After Republicans sink immigration bill, Biden is left holding the bag


No issue better illustrates the breakdown of government and politics than immigration. A broken immigration system has broken the governing process, aided by the most cynical politicians.

Republicans have recently continued what has now been a decades-long effort to derail bipartisan efforts to fix the immigration system, largely because of far-right conservative opposition. Their opposition this time came at the request of former President Donald Trump, who once again showed that he preferred politics chaos to a political solution. He was supported by Republicans in the House of Representatives, who favor an immigration bill that has no chance of being passed in the Senate.

Republicans have long been the loudest complainers about illegal immigration problems and the need for tighter security at the U.S.-Mexico border. But they have repeatedly turned their backs on cross-party efforts to resolve this and broader immigration issues, despite years of evidence that neither party alone can solve the problems and resolve the competing demands and differences.

Instead of trying to work constructively on this issue in the current Congress, House Republicans have decided to attempt to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Their first effort collapsed Tuesday in a stunning and embarrassing setback for House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).

However, the failure of the Senate package has the consequence that, even if Trump and the Republicans bear responsibility for the failure of a package negotiated for several months by the Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, it is President Biden who presents himself as the politician. who bears the brunt of public anger over the influx of migrants at the border that took place during his mandate.

White House officials are pointing to Republicans as the culprits in the latest turn of events, and for good reason. But they could also look in the mirror. The president's mishandling of border issues has left him politically vulnerable in this election year.

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Many Democrats have been dismissive of the public mood, viewing the focus on border security as evidence of a Fox News echo chamber. For too long, they have ignored the growing problem and even called big city Democratic mayors and blue state Democratic governors to action. With the latest implosion at the Capitol, Biden is left holding the bag without some of the tools and funding the Senate bill would have provided.

Few issues are as complex and politically charged as immigration policy. Immigration policy encompasses national security and humanitarian compassion. It brings together the interests of business and labor, religious groups and advocacy organizations. This includes legitimate requests from asylum seekers who nevertheless overwhelmed the system; the question of how to deal with those who cross the border illegally; and the long-standing question of what to do about the millions of undocumented immigrants now in the country, many of whom have been for years or decades.

Over the past two decades, there have been repeated efforts to address, if not completely resolve, the problems. In 2005, Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) began a painstaking process of trying to reach consensus on a comprehensive package of measures. They had the support of President George W. Bush.

Bush favored comprehensive reform but, wary of conservative opposition, focused on the issue of border security, including ordering thousands of National Guard troops to the border. Striking a balance between showing good faith on border security and advancing the legal status of undocumented immigrants has long been at the heart of the political challenge for supporters of new legislation.

Bush used his 2007 State of the Union to call on Congress to act. A few months later, a bipartisan plan emerged from a group of negotiators. Shortly after, he collapsed.

“Legal immigration is one of the top concerns of the American people, and Congress's failure to address it is a disappointment,” Bush responded.

“The American people understand that the status quo is unacceptable,” he continued. “Many of us worked hard to see if we couldn’t find common ground. It did not work. Congress really needs to prove to the American people that they can come together on tough issues. »

The same words could be spoken by Biden today, with one difference: Congress is no longer expected to be able to convene on the issue of immigration. Too many stories argue against this. Today, a changed political environment and a nativist Republican Party that cannot accept yes for an answer stand in the way.

Opposition from the left and right combined to defeat the measure in 2007. One casualty of the right-wing backlash was McCain's 2008 presidential bid. In late spring, he joined Kennedy and other senators at a news conference. The backlash was swift and devastating – a revolt among the party's conservatives and, as one McCain adviser recalled at the time, “donations plummeted.” It was only through McCain's courage and determination that he was ultimately able to win the nomination.

The immigration issue remained unresolved for a few years, but in 2013, another group of senators – the so-called Gang of Eight – came together to produce an 844-page bill addressing multiple aspects of immigration.

One motivation for Republican negotiators was the post-2012 post-mortem, sponsored by the Republican National Committee, of the party's failure to win the presidential election. Among the findings was the need for the party to broaden its appeal to Hispanic voters.

The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 68-32 and sent it to the House. There, the measure faced fierce opposition from the party's most conservative wing. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly said the measure is not dead. It nevertheless died, without ever being put to a vote (where it likely would have passed easily) due to resistance from conservative Republicans.

Another effort took place under the Trump administration in 2018, focused on border security and the plight of people brought to the country as children — Dreamers, as they are now called. Senators from both parties have been working to craft a measure to fund Trump's call for a wall along the border and provide a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants. Trump encouraged the work. In the end, he abruptly changed his mind, and that effort collapsed as well.

Meanwhile, Democrats were moving to the left on the issue, pushed by their progressive wing. During a presidential debate in the summer of 2019, candidates were asked to raise their hands if they thought crossing the border illegally should be a civil offense rather than a criminal one. One way or another, everyone was in agreement, eager to express their displeasure with the Trump administration's harsh immigration policies.

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Biden followed this path when he took office, easing border policies, which led to record border crossings during his presidency. Red state governors like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have sent migrants north to New York, Chicago and elsewhere. These migrants have strained the capacity of northern cities, led to an increase in crime in some areas and sparked protests from Democratic lawmakers in favor of federal aid.

The situation in New York and border politics in general have become a central issue in Tuesday's special election in New York's 3rd Congressional District, once held by former Rep. George Santos, who was expelled by his colleagues for violations of the 'ethics. Biden won the district in 2020, and each candidate is using the immigration issue against the other in what has been a close race.

As pressure has mounted over the months to stem the surge at the border, Biden has adjusted his course and moved toward tougher enforcement. But this was not enough to change public opinion. Some of his lowest approval ratings are for how he has handled immigration. Nor did he want to confront his base directly or rhetorically.

As Senate negotiators finished their work, Biden argued for authorization to close the border, which was contained in the bill. Trump and House Republicans guaranteed that would never happen. Once again, prospects for bipartisan legislation have faded in Congress, and a broken system remains in need of repair.



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