Capitol building, Washington DC, USA

US president Joe Biden is getting flak from both Democrats and Republicans over his border deal with Mexico aimed at reducing immigration.

Dafydd Townley

3 min read

President Joe Biden has been negotiating a new deal with Mexico in the hope of mediating the long-running immigration crisis on the US southern border.

There is no doubt that Mexico has played a role in reducing migrant numbers on the US border since changes began in May when COVID-19 restrictions, known as Title 42, had come to an end. According to Customs and Border Protection, border crossings from Mexico to the United States have recently fallen from 10,000 a day to approximately 3,500 a day.

Title 42 had been in place since March 2020 when the Trump administration acted to reduce crossings, ostensibly to stop the possibility of COVID-19 coming into the country through its border with Mexico.

Under the new arrangement, the Mexican government has changed its approach. During the pandemic crisis, it had agreed to accept non-Mexican migrants deported from the US that would otherwise have been transported back to their country of origin.

Mexico’s role

Mexico is now also transporting migrants from central and southern America to Mexico’s southern region (away from the US border), and making it more difficult for non-Mexican migrants to get documentation that would allow them to travel to the Mexico-American border.

Under direction from Mexico’s federal government, migration offices in southern Mexico that issued temporary transportation visas have been closed, and there is a restriction on documentation that allows migrants and refugees to travel and stay in Mexico.

Critics of the Mexican government suggest that the White House will refrain from questioning President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s domestic policies, which some civil liberties groups have labelled undemocratic, as a quid pro quo for the deal.

Earlier this year, Biden had announced his intention of implementing the asylum ineligibility rule, a policy that made undocumented migrants crossing the southern border ineligible for asylum if they had not tried to claim asylum in a country that they passed through on their way to the US.

But immigration advocacy groups have been critical about Biden’s policy. Alex Miller, director of the advocacy group Immigration Justice Campaign, called the changes “a stark reversal of the administration’s stated commitment to restoring access to asylum”.

The American Civil Liberties Union said that Biden needed to “immediately change course and make good on its pledge to ensure the most vulnerable have access to refuge”.

Former Mexican foreign secretary and López Obrador’s political opponent Jorge Castañeda said that the Mexican president had got a “very good deal from both Biden and Trump, basically for doing their dirty work on immigration”.

In an effort to gain public support, the Biden administration has already claimed that the policy is working by publicising the reduced numbers of migrant applications.

But Biden’s policy is now under threat after a federal judge in San Francisco ruled in July that the administration’s limits on those who can apply for asylum at the southern border was “substantially and procedurally invalid”.

Although the US Justice Department indicated it would appeal, the ruling is yet another problem for Biden’s immigration policy, an area that is likely to be at the centre of the Republican attacks in next year’s presidential elections.

The legal decision threatens to end the asylum ineligibility rule.

Former Democrat Representative for Texas 16th congressional district Beto O’Rourke tweeted that the ruling was “the right decision”.

Both immigration advocates and those calling for stricter guidelines have attacked the Biden administration’s immigration policy since the president took office.

In July, the Republican-led House committee on oversight and accountability accused Biden of creating “the worst border crisis in American history” and that there were “historically high levels of illegal border crossings”.

Republican committee co-chairmen James Comer and Mark E. Green added that Biden and Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, had “ignited a national security and humanitarian catastrophe at the border”.

Some journalists think immigration is Biden’s “no-win political mess”. The southern border has long been a problem for presidents. Former president Donald Trump promised to build a wall along the border.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who was tasked with finding a solution to the border crisis, has been the subject of much Republican criticism.

Presidential hopeful and governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, also criticised Biden before Title 42 expired. As DeSantis signed into law a bill that funded the transportation of migrants to other states, he claimed that Biden “was sitting around doing nothing of importance or nothing of note while the American people suffer”.

Whether the supreme court upholds the San Francisco ruling or not, the White House seems to be in a no-win position.

Immigration attitudes

Recent polls show that significantly more Americans that identified as Republicans (70%) felt that immigration was a major problem than Democrats (25%). Inflation (65%), affordable healthcare (64%) and partisanship (61%) are thought by all parties as the top national problems and outweigh illegal immigration (47%).

The border crisis is unlikely to cost Biden the election, but it will remain a thorn in the administration’s side beyond 2024. As the administration’s efforts to deal with inflation start to bring success, and with record job creation numbers, Biden’s team seems to be confident of getting a second term next year.

However, what should concern them is that despite these economic improvements, polls show that his 41.4% approval rating is still just below that of Donald Trump (42%) at the same stage of his presidency.

Biden needs to ensure that the southern border crisis does not dominate the headlines and become the major issue of the next election. While America’s relationship with its southern neighbour is transforming as Mexico becomes a more willing partner, it is forcing Biden to renege on campaign promises and face attacks from both the political left and right. 

Dafydd Townley is a Teaching Fellow in the School of Strategy, Marketing & Innovation in the Faculty of Business & Law.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons Licence. Read the original article.

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