The United States remains politically divided on immigration policy
With dissatisfaction high over the Biden administration’s liberal shift on immigration, Republicans and conservatives may benefit in the midterm elections.
In a nutshell
- A bipartisan compromise on immigration and border security is unlikely
- Some polls show Hispanic voters are shifting to the Republican Party
- Unstable conditions in Latin America will likely fuel more migration
No issues are more likely to divide the American left and right over the next few years than immigration and border security policy. Upcoming national midterm elections in November and national elections in 2024, including the presidential race, will only exacerbate tensions and disagreements among American political factions. These differences will intensify due to action at the state level. States will move decisively in opposite directions in their approach to border security and immigration, depending on which party controls the governorships and legislatures.
Past as prologue
The current political environment surrounding immigration and border security in the United States is unprecedented in modern times. As a result, both Republicans and Democrats are making this up as they go along.
Indeed, before the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, immigration and border issues were a third rail of American politics, one that many legislators preferred to simply sidestep. After 9/11, President George W. Bush used concerns about border security to offer a compromise, tightening the border and increasing enforcement in exchange for the acceptance of illegal migrants already present in the U.S. That compromise pleased neither side. Further, the compromise was tried and failed multiple times in subsequent years.
The more conservative U.S. Supreme Court will likely side with Republicans on immigration and border security issues.
President Barack Obama dropped the strategy of looking for an agreement and liberalized immigration policies. President Donald Trump flipped the script and sought to show that under existing law, without the promise of amnesty, an administration could move decisively to crack down on illegal border crossings and enforce immigration law – even to such extremes as separating children from parents. President Joe Biden came into office and again liberalized border and immigration policies, although official figures show a rise in fiscal year 2021 detentions on the U.S.-Mexican border.
Radically different presidential policies and congressional inaction deeply accelerated the political divide within the U.S., with dramatic and unpredictable outcomes. For example, there are increasingly sharp divisions between Republican- and Democratic-controlled states. The issue has had an unexpected impact on U.S. voters. Hispanic voters, who have traditionally supported Democratic politicians, are showing signs of shifting toward the Republicans.
Also by James Jay Carafano
In American politics, immigration and border security increasingly look like winner-take-all issues, rather than a field for likely compromise, as was the assumption a decade ago. Parties will continue to aggressively try to sharpen distinctions and impose their preferred policies.
If control of Congress moves from Democratic to Republican after the coming election, that could send a strong signal on which party will impose their policies. In May, for instance, a large coalition of conservative groups authored an open letter to legislators urging the next Congress “to immediately legislate unflinchingly, ensuring that neither this nor any future administration are again able to weaponize the loopholes in the immigration system to purposefully drive mass illegal immigration to the United States. … The opportunity to legislate has been missed in several previous Congresses but the stakes are too high for it to be missed again.”
They argue for stronger enforcement measures and for eliminating loopholes used to implement more liberal border and immigration policies. Such reforms include changing the asylum process to reduce abuse and taking action to eliminate discretionary grants of employment and other authorities the present administration uses to eliminate barriers to unlawful presence in the U.S.
Even without stronger enforcement legislation, if congressional leaders reject amnesty and focus on border security, including by aggressively deporting illegal migrants, they will be signaling the likely Republican direction in the 2024 presidential election.
Immigration has become a bellwether issue for both political parties.
A strong Republican platform is more likely to be met with a more determined and equally vigorous response from Democrats. As the Biden administration continues to press ahead with more liberal policies, the more conservative U.S. Supreme Court will likely side with Republicans on immigration and border security issues.
Conditions in Latin America are becoming less stable, in part fueled by increasing migration, global economic trends and political turmoil. These conditions will likely lead to a greater surge of migrants trying to get into America.
According to polls, confidence in the administration’s handling of immigration and border issues is extremely low.
Facts & figures
Migrants detained on U.S.-Mexican border
Economic difficulties, increasing crime and drug use and greater burdens on U.S. taxpayers will likely strengthen conservatives. This, in turn, is likely going to reflect in more conservative policies after the midterm elections. These include tighter border security, more aggressive action against transnational crime and human trafficking networks, increased deportation of illegal migrants, stricter enforcement of immigration laws, more limited use of asylum and refugee programs and stricter oversight of nongovernmental organizations.
Less predictable will be the impact of legal immigration. The speed and scope of the U.S. economic recovery could well determine the future of U.S. policy this issue and the number of legal immigrants the country will permit. Significant reforms or adjustments could well be pushed off to 2027 or later.
In many respects, immigration has become a bellwether issue for both political parties, who have adopted policies to shape their identities. That will not change and will consequently sharpen the fight for supremacy over border and immigration policy in the years ahead.