Democrats are preparing to pass legislation in the House of Representatives this week that will pave the way for millions of immigrants living illegally in the United States to obtain citizenship.
It will be the first time that President Joe Biden’s immigration program is put to the test, just as a massive influx of migrants creates a new challenge at the border.
In the face of internal divisions and mounting Republican pressure, Democrats intend to take a clearly restricted approach for now. Instead of discussing the immigration reform wanted by Biden, who plans to legalize the majority of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country, the House will begin with two measures that cover groups seen as those who instigate the greater sympathy of the population: people brought to the country as children, called “dreamers”, migrants benefiting from temporary protection status for humanitarian reasons and agricultural workers.
But with thousands of other migrants arriving at the border daily, many of whom are unaccompanied children, even these more modest measures are finding it increasingly difficult to pass.
Democrats admit they don’t have enough Republican backing to get them through the Senate, and Republican leaders, eager to turn Democrats’ struggles into political disadvantage, are using the growing problems to instigate fear and opposition to them. any change except the most punitive.
“Why do we want to legalize everything [migrante]Asked Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and leader of past bipartisan immigration efforts. “I don’t understand the political logic of this. Everything is out of control. “
Democratic leaders hoped that by approving two of the most favored solutions to the larger immigration system, they could break the blockade that has thwarted attempts by the last three presidents to negotiate comprehensive reform or even make modest changes.
Now their optimism about even this approach is waning, and progressives and moderates continue to differ over Biden’s comprehensive citizenship bill.
“Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has found that she has no support in the House for the general bill, and I think this also indicates how the Senate feels,” said Senator Richard Durban (Illinois), the number two Democrat in the Senate and chairman of the Judicial Committee. “I wish we could move just one room at a time, but I don’t think it will be possible.”
Sensing a political opportunity, Republicans have moved swiftly in recent days to reiterate some of the Trump administration’s most incisive attacks on the basis of the deteriorating situation at the border, where thousands of children and adolescents are not accompanied are detained in the United States.
On Monday (15), Republican Kevin McCarthy, leader of the House Republican bench, took colleagues to the border near El Paso, Texas to witness firsthand what he described as “the crisis. border fed by Biden “.
Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas clarified the strategy over lunch at the Capitol Club in Washington last week, privately telling Republican senators that the Democrats’ “toxic” immigration policy will cost them their majority in the House and Senate.
The sharp increase in immigration is partly fueled by natural disasters and the consequences of the pandemic for the Central American economy, in addition to violence and poverty in the region.
But it is also the result of the opinion of some migrants that Biden would reverse some of former President Donald Trump’s most draconian immigration policies and take a more humanitarian approach.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said this month that the government’s message was not “don’t come”, but “don’t come now”. Senior administration officials say Biden plans to restore the asylum process at the border, but rescinding the Trump administration’s policies will take time.
Biden gradually began to receive a limited number of asylum seekers who, under Trump-era policy, were forced to wait in Mexico for months.
However, he maintained a general rule issued by the former president regarding the emergence of a pandemic that gives border officials the power to quickly reject migrants and send them back to their countries of origin without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum. It is a policy that the two administrations have deemed necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in places of detention of migrants.
The Trump administration does not apply the pandemic rule to unaccompanied minors at the border. The US government is legally obligated to look after them until it can find suitable officials to receive them when they are released.
But the shelters where these minors are to be accommodated – administered by the Department of Health and Social Services – until recently had limited capacity due to the pandemic. As a result, many young migrants remained in prisons administered by the border patrol, administration officials said.
The situation fuels fears among activists that the political will to make the long-needed changes to the immigration system may dissipate just when Democrats are in a position to make them, controlling Congress and the White House.
Todd Schulte, chairman of FWD.us, an immigrant rights organization, said the Republican claim that Biden had lost control of the border was a “bad faith argument” in an attempt to mobilize his supporters against the adoption of immigration legislation.
Whether the number of migrants crossing the border increases or decreases, Schulte said, “the answer is always ‘we need fewer immigrants, we can’t talk about a path to citizenship at all'”.
“It is a political problem that Republicans have lost, but they will continue to make this point,” he added. “It’s up to the Democrats to decide. The Republican Party cannot stop the Democrats from passing the Dream Law. “
The White House shares this frustration.
“We have a lot of criticism, but a lot of them don’t offer a lot of solutions,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.