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In election season on immigration, contrasts have to be drawn and positives emphasized

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Washington, DC – Below is a column by Maribel Hastings from America’s Voice en Español translated to English from Spanish. It ran in several Spanish-language media outlets earlier this week:

This week, President Joe Biden requested $4.7 billion in contingency funds from Congress if migrant crossings exceed a certain amount each day. The request might be an exercise in futility since Republicans in the House of Representatives already rejected a larger proposal that was part of the package of aid to Ukraine, so that Trump could continue exploiting the immigration issue in his campaign. 

Biden is trying to show voters that he is taking steps to deal with issues at the border and on immigration, which have gone from being among voters’ last issues of interest to the top. 

This leads me to make an observation about Biden’s State of the Union address last week. And it’s not about him having employed the term “illegal” to refer to an undocumented person charged with the murder of a young nursing student in Georgia, Laken Riley. Biden later said he should not have used it. 

Rather, it was his insistence on promoting the Republican “border security” plan that revives disastrous draconian proposals, including those that undermine asylum law.   

It’s too much enthusiasm for a plan where Democrats made uncomfortable concessions, denounced by pro-immigrant groups. It is perhaps just the most recent example of a Democratic pattern in recent decades when they feel boxed in by Republicans on the immigration issue: make concessions with the hope of obtaining some sort of result. 

This strategy is effective if the other party negotiates in good faith. But Trump and his Republican army are just looking to politicize the issue, lie, and appeal to racism and xenophobia, as they are doing now with the tragedy of the young Laken Riley. They are not looking for solutions. They want chaos and crisis. 

Two weeks ago at the border, Biden said that he wants to work with Trump and the Republicans to advance this migration language. It’s laudable that he still thinks Trump and the Republicans want to collaborate on immigration. However, voters themselves can see the contrast between a president who is at least trying to have something advanced and an ex-president who does everything possible to prevent it. 

Former Democratic presidents have faced this at electoral times when looking to appeal to voters beyond their base, they sometimes—ironically—end up disillusioning voters within their base.

In 1996, facing reelection and pressure from a Republican Congress. Bill Clinton enacted two of the most restrictive anti-immigration laws in the history of the United States: one targeting public assistance, or welfare, which even denied benefits to permanent residents, and the immigration law which, among other things, gave us the three and ten-year re-entry bars that kept millions of undocumented people with citizen and permanent resident relatives from regularizing their status. 

Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, promising immigration reform, and obtained 67% of the Latino vote. But to “attract” Republican support, he deported half of humanity and was under such enormous pressure by the Dreamers that he created DACA in 2012, facing reelection and discontent among Hispanic voters. After DACA, Obama increased his support among Latinos to 71% during his reelection in 2012, proving that taking bold and beneficial measures on migration issues, and educating voters about the enormous contributions of immigrants bears fruit at the polls. 

I understand the pressure on Biden because of the border. He wants to show strength, but MAGA Republicans will never support him, even if he deported millions. And swing voters, like the rest of the population, want a balanced solution that integrates border security with a path to legalization and other avenues that permit migrants to enter the country through regular channels. Both can be done.  

As we have repeated in this space, you have to be on the offense, not the defense, and also talk about the positive that immigration has been, is, and will be for our economy and the fabric of this nation. 

The original Spanish version is here.