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Updated Jun 3, 2024, 11:38pm EDT
politics

“It’s really disappointing”: Congress’ progressives despair over Biden’s border order

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
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The News

Progressive and Hispanic Democrats vented their frustration Monday night as they prepared for President Biden to unveil a far-reaching executive action aimed at blocking off the Southern border to asylum-seekers.

“I think it’s really disappointing,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal told Semafor, adding that she’d been briefed on the new order’s contents ahead of its Tuesday signing by the president. “[It] just plays into the idea that somehow harsh enforcement is going to work. That was Trump’s approach. We should be showing what the difference is.”

The order is expected to let officials deny new asylum claims by migrants if daily border crossings reach 2,500 a day or higher, well below the average rate of 4,300 per day in April, the latest month that data is publicly available. The rules, which mirror a proposal from the bipartisan border deal that collapsed in Congress earlier this year, would include exceptions for unaccompanied children and in certain humanitarian situations. But they would still represent a dramatic crackdown by a Democratic president who once campaigned against Donald Trump’s hardline approach to immigration.

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California Sen. Alex Padilla, one of his chamber’s leading pro-immigration voices, suggested the order was unlikely to succeed as a deterrent. “You can build a wall as high as you want. You can make it hard to receive asylum if you want. It’s not going to sustainably reduce the number of people wanting to come to the United States for a number of reasons until you identify and address root causes,” he told Semafor.

The mass influx of asylum seekers at the border has proven to be one of Biden’s stickiest political challenges; polls by Gallup have found it’s now the issue Americans are most likely to cite as the most important problem facing the country, while a New York Times survey in March found that 49% of registered voters would back new asylum restrictions, versus 43% who would oppose them.

Still, left-leaning Democrats questioned whether Biden’s move to the right on the issue would boost his fortunes.

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“We shouldn’t fall into the trap that Republicans have set for us,” Texas Rep. Greg Casar, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told Semafor. “It’s going to not help the President politically because I don’t think Fox News is ever going to give him any credit.”

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Know More

Biden plans to issue the order under section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows the president to suspend the entry of foreigners that “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.” Republicans have urged Biden to clamp down on asylum claims via the law, which former President Trump previously invoked to impose policies such as his so-called “Muslim ban.” Progressives are fretting about the legal precedent Biden may be setting for a successor by using the statute in such an aggressive manner.

“God forbid Donald Trump ends up getting elected,” said Rep. Delia Ramirez of Illinois. “Every Republican president moving forward will do the same thing and more. It only gets worse from here.”

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Some noted that Biden is issuing the order at a moment that border crossings have been in decline. CBS News reported that border crossings in May dropped 54% from their record highs in December, when it reached a daily average of over 8,000 per day.

“The drop in border crossings should be a lesson here to build on,” Padilla told Semafor. “The numbers are down because we’ve engaged with governmental leaders in Mexico. That needs to continue and we need to build on that by engaging additional countries in the hemisphere. That is a way forward.”

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The View From The ACLU

Both Biden and Trump’s past efforts to slow the arrival of migrants via executive authority have often been tied up in court. By Monday, progressive legal groups were already hinting they were prepared to file suit again. “We will need to review the executive order before making litigation decisions, but any policy that effectively shuts off asylum would raise obvious legal problems, just as we did when the Trump administration tried to end asylum,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s immigrants’ rights project, said in a statement.

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Room for Disagreement

Plenty of Democrats, including vulnerable moderates and the party’s Senate campaign chief, appear to be welcoming the move by Biden.

“It’s great. We believe in being tough on the border,” said Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, who helms the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “We just wish our Republican colleagues would actually take the votes necessary to secure the border.”

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Notable

  • After the collapse of the bipartisan border deal he helped negotiate, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut wrote a widely read memo urging his fellow Democrats to “go on offense on the border.”
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