Immigration will be a big issue in the US election

Republicans see migration as the subject that can win them votes in the presidential election later this year – so it is an issue they want to talk about.

| 6 min read

President Biden is engaged in playing catch-up with some Republican ideas on how to reduce the numbers of people seeking entry to the US across the southern land border with Mexico. Once a keen opponent of building more walls and fences, he has now authorised extensions in some places. His stance that the US should be welcoming to migrants from poorer and more troubled countries has been toned down as he seeks to reduce the numbers that take up the offer.

Mr Biden encourages Afghans and Ukrainians to come to the US through a special scheme. He has also presided over a large number of deportations as illegal arrivals are returned. A total of 142,000 were made to leave in the year to September 2023, twice the level of the previous year. He has also strengthened border forces to arrest more people and put more people through the legal assessment system.

Republicans say he has not done enough and criticise the high numbers of people coming into the country. US Customs and Border Protection reported enforcement actions and encounters covering 3.2 million people they deem to be inadmissible in the year to end September 2023, with another one million since that year end. This compares with 646,000 in the year to September 2020, Donald Trump’s last year in office.

President Trump made use of Title 42, a power to remove people for health reasons during the period of the pandemic, in addition to normal procedures. President Biden is relying on Title 8 which covers criminals, people awaiting a criminal trial and the many people who have come seeking illegal entry. In the year to September 2022, the US gave legal residential status to one million people, taking the percentage of the population not born in the US to 14%.

Trump ups the rhetoric

Mr Trump has used tough language about the arrival of so many people. He has said: “Millions of illegal aliens are stampeding across our border. Refugees are through the roof. And spies and terrorists are infiltrating our country totally unchecked like never before”. Some of his language has been even stronger – and is criticised as inflammatory by Democrats.

In office, President Trump claimed the construction of 450 miles of new or better fence and wall. He said he cut the flows of illegal migrants. He imposed a travel ban on certain countries and reinforced border policing. Candidate Trump wishes to revive and extend the travel bans on risky countries. He names Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Gaza.

He also wants those seeking asylum or legal entry to remain in Mexico when coming from the south to pursue their claims. He wishes to detain all illegals on arrival. He wishes to increase deportations and keep people in camps pending their deportation. He is especially keen to deport criminals. He would not allow children born to illegals in the US automatically to be US citizens. He would not rule out family separation when handling illegals applications to stay. He would cut welfare for illegals.

President Biden has worked with Democrats in Congress and with some Republican Senators to craft a response to the migration pressures and add it to his request for more money to send to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

Some Congressional Republicans argued they would not accept more money for these overseas problems without a beefed-up budget and action to reduce illegal flows over the US southern border. This resulted in the compromise wide ranging spending bill. It provides additional money to judge more migration cases, for extra border security, and for more action against people traffickers. Though it is an Appropriations Bill launched in the Senate, it also states that the government can declare a border emergency if the seven-day average of inadmissible alien arrivals exceeds 4,000 a day and must do so over 5,000. They can then close the border. They can close it for up to 270 days in the first calendar year. They would allow one appeal per person against a decision to refuse entry. Family applications would be processed together.

Republican objections

House Republicans have so far expressed hostility to this measure – and it is now failing in the Senate as well. Candidate Trump has clearly signalled he does not want this bill to pass, saying: “Only a fool, or a radical left Democrat would vote for this horrendous border bill”. He argues that the government already has the power to shut down the border in an emergency and sees the border strengthening measures as too little.

Mr Trump wants Republicans in Congress to press for more and to highlight the current state of play rather than settle. He thinks this proposed package would be ineffective in tackling the underlying problem but would give President Biden credit for tackling the problem with some Republican endorsement.

We should expect more fractious House and Senate arguments as Mr Trump strengthens his hold on his party.

As a result of all this, the cash for Ukraine and for Israel remains stranded. This latest bill proposes $43.8bn for Ukraine and $10.6bn for Israel, with more spending on US forces to improve their stocks of weapons and their state of readiness. There is also a defence bill without the border measures seeking approval in the Senate.

We should expect more fractious House and Senate arguments as Mr Trump strengthens his hold on his party and as Congress members become even more partisan in the long run up to the election. Republicans will continue to think too many people are coming in both illegally and legally, whilst Democrats will be more sympathetic to the case of people claiming asylum and more relaxed about numbers.

In due course, a way will probably be found to send a bit more money to Ukraine and Israel. The President will toughen the borders a bit against a noisy background of Republican complaints as Mr Trump speaks out on this topic.

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Immigration will be a big issue in the US election

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