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How Growing Partisanship has Made the Immigration Issue in America Tricky to Solve

Written by Peter Beys

Edited by Annika Lilja and Eliza Dorton

At the end of the 20th century, there was a general consensus among Americans, even Republicans, that immigration had a positive effect on the country. On April 24th, 1980, the top two Republicans seeking their party's nomination for President, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan disputed immigration, yet they underscored the importance of sympathizing with immigrants and shed light on problems immigrants faced, rather than the problems Americans faced as a result of immigration. George H.W. Bush in 1980 called immigrants “honorable, decent, family-loving people” via a video published by the New York Times, again demonstrating once more the bipartisan nature of immigration policy.

Polarization has grown stronger over the last few decades, and while most Democrats still believe that America has a responsibility to allow most immigrants coming from the southern border into the US on humanitarian grounds, Republicans have increasingly advocated for more stringent border control measures. Their rationale was to protect US citizens from what they saw as potential threats from attempting to enter the country. Notably, in 2016, former President Trump sought to construct a wall at the border to bar migrants from entering the US and apprehend and expel many asylum-seeking immigrants. His campaign found lots of success. On top of the border wall, he established the Migrant Protection Protocols Program, which arrested and deported undocumented immigrants living in America and expelled many immigrants seeking asylum. Trump also tried to terminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which offers undocumented young immigrants relief in the form of protection from deportation and a work permit. However, the Supreme Court ruled against his administration’s attempted termination of DACA.

Since Trump left office in 2020, current Democratic President Biden has taken measures to reverse Trump’s border security enactments, suspending the Migrant Protection Protocols Program and allowing many migrants re-entry.

In the past couple of months, the number of people in favor of stricter enforcement policies at the southern border has grown. According to Jeffrey M. Jones of Gallup News, in February of this year, polls showed that 28% of Americans rated immigration as their top issue, which is more than any other issue. 

Many Democrats, including Joe Biden, have grown more willing to side with conservatives and establish a more firm control over the passage of migrants from Mexico. The Biden administration has made efforts to bolster existing measures that limit the entry of migrants. However, these systems are loosely enforced, and if the government took stronger measures to enforce them, immigration rates would likely decrease. 

Still, polarization between Democrats and Republicans in government has hindered progress at the border. Many people on the far left have remained unwilling to forfeit any gains Biden had made earlier in his presidency, which established freer passage for migrants, and many people on the far right are unwilling to agree to policies that would tighten border control unless those policies meet high standards. Recent efforts to strengthen the border couldn’t win sufficient approval in government due to opposition from both the far left and the far right. For example, the Senate proposed a $118 billion bipartisan border bill that would improve border security and aid Ukraine and Israel. At the southern border, it would have established swifter results for immigrants, a higher bar for claims made by asylum-seekers, and limits on the number of immigrants seeking asylum. However, although the bill saw approval from Biden, it saw rejection from Democrats who didn't want him to give in to Republican pressure, from lawyers in his administration who questioned the legality of such actions, from some Republicans who didn't want to give Biden a legislative victory with a border deal they believe is insufficient anyways, and other Republicans who didn’t want to surrender such a large sum of money to support for Ukraine and Israel. Additionally, since the federal government presides over all rules regarding the border, Democrats currently in power refuse to allow Republican states to impose stricter border controls, as liberals in the Federal Appeals Court suspended Texas’ immigration law, which would have authorized the state to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants. Pushback from the South to enact stricter border policies has recently sparked the forced removal of many immigrants to northern cities, which have seen a huge surge of immigrants.

Immigration will be a focus of the 2024 presidential election. Immigration levels were historically above average before Biden took office in 2020, yet they have skyrocketed since. According to the Washington Post, since 2020, the annual number of immigrants entering the US illegally has about doubled while the number of migrants being arrested and deported has halved. While Biden has tried to compromise with Republicans on a bill that would restrict immigration at the Southern Border, Trump plans to take far more aggressive measures than Biden to halt the entry of migrants. Trump called immigrants “animals” and “not human” in a speech in Michigan last week via a video published by Time on YouTube.

Deep-rooted political differences within the government have stymied attempts to address the immigration issue. That coupled with a surge of migrants, the difficulty of hiring border patrol agents, as well as backlogging in immigrant courts will make struggles encountered at the border even more acute.



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