Political conditions in the US are ripe for rare progress on immigration. The issue has always fallen victim to debates over timing. Which should come first — serious border enforcement or an amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the country? Progressives, content with weak enforcement and a rising population that expected to be granted legal status in any eventual compromise, have long felt that time was on their side. But a confluence of forces is now shifting that calculus.
What appeared at one time a stunt — Republican governors sending busloads of illegal immigrants to cities unprepared to handle the influx — has evolved into a systemic crisis. More than 100,000 migrants have arrived in New York City over the past year and a half; 60,000 reside in temporary government shelters there. Massachusetts has declared a state of emergency and a recent poll of the state’s generally progressive population found that immigration had risen suddenly to the fourth most important issue facing residents.
Public perception of the problem is compounded by the surge in lawlessness under the Biden administration. The transition from the Trump administration’s harsh enforcement in 2020 to the new administration’s lax approach in 2021 yielded a quadrupling of illegal border crossings to an all-time high. This crisis is a policy choice, not some irresistible force.
Americans have previously reacted with resignation. But not this time. A national poll conducted this month by CBS News found that only 34 per cent of Americans approve of Joe Biden’s handling of the issue, with lower marks only on inflation. Among Hispanics that figure fell to 29 per cent, and among independents to 26 per cent. Such numbers will worry the Democrats as they head into a presidential election that is likely to pit Biden against former president Donald Trump, for whom immigration is a signature issue. Exactly how worried they will be depends on how the Republicans now play their hand.