Democrats divided over Biden’s immigration executive order (2024)

Scores of Democrats in Congress criticized President Biden’s executive order Tuesday aimed at severely limiting the number of migrant crossings at the southern border, saying the restriction goes too far.

The disagreement threatens to fracture the party on an issue polling shows is top of mind for Democratic and Republican voters in this election cycle. While some proponents say it could serve as a form of political outreach to independent voters and boost his support, the move infuriated some Democrats who say Biden caved to Republican demands, ignored immigration law and could alienate pieces of the Democratic base.

Biden’s use of executive authority to block migrants’ access to the U.S. asylum system when illegal border crossings exceed 2,500 a day follows several unsuccessful attempts by Congress to find a solution to the issue. A bipartisan bill that repeatedly failed this year would have combined the asylum cap with billions of dollars in additional funding for immigration enforcement. Republicans voted against the bill again last month after opposition from former president and presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump and concerns that it would hurt him in an election year.

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Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday that Republicans voting against the bipartisan border bill forced Biden to take action, but conceded that the president’s use of executive authority to address the issue is not ideal.

“[It’s] a lot better than doing nothing, but not as preferable as passing legislation, as the president admits,” Schumer said.

Flanked by largely Democratic elected officials at his White House announcement Tuesday, Biden said that he was taking action “to do what Republicans in Congress refuse to do — take necessary steps to secure our border.”

“He didn’t want to fix the issue. He wanted to use it to attack me,” Biden said, criticizing Trump for pressuring GOP lawmakers to kill the bill. “It was an extremely cynical political move and a complete disservice to the American people who are looking for us … not to weaponize the border, but to fix it.”

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Biden’s attempt to address the migrant influx targets one of his key political vulnerabilities a few weeks before the first presidential debate against Trump and less than six months before the general election.

Immigration is a top issue for voters in the 2024 campaign cycle. A Quinnipiac poll from May showed that 16 percent of poll participants named immigration as the most urgent issue facing the country, behind the economy (28 percent) and preserving American democracy (21 percent). In the poll, 52 percent said Trump would do a better job handling immigration compared with Biden (41 percent).

On Tuesday, Republicans in Congress broadly asserted publicly that Biden was doing “too little, too late,” to address the border security issue. But privately, House Republicans, including some very conservative lawmakers, have long worried about the political consequences if the president took action.

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“All they’re going to see is that Joe Biden has given Congress all the opportunity, it is a congressional responsibility to fix the border. They didn’t do it. [He] had to step in and fix it,” one conservative House Republican, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about the speaker and a majority of the conference’s decision not to pursue passing border security measures, said about how voters could interpret Biden’s handling of the border.

Democrats have long said they plan to use border security issues to their advantage this election cycle, building off recent wins where candidates made tackling the issue a campaign priority — such as Rep. Tom Suozzi’s (D-N.Y.) special election win on Long Island earlier this year. And while some Democrats have acknowledged that Biden is trying to appeal to independent voters with the move, they worry he may be alienating the base of voters who elected him.

“I am concerned that it doesn’t matter what he ends up doing, Republicans will negate it and say that it is not enough,” Rep. Delia C. Ramirez (D-Ill.) said. “And so putting at risk our own values, and believing that people have the right to seek asylum in order to try to silence those that hate immigrants, I don’t believe is the kind of strategy that is going to help us win the election in November.”

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When asked whether Biden’s order would scare some Democratic voters from supporting him in November, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) said, “Over and over, Republicans have prevented progress. People want to see governance work. They want folks who are going to try to move the ball forward.”

Even among the Democratic lawmakers who praised Biden for taking action, some said it didn’t go far enough. Others voiced concern that the actions are too restrictive. They all broadly agreed that the most effective way to improve the situation at the border would be for Congress to act.

Several members of the New Democrat Coalition and the Democrats for Border Security Task Force, a group of more than two dozen Democrats co-chaired by Reps. Henry Cuellar (Tex.) and Suozzi, championed the president’s actions as a first step.

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“It does a lot,” Rep. Salud Carbajal (Calif.), vice chair of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, said, adding that the bill is not “perfect” but he is hopeful Biden will raise new executive actions soon that address immigration issues “domestically other than at the border.”

Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-Calif.), another member of the coalition, called the executive order “a difficult but necessary measure,” but said she has “significant concerns about implementation, transparency and the risk of curtailing fair, legal representation for legitimate asylum seekers.”

Meanwhile House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said during a Tuesday news conference that he was concerned the order would focus on “the enforcement-only side of the strategy” — omitting efforts to expand legal pathways to citizenship.

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“We need to continue to do both of these strategies,” he said.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement that he is “concerned about the impact of the Executive Order on vulnerable people coming to the United States for safety and protection.”

Four moderate Democrats in the Blue Dog Coalition, Reps. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (Wash.), Jared Golden (Maine), Mary Peltola (Alaska) and Don Davis (N.C.), said in a joint statement that the order “is an overdue step, but our Southern Border is still not secure,” and urged Biden and Congress to take further action.

Rep. Hillary J. Scholten (D-Mich.), an immigration lawyer who represents a swing district, said, “I understand that the Biden administration feels like they need to do something. … It’s heart-wrenching to see that this is the something that they are choosing, knowing full well that this is not going to come close to solving the problem that we are experiencing.”

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Outside the Capitol on Tuesday, immigrant rights advocates and Democrats, including Ramirez, Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Greg Casar (Tex.), rallied against the executive order. Omar, who came to the United States as a refugee, said the order meant the country would be closing its doors “to families who have lost it all.”

“This is not the America I know, the America I love,” she said.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she has told White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients — both on the phone Sunday and previously — that the path the president is taking is “very, very disappointing.”

“We should be distinguishing ourselves from Donald Trump on immigration,” Jayapal said. “We should be offering the contrast.”

Jayapal argued that Biden is ignoring U.S. law that requires granting asylum to people with a credible fear in their home countries and that the real challenge is a lack of legal paths to immigration, which is why people are relying on the asylum system.

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Other lawmakers, such as Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) in a statement Tuesday accused the president of “reviving” the Trump administration’s asylum ban, which Democrats have long reviled.

Padilla, who was sharply critical of the bipartisan Senate immigration bill, said that, by doing so, Biden has “undermined American values and abandoned our nation’s obligations to provide people fleeing persecution, violence, and authoritarianism with an opportunity to seek refuge in the U.S.”

“This asylum ban will fail to address the challenges at our border, just as it did under the Trump Administration,” Padilla said. “It will lead to people with legitimate asylum claims being prevented from seeking safety and returned to harm.”

Amy B Wang, Liz Goodwin, Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti contributed to this report.

Democrats divided over Biden’s immigration executive order (2024)

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