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Border Crisis Could be an Albatross for Dems in 2024


Democrats have undoubtedly benefited from broad opposition to Republican policies aimed at restricting women's reproductive freedoms in the post-Dobbs era. The party is openly counting on the continued backlash to propel its chances in 2024. However, as the border crisis deepens and record numbers of migrants cross into the country, Democrats, especially President Biden, could face a similar bipartisan backlash come November.

For a moment, it looked as if President Biden's desperate effort to get Congress to come to the table on more aid for Ukraine before the end of 2023 could force a compromise on immigration. Yet, in a somewhat predictable fashion, Republicans could not coalesce as a party and ultimately seemed more interested in exploiting frustration over the issue in November than working toward anything that could be seen as a victory for Biden.

"Let me tell you, I'm not willing to do too damn much right now to help a Democrat and to help Joe Biden's approval rating," Rep. Troy Nehls (R-TX) told CNN this week. "I will not help the Democrats try to improve this man’s dismal approval ratings. I'm not going to do it. Why would I?"

Nehls may have been saying the quiet part out loud, but the ethos behind this sort of statement has become routine in Washington for Republicans who prefer pontification over policy-making. Our border crisis is a complex issue with numerous facets, and no simple solution exists. Our archaic pathway for legal immigration is obsolete for the needs of our 21st-century economy and incentivizes people to either cross the border illegally or overstay temporary visas. Our asylum process has morphed from its intended purpose and desperately needs to be overhauled from the foundation up. However, the sort of systemic reforms needed to address those matters are always dead on arrival due to both hyperpartisanship in D.C. and the deep political divisions among Americans that special interests have become dangerously adept at exploiting.

Both sides have been in talks for several weeks, but very little has been revealed thus far regarding what has been discussed or what issues are on the table. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has repeatedly asserted that the passage of H.R. 2 (Secure the Border Act) is a must-have for House Republicans if they are to come to the table. The legislation would provide funding for expanding the border wall and hiring more border patrol agents, prevent Customs and Border Protection agents from processing immigrants, and put further restrictions on applying for asylum. The Biden administration has already shown an openness toward border wall expansion. Given its role in the current crisis, it should be open to reforming the asylum process. That said, the administration has called H.R. 2 a non-starter, suggesting that the House position could tank a compromise that Senate Republicans seem open to.

Border patrol encountered more than 225,000 migrants along the US-Mexico border in December, the highest monthly count since 2000. The year 2023 was the second year in a row that illegal crossings have been over 2 million, with nearly half (900,000) coming via asylum seekers. The expansion of asylum eligibility has created a dynamic in which migrants cross the border illegally and, rather than getting sent back if they are caught, declare themselves asylum seekers. At that point, they become entitled to two court hearings and can stay in the country legally until their cases are adjudicated. This process currently takes several years per case because of the massive backlog of asylum cases. Meanwhile, those with slim chances of achieving asylum can easily disappear into the underground economy.

The U.S. has experienced record-low unemployment in recent years and desperately needs targeted, skilled immigrants. Canada is actually beating us in legal immigration, partly because they have a modernized process and partly because they share only one border, and it’s with the U.S., while the only place close to its northern border is Greenland, which does not contain a large population attempting to flee. The U.S. faces an additional challenge in which Mexico is unequipped to deal with the hordes of South American refugees fleeing to the U.S. through its country and rightfully feels as though it should not use its much more limited resources to police what is essentially an American problem.

If the U.S. were serious about solving the immigration crisis, we would reform legal immigration to more quickly process skilled immigrants who will benefit our economy, severely restrict the existing asylum process (and possibly pause it while the courts work through the existing backlog with funding for more courts and judges), mandate employer verification with severe penalties for failing to comply, and work with Mexico to patrol its much narrower southern border where we could be far more successful at preventing the mass migration from South America. None of those things seem to be part of the current conversation.

