Often President Biden’s policies seem incoherent or contradictory, but nowhere are the consequences clearer than immigration. Many Americans may have welcomed the end of Trump’s incendiary comments about undocumented newcomers, but Biden may be helping to prove some of the former president’s case. In the process, he is threatening Democratic prospects in the years ahead.
Although the mainstream media and the White House generally dismiss reports about a border surge, the numbers from Homeland Security suggest a huge ramping up since Biden took office. During the first six months of 2021, US Federal Government statistics find the number of “enforcement actions” preventing illegal entry to be already double the total number for 2020, reaching a 20-year record of over one million. Biden spokespeople have tried to suggest that this growth can be blamed on the last administration, but both Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Guatemala’s Alejandro Giammattei place the blame on “expectations” raised by Biden’s campaign and early statements.
This surge could undermine Democrats if not nationally, certainly in parts of the south-west, where the party has been making gains for years. Overall public support for his immigration policies started cratering as early as April, when barely two in five backed his approach. By May, according to Pew, over two-thirds of Americans disapproved of the Administration’s border polices. Biden’s gambit of putting Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of the issue is widely seen as ineffective; she did not visit the border for months and continues her rapid loss of public support.
Particularly concerning to party strategists may be opposition in border communities, themselves largely Hispanic, to the large scale movement of undocumented immigrants. This trend was evident back in the 2020 election, where Trump gained Hispanic support, particularly in the border regions of Texas. This spring, a Republican, Javier Villalobos, was elected Mayor of McAllen, a large border town that is 85% Hispanic and a longtime Democratic stronghold.
There are various reasons for disenchantment. For one thing Covid-19 has deeply impacted Latin America — now arguably the pandemic epicentre. Concerns of a massive infusion of infected people, as seen in detention centres, can’t be good for Democrats who were elected in part to turn back the pandemic.
But there are other reasons to fear uncontrolled immigration. For one thing, the border has become a primary terroir for the criminal gangs who proliferate throughout Mexico and Central America. In one part of the border, Laredo, criminal arrests of undocumented people grew 900% this year. At a time when concern about rising crime is now escalating, importing gang bangers and other lawbreakers may not be a popular policy.
And finally, there’s an economic element that could play havoc with Hispanic and other blue-collar voters. Before the pandemic, the tighter border conditions seem to have helped working class Americans of all races increase their incomes for the first time in decades. The labour shortage post-pandemic could help raise incomes for service, manufacturing and hospitality workers — but perhaps not if the market is flooded with a new wave of poor, often desperate, and legally dubious workers.
President Biden faces a conundrum. Forced by his genuflecting to woke ideology to embrace something akin to open borders, he threatens Democratic support among working-class voters of all ethnicities. He can continue to please progressive editorial writers as well as corporate executives eager for ever more cheap labour, but at the cost of endangering a critical base of support in 2022 and beyond.