migrants filing asylum applications when the order is lifted in late May.
“This is not good for Democrats in November,” Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Democrat facing a progressive challenge for his Border District seat, told Fox News Digital.
“You know, talking to some of my Republican colleagues, they say, ‘We can’t believe the White House is giving us this narrative. We can’t believe they’re harming Democratic candidates for the November election.’”
In his statement, Mayorkas argued that his department had a plan in place to deal with the expected influx of migrants. He repeatedly pointed to lawmakers a six-point plan released ahead of the hearings that called for more aggressive efforts to enforce immigration laws after the health rule is lifted. This included efforts to partner with nonprofit organizations that help migrants in the United States process their cases and work with countries across the region to address the “root causes” of migration.
“If Public Health Order Title 42 is repealed, we expect migration numbers to increase as smugglers will seek to exploit and profit from vulnerable migrants,” the memo said.
It did little to appease Republicans and some Democrats.
“I realize the federal government is not prepared — not even close,” said Greg Stanton of Arizona, a border-state Democrat, during the hearing.
Biden has worked to reverse many of the hard policies that were at the core of Trump’s “zero tolerance” approach to immigration. The number of migrants trying to cross the border has risen sharply.
Biden has argued that the only way to tackle migration is at the source — an ambitious plan that will likely take years to bear fruit. In the short term, his administration faces acute operational and political challenges.
At a meeting at the White House last week, members of Congress’ Hispanic Caucus urged the president to stand firmly behind the decision to end the public health order.
“Title 42 must end on May 23,” said California Congresswoman Nanette Barragán, a vice chair of the CHC, who told the president and urged him “not to support legislation to extend the end date.”
With prospects of legislative action before the midterms slim, the caucus is asking Biden to use his executive power to deliver on some of his promises to Latino voters on immigration, the environment, public health and the economy. They have argued that it is both good politics and good policy, as Latinos’ support for the Democrats is waning amid concerns about the economy and inflation.
“After four years of traumatic, xenophobic and inhumane immigration policies imposed on our most vulnerable communities, we have a duty to offer them the protection and support they and their families so desperately need,” said Democratic Congressman Adriano Espaillat from New York. said after the meeting.
Concerns about Title 42 are just one element of the Republican message. Republicans have tried to tie illegal immigration to other important issues, such as voter fraud and crime. Claims that undocumented migrants voted in large numbers have been repeatedly debunked. Studies have found that migrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens.
Republicans have long used immigration as a political weapon — with mixed results. In 2018, they lost the House of Representatives in a wave of elections fueled in part by anger at Trump’s hard-line policies separating migrant children from their parents. That same year, they expanded control in the Senate.
The political wind has turned. Republicans are strongly favored to take over the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate. National sentiment has deteriorated among Biden and Democrats as concerns about the economy and inflation deepen.
But even as economic discontent dominates the political debate, polls suggest immigration remains a pressing concern, particularly for Republicans. According to a Gallup poll, four in 10 Americans and nearly 70% of Republicans say they are “very concerned” about illegal immigration.
During a tour of the Texas border last week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy chided a reporter for questioning his false claim that he never pressured Trump to resign after the Jan. 6 riot — comments shared by recorded in an audio recording.
“That’s what you want to ask after all that?” he said. “I don’t think the American people are asking about it. I think they want to know what’s happening here and how we’re securing the border.”
Democrats accuse Republicans of fomenting fear while standing in the way of reform. It has been almost a decade since Congress seriously considered immigration reform, a bipartisan plan derailed by House Conservatives.
“Let me tell you why our fellow Republicans don’t want to do their job — why they don’t want to work with us or vote for any of the bills that we’ve brought to the House of Representatives,” said Texas Congresswoman Veronica Escobar. “Because the status quo works for them.”
“They love Title 42,” she said, arguing that it “helps them fuel this xenophobic anger machine that they think will help them get elected and re-elected.”
It’s unclear how the government intends to proceed if a court rules that Title 42 cannot be overturned. Biden declined to say whether he would sign legislation delaying removal, which is under consideration by a bipartisan group in Congress.
Vanessa Cardenas, deputy director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigrant group, said Democrats need to be more aggressive in defending their reform vision. Retaining Title 42, she said, would not only play into the hands of Republicans but would be a major disappointment to voters, particularly Latino voters who helped Democrats win in 2018 and 2020.
“In an election season where margins matter, in states like Arizona, Nevada and Georgia where the presence and voice of the Latino community can make a difference, it’s really important that Democrats be able to articulating a vision that is in contrast to the other side,” Cardenas said.
Referring to Trump’s no-nonsense advisor, she added, “A Stephen Miller-Lite approach to immigration will not motivate the grassroots.”