Democrats can certainly argue that Republicans are hypocritical on the issue or are not earnest in their efforts beyond seeking popular, if far less effective, policies that they feel will benefit their side at the ballot box (i.e., the southern border wall). That said, Biden will be running as the incumbent. As long as Republicans can hold press conferences on the Rio Grande while migrants illegally cross the border in real time and videos of massive caravans illegally crossing continue to flood the internet, this is going to be seen as his problem. What’s more, tying it to aid to Ukraine, which has become increasingly unpopular with voters, will just give his opponents one more opportunity to ask why the U.S. is spending so much on other countries’ problems instead of investing in domestic issues. 

When it comes to politics and elections, perception is reality. Biden needs to detach immigration reform from aid to Ukraine and use the bully pulpit of the presidency to loudly call for the kind of reforms that will actually reduce the crisis. He should go down to the border and point at the same obvious mess that Republicans are highlighting while calling on them to compromise on a plan that would actually have a noticeable impact. While he’s at it, he could take a look at how poorly he is currently polling with Hispanics and rethink the antiquated notion that it is a political albatross to call for hardline immigration reform or campaign on the fact that his administration, like President Obama’s, deported more illegal immigrants than Trump’s.

If he does none of this, November may come down to what a finicky electorate is more concerned about—abortion rights or crime and illegal immigration. The former worked for Dems in the midterms and special elections held since Dobbs, but I would not count on it being enough come November when Biden, who is experiencing record-low polling across the board, will actually be on the ballot.

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here.


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  • Lizarnold

    Sadly 13,000 illegals come through our border every day and that’s the folks we know about. So that’s about the same number of people living in Manatee County coming into our Country every month. The NGOs are giving them in many cases up to $2,000 each month more than many elderly receive on social security. I don’t know where the NGOs get all this money but I’d guess much of it comes from us (the taxpayers). Obviously the worst part is the children who in many cases are being handed off to unverified strangers. The stories told by whistleblowers about the fates of these children is horrid.

    Sunday, January 7 Report this

  • Charles

    Voting out the crazies in Congress is the best option for voters who might be holding this issue against Biden. His administration is dependant upon their co-operation to solve the issue. The crazies are howling about it, but refuse to do what they can to help clean up the mess — just to try to hold onto "power" while failing to benefit the country. The crazies are the ones who deserve to be voted out. All other factors show that the Biden administration is benefiting the country and should be kept. Government is supposed to benefit the citizens, not just to keep crazies in office who have proven no concern for the welfare of the citizens. Stop being conned by the crazies — country over party.

    Sunday, January 7 Report this

  • nellmcphillips

    You can’t just blame Biden for border issues but what happened with Kamala who as VP was appointed to work primarily on migration at the border? She was given one job and has failed miserably. Who can support Biden/Harris ticket with the thought than Biden could pass on the presidency to Kamala? What about Congress that has done nothing to support immigration reform? Our immigration regulations are ancient and in no way sufficient to meet today’s immigration challenges. Three things everyone can agree on are modernizing immigration regulations, fix the issue of lost children crossing the border and seriously addressing criminals that cross the border. Fencing should be at the bottom of any list.

    Sunday, January 7 Report this

  • Emac

    This is the most complete and concise explanation of our current complex immigration disaster. TV clips of a sea of humanity slogging thru water is the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately and sadly it is what resonates with viewers

    Sunday, January 7 Report this

  • David Daniels

    Biden must find a way to back out of running or our country is at serious risk of civil violence breaking out in protest of a Trump presidency. A Trump win means the end of the rule of law. He will end his legal indictments and pardon all convicted Jan 6 participants. This will cause outrage and divide this country to the point where people will become violent. Trump will use the promise of pardons so that the executive branch (including law enforcement) is not constrained and groups like the Proud Boys will be emboldened to physically oppose protestors - and there will be plenty to protest against.. Biden is weak and not respected. Biden lost my support in the first month of his Presidency with the inexcusable blunder of appointing shy, timid, Merrick Garland as Attorney General. By hiding from the obviously out of control border, Biden has let Republicans pin Congress's failure to address immigration on him. Trump is rightfully despised by a majority of voters, but Biden is the one Democrat candidate Trump can beat. I will blame Biden's failure to withdraw for the violence that will come with Trump.

    Sunday, January 7 Report this