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Joe Biden must out-Trump Trump on the border issue

Joe Biden with a member of the US Border Patrol at the border fence in El Paso, Texas this year. Credit: Getty

May 4, 2023 - 7:00am

With the expiry of the Title 42 expulsion order scheduled for May 11, Joe Biden’s administration is preparing for an expected new surge of migration by deploying 1500 soldiers to the US’s southern border. Title 42 was instituted in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic under Donald Trump, allowing for the refusal and removal of asylum seekers on public health grounds. It was continued under Biden until it was struck down by the courts late last year. While this is only a temporary measure (along with the earlier deployment of 2500 National Guards), the new infusion of manpower can be expected to bolster US Border Patrol amid what has become a full-blown border crisis. 

However, the true test for Biden is in whether he is able to produce workable long-term fixes to the immigration issue, while dealing with competing pressures from the Right and the Left.

When the President took office, his team had big plans for comprehensive immigration reform by way of a proposed “US Citizenship Act” that combined a path to citizenship with increased border security. But the ambitious bill fell by the wayside, and the administration’s record on immigration has since become bogged down in a series of half-measures conceived in reaction to events beyond its control. 

The White House’s desire to appease the progressive base of the Democratic Party by rejecting any hint of Trumpian border hawkishness has often collided with the need to actually maintain control and dissuade migrants from seeking asylum on America’s doorstep. This has resulted in moments of political indecision and policy impotence bordering on the farcical. 

One example was in 2021, when Vice President Kamala Harris, on a trip to Guatemala, pleaded with would-be migrants in the region, saying: “Do not come.” Unsupported by either the will or the means to enforce border security, Harris’s words were ultimately powerless to stop what was to come. By the middle of 2022, the US was faced with near-record highs of migrant encounters at the Mexican border, over 200,000 last November, just as Title 42 was invalidated.

The border issue initially looked like it would weigh down the Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections, but the incumbent party got lucky. However, this time around, in the lead-up to 2024, Republicans and their nominee — whoever that might be — will be well-positioned to resume their tactic of tarring the President and his party as “open border” zealots. 

Given heightened public dissatisfaction with immigration policy — 63% of Americans are unhappy according to Gallup — the issue can do real damage to Biden’s re-election chances. His only course now is to disprove the accusation by becoming more like Trump, moving aggressively in the direction of border enforcement (by many accounts, he is already on his way there).

The case for a full Democratic volte-face on immigration is a compelling one. Should he go down this path, Biden would be following in the footsteps of other liberal centrist leaders in Canada, France, and Denmark, all of whom adopted restrictionist stances to stave off challenges from the populist Right. If Biden wishes to keep his job, he should start planning for such a turn right now.


Michael Cuenco is a writer on policy and politics. He is Associate Editor at American Affairs.

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Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
1 year ago

For years they have attacked and demonised anyone suggesting greater border control as racists and white supremacists. As such, the very idea that Biden and the Democrats could pivot on open borders should be laughably absurd.
But having watched US politics since 2016,and seen that, rather than the good guys they are portrayed as on British media, the Democrats are an entirely dispicable, untruthful, corrupt and politically cynical party who will do anything to gain or maintain power, it would be unsurprising if they did pivot.
Of course a responsible press that holds the government to accout would eviscerate the Democrats for their grotesque hypocricy. But what is truly shocking as an outsider is how the vast bulk of the MSM in the US operates as the media arm of the Democratic Party. The shameless manner in which it shuts down or manipulates stories that hurt the Democrats and distorts and amplify others to attack Republicans is akin to what we see in communist dictatorships.
With the MSM media in their pocket, the Democrats can also rely on the fact that the Left are the most shameless hypocrites. Democrat supporters who one day were howling about racism and white supremacy in relation to border control, will fall silent and suddenly see the merit in it.
But I hardly think that anyone with a brain will fall for the idea that Biden is serious about border control, and that the borders would not be thrown open again the day after the election.to bring in millions more future Democrat voters..

Last edited 1 year ago by Marcus Leach
Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

After watching them turn a 180 on defunding police, I wouldn’t say anything is impossible, especially when you have a state-party press ready to memory hole all your previous positions.
We’ve always been at war with Oceania.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

After watching them turn a 180 on defunding police, I wouldn’t say anything is impossible, especially when you have a state-party press ready to memory hole all your previous positions.
We’ve always been at war with Oceania.

Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
1 year ago

For years they have attacked and demonised anyone suggesting greater border control as racists and white supremacists. As such, the very idea that Biden and the Democrats could pivot on open borders should be laughably absurd.
But having watched US politics since 2016,and seen that, rather than the good guys they are portrayed as on British media, the Democrats are an entirely dispicable, untruthful, corrupt and politically cynical party who will do anything to gain or maintain power, it would be unsurprising if they did pivot.
Of course a responsible press that holds the government to accout would eviscerate the Democrats for their grotesque hypocricy. But what is truly shocking as an outsider is how the vast bulk of the MSM in the US operates as the media arm of the Democratic Party. The shameless manner in which it shuts down or manipulates stories that hurt the Democrats and distorts and amplify others to attack Republicans is akin to what we see in communist dictatorships.
With the MSM media in their pocket, the Democrats can also rely on the fact that the Left are the most shameless hypocrites. Democrat supporters who one day were howling about racism and white supremacy in relation to border control, will fall silent and suddenly see the merit in it.
But I hardly think that anyone with a brain will fall for the idea that Biden is serious about border control, and that the borders would not be thrown open again the day after the election.to bring in millions more future Democrat voters..

Last edited 1 year ago by Marcus Leach
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 year ago

I can see it now. Biden will crack down on illegal immigration and not a word will be said. After four years of calling Trump the anti-Christ for his immigration policies, all of it will be forgotten and waved away. The US media is pathetic and contemptible.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 year ago

I can see it now. Biden will crack down on illegal immigration and not a word will be said. After four years of calling Trump the anti-Christ for his immigration policies, all of it will be forgotten and waved away. The US media is pathetic and contemptible.

Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
1 year ago

The bureaucracy / administration is far past acting in the interest of, or even representing an interest in, persuading or “winning votes”, so long as large groups of the U.S. electorate can vote for someone of the caliber of, say, John Fetterman and a small handful of counties can black box electoral results. The truly torn, pre-deceased, “independent” voter is a myth.

Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
1 year ago

The bureaucracy / administration is far past acting in the interest of, or even representing an interest in, persuading or “winning votes”, so long as large groups of the U.S. electorate can vote for someone of the caliber of, say, John Fetterman and a small handful of counties can black box electoral results. The truly torn, pre-deceased, “independent” voter is a myth.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
1 year ago

Biden is an empty suit. Such policies may come from the far-smarter people around him, but not from him.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
1 year ago

Biden is an empty suit. Such policies may come from the far-smarter people around him, but not from him.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
1 year ago

This is just a bunch of wishful thinking. The forces behind the status quo – which is effectively no southern border enforcement – are varied and determined. The American people know this. Illegal immigration is a national disgrace, as are the hypocritical “leaders” of both parties. Our unwillingness to solve this problem, once and for all, erodes our international credibility while at the same time eroding our own sense that our federal government can ever do anything right. Joe Biden will not do an about face on this issue. He is a Janus, looking this way and that to determine from whence the political winds are blowing, but he does nothing from principle.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
1 year ago

This is just a bunch of wishful thinking. The forces behind the status quo – which is effectively no southern border enforcement – are varied and determined. The American people know this. Illegal immigration is a national disgrace, as are the hypocritical “leaders” of both parties. Our unwillingness to solve this problem, once and for all, erodes our international credibility while at the same time eroding our own sense that our federal government can ever do anything right. Joe Biden will not do an about face on this issue. He is a Janus, looking this way and that to determine from whence the political winds are blowing, but he does nothing from principle.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago

I don’t suppose Biden’s corporate and celebrity backers would be too keen on his cutting down on their supply of dirt cheap labour.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago

I don’t suppose Biden’s corporate and celebrity backers would be too keen on his cutting down on their supply of dirt cheap labour.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

good old tottering Sir Niall de Mentia…

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

good old tottering Sir Niall de Mentia…

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
1 year ago

Michael doesn’t seem to know who Donald Trump is and what his general style is. Just try out-trumping Trump. Go play in his backyard why don’t you?