MIAMI– The ad sounds like something out of the GOP 2024 playbook. She praises a senator’s work with Republicans to crack down on the flow of fentanyl and other illegal drugs into the U.S., cracks down on Chinese interests that help smugglers and points out how he “wrote a bill” from Donald Trump Signs to Increase Border Patrol Funding.”
It’s actually a commercial for Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat who is facing a tough re-election fight that will determine control of the Senate.
“Ohioans trust Sherrod Brown to keep us safe,” says the narrator of the ad, sponsored by the Democratic-allied Duty and Country PAC. His campaign declined to comment.
The message is another reminder of the political and security challenges the U.S.-Mexico border poses for President Joe Biden. Some Democrats across the country are distancing themselves from the White House and polls suggest widespread frustration with Biden’s handling of immigration and the border, posing a major threat to the president’s reelection next year.
The Biden administration took two actions this week that are seen by many as a shift to the right on immigration.
The Department of Homeland Security waived environmental and other reviews when building new portions of a border wall in South Texas after Biden promised during the 2020 campaign not to build “another foot” of wall. And U.S. officials said they would resume deportations to Venezuela, shortly after the government increased protective status for thousands of people from the country.
Both moves outraged both conservatives and liberals. Many Republicans accused Biden of being slow to adopt former President Donald Trump’s ideas on a border wall, while liberals who opposed additional border restrictions accused the White House of betraying campaign promises.
“I was frustrated that as a country we were not addressing immigration holistically. We depend on the president alone,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas, a Democrat who represents the border city of El Paso and is a national co-chair of the Biden reelection campaign. “We treat people of different nationalities differently. And the paths created are constantly being challenged in court.”
Biden said his administration moved forward with the border wall because it was requested by Congress during the Trump administration, even though he believes it is ineffective. His re-election campaign pointed to Trump’s record on the border, including his administration’s practice of separating immigrant families as a deterrent measure and temporarily holding children in chain cells in warehouses.
“MAGA Republicans are citing the legacy of Donald Trump’s playbook of family separation, locking up children and chanting ‘Border!’ without serious solutions,” said Kevin Munoz, a spokesman for Biden’s re-election campaign, referring to supporters of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement.
Border crossings reached their highest level in two decades under Trump, but fell in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic as immigration authorities expelled most border crossers, citing the health agency’s Title 42 policy.
After taking office, Biden paused border wall construction and canceled the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico program, but continued to expel many people under Title 42 until last May.
Nevertheless, the number of border crossings is now skyrocketing, which some observers blame his government for giving the impression that the border is open. The White House counters that migration has surged across the Western Hemisphere due to regional challenges beyond the government’s control.
Conservative media often shines a spotlight on border crossings and blames Biden for creating a crisis. But Biden has drawn criticism from many in his own party, including Democratic mayors and governors who want more help caring for newly arrived migrants.
Republican-run border states began busing thousands of immigrants to Democratic-run cities across the country, creating a huge space shortage in many places that led to makeshift shelters and camps.
In Chicago, O’Hare International Airport now hosts hundreds of migrants, from babies to the elderly, at a shuttle bus center. They sleep on cardboard pads on the floor and share airport toilets.
New York Mayor Eric Adams traveled to Mexico this week to implore would-be migrants not to come. He accused the Biden administration of not providing the city with enough money or resources to accommodate migrants, telling reporters this summer: “The President and the White House have failed New York City on this issue.”
Polls suggest that Americans across the political spectrum — even some people who agree with immigration — are concerned.
A Marquette Law School poll of registered voters conducted in late September showed Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican Party nomination, with a 24-point lead over Biden on immigration and border security issues – 52% to 28%.
Republicans’ focus on immigration and the border didn’t stop Democrats from scoring big victories in the 2018 midterm elections, and Biden and the Democrats also exceeded expectations in last year’s election, retaining the Senate and the House only narrowly lost to the Republicans. But even then there were some worrying signs.
About six in 10 voters said they disapprove of the way Biden is handling the issue of border security, according to AP VoteCast, a comprehensive nationwide voter survey. According to VoteCast, about 27% of Democrats disapproved of the way Biden handled the border, with a third of Democrats who identify as moderate or conservative saying it was an issue on which they disapproved of Biden’s performance.
Border security was also a weak point for Biden among independents: 66% said they opposed it.
Sixty-one percent of Democrats wanted stronger law enforcement at the border, as did two-thirds of Latino or Hispanic voters (65%).
Escobar, a leading Hispanic voice for the Biden campaign, said she was concerned that immigration could hurt the president’s re-election efforts.
“There will be a tendency to blame the White House when in fact Congress has failed,” she said. The last major immigration reform was approved by Congress in 1990.
Auri Lugo, a 31-year-old Venezuelan who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, said she believes resuming deportations is the right thing to do, adding that federal authorities are moving toward expediting applications for family-based immigrant visas and the parole program should focus on humanitarian reasons. This means that up to 30,000 people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela can enter the country.
Lugo, who came to the United States six years ago and is a legal resident, was able to get her 9-year-old son from Venezuela last year through the humanitarian parole program. But she couldn’t bring her mother, who had looked after the boy since he was two years old.
“I think it’s good that they’re taking action on this matter,” she said. “There are many Venezuelans who are staying in shelters and not working. You don’t have a work permit. So they’re on the streets.”
Despite his 2020 promises on the border, Biden has long been more moderate on the issue than some in his party. As a senator, he voted for legislation to expand the U.S.-Mexico border fence and supported authorizing federal impoundment to build new barriers.
He also served as vice president to Barack Obama, whose administration set records for the number of people illegally deported in the country, earning the president the nickname “Deporter in Chief” from some immigrant rights activists.
The Biden administration has nonetheless taken a number of steps to reduce the increasing number of migrants arriving at the U.S. border, including establishing processing centers for migrants seeking U.S. asylum in Guatemala and Colombia, and creating more avenues for others to come legally.
“Republicans have been characterized by anti-immigrant sentiment, fear-mongering and xenophobia for several cycles. It didn’t work for them before, and it won’t work for them in this cycle,” said Pili Tobar, a former senior Biden White House official and Democratic strategist. “Immigration is a complex issue and there are no easy answers. This government is working hard with the limited resources at its disposal to find balanced solutions.”
Weissert reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Linley Sanders in Washington contributed to this report.