In 2016, Donald Trump made immigration restrictions a signature campaign issue. Since then, Trump’s aimed at significantly reducing immigration, especially in the months after COVID-19 arrived on our shores. Some voters, polls show, have balked at his more draconian measures, which should provide an opening to Joe Biden. Yet Biden’s problem is the Democratic Party has lurched significantly to the left on immigration, and his own platform reflects that move. There’s little in recent polling that suggests the Biden agenda will appeal to any but the most committed leftists, leaving a giant policy vacuum between him and Trump.
In 2016, Trump called for the construction of a border wall to stem illegal immigration from the south. Since then, he’s faced criticism from his base of voters for stumbling in his efforts to get the wall built, thanks to funding delays and court cases.
Trump has also issued a series of orders that have gradually reduced the influx of legal immigrants, including banning residents of countries the administration said failed to meet US security standards.
The administration has also created a “public charge” rule to limit the chance of legal immigrants becoming a burden on taxpayers — significantly increasing the number of immigrants denied entry because they weren’t deemed to have the resources to support themselves.
Finally, early this year, Trump suspended legal entry into the country from “immigrants who present a risk to the US labor market” in the wake of the economic shutdown, which could produce the largest decline in legal immigration in decades.
Some of Biden’s immigration policy revolves around reversing what Trump has done and returning to Obama-era policies, including rescinding the public-charge rule. Other Biden proposals are technocratic in nature, such as investing in “better technology.”
Though Biden’s proposals don’t go as far as those of some of his Democratic primary opponents, such as Bernie Sanders — who advocated breaking up Immigration and Customs Enforcement — Biden’s version of border enforcement would focus on the narrow category of “threats to national security and public safety” but would end workplace raids and enforcement at a host of what he calls “sensitive locations,” such as schools and hospitals.
That might be an invitation to many immigrants who don’t have prospects of legal entry but would be encouraged to come illegally.
As much of the Democratic Party has lurched left on immigration, compromise has become difficult. That’s evident in Biden’s strong support for the so-called Diversity Lottery, established by 1990 legislation that grants 50,000 visas annually to individuals from countries with low levels of immigration to the United States.
Originally created to boost visas to countries like Ireland that had seen their numbers diminish with the immigration overhaul of 1965, the program has long outlived its original purpose, and even one of the sponsors of the 1990 legislation, Sen. Chuck Schumer, proposed several years ago to end the lottery.
Nonetheless, Biden defends it in the kind of language reserved for deep moral causes, lauding “the critical role of diversity preferences.”
Biden also argues that addressing “root cause” problems like climate change — to prevent rising temperatures from destroying jobs in countries south of the US — and working to boost local economies with US dollars would slow immigration. But research shows that when poorer countries grow richer, emigration can increase because more people can afford to move.
Biden has excoriated Trump for trying to end the Obama “Dreamers” program, which protected from deportation illegal immigrants brought here as young children. But the Obama administration was unsuccessful in several attempts to pass legislation that would have protected Dreamers, even when Democrats controlled Congress.
A July poll showed that support for reducing immigration has declined. Still, the survey showed, only 34 percent said they currently favored allowing in more newcomers, while 28 percent wanted fewer and 36 percent favored keeping immigration levels where they are.
After 3 ¹/₂ years of Trump’s increasingly restrictive immigration policies, only slightly more than a third of Americans want to further open the gates to immigrants. Trump has clearly lost some support with his hard line. But there’s little evidence to show that voters might be ready for a massive embrace of Biden’s proposals.
This piece originally appeared at the New York Post
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