Perhaps no issue has damaged the Biden presidency more than the massive incursions of undocumented migrants across the border. Barely a quarter approve of his handling of the issue — a lower figure than those pertaining to the economy, foreign policy, crime or climate.
Biden might wish to familiarise himself with how the pushback against uncontrolled immigration has contributed to Right-wing victories in the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Germany and, perhaps soon, France as well. The stunning victory of anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders, whose election may have benefitted from pro-Palestine protests after 7 October, was seen as validation. Recent riots in Dublin suggest a similar sentiment emerging in Ireland too.
Democrats should take note of how an uncontrolled border plays straight into Donald Trump’s re-election bid, and how it is boosting his popularity — including among legal immigrants. A third of Democrats and a majority of all voters even favour reducing legal immigration. Given these realities, it would make total sense for the President to reach over to his much-castigated “MAGA” opponents and cut a deal to increase enforcement in exchange for approval of aid to Ukraine and Israel.
Yet the President will first have to steel himself against relentlessly yammering progressives, who essentially favour open borders. His ties to the Left are already strained over his stance on Israel, and he has to weigh their support, particularly if he faces a determined challenge from the likes of Cornell West and Jill Stein. These well-placed challengers will likely fight border controls until the bitter end.
At the same time, Biden’s border policy is increasingly unpopular, even among traditional Democratic constituencies. This is true in most deep-blue cities which have embraced “sanctuary” status. In New York, Mayor Eric Adams has claimed that further in-migration “will destroy” a city that has long been identified with the immigrant experience. Chicago, and even ultra-liberal Boston, have also experienced increased pushback against illegal migrants, including from African-American residents.
Much of this has to do with underlying economics. In New York alone, the costs are projected to reach into the billions. The expenses are likely to grow as more undocumented people, many of them indigent, tap into the welfare state. In California, the move to provide medical services to undocumented migrants between 26 and 49 will cost the state $1.2 billion from the general fund — one that already suffers a severe deficit. No surprise, then, that some cities, New York being one, are looking for ways to send them elsewhere.
Border control is also a big issue along the predominantly Latino Southwest. Today, most Hispanic Americans want stronger border controls, even along the historically Democratic parts of South Texas. It’s no wonder that Trump gained a significantly larger Latino vote, particularly in Florida and Texas, in the 2020 election.
None of this suggests that immigration is not important. With Western workforces declining and birthrates falling, the need for the energy, entrepreneurship and cultural richness brought by newcomers remains critical. But unless leaders like Biden can begin to address the porosity of the border, it’s likely that the reaction against immigration will grow. The political implications could prove disastrous for the Democrats, as well as the vitality of American culture and society.