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With record arrests at the border, immigration a political flashpoint before election

Updated September 30, 2022 - 10:37 am

WASHINGTON — U.S. agents have arrested a record 2 million undocumented immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border this year and 1 million have entered legally to seek asylum, making immigration policy and enforcement a political flashpoint before midterm elections.

Public surveys show the public divided along partisan lines with Republican-leaning citizens favoring enforcement and deportation, and those who vote Democratic supportive of asylum seekers and citizenship for so-called Dreamers, those brought here illegally as children.

But a majority of Americans want stronger enforcement, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

With the election as a backdrop, Republican governors in Florida, Texas and Arizona have shipped asylum seekers to Democratic cities in New York, Massachusetts and to Washington — a tactic that has delighted GOP supporters and drawn Democratic scorn.

President Joe Biden condemned the political-year tactics by Republicans as “playing politics with human beings, using them as props.” He made the comments at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual gala

In Florida, Jared Kushner, the former president’s son-in-law, questioned using asylum seekers as “political pawns” by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who along with Donald Trump is eyeing the 2024 presidential race.

DeSantis defended the tactic and the political ramification of highlighting the issue to voters.

“This is one where Republicans have the advantage,” DeSantis told talk show host Sean Hannity on Fox News.

Stress on southern border

There are no doubts that the Southwest border and federal agents are under strain.

This year there have been 2.4 million arrests of people entering the country, with 2.1 million arrests occurring along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

It is a record number, Customs Commissioner Chris Magnus said. There have been 1.3 million deportations.

The surge in migrants is partly due to Latin American refugees fleeing persecution from communist regimes in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, who have entered the United States and legally applied for asylum or deportation protection, and are awaiting their court hearings.

Because of a backlog of cases, the process can take as long as seven years.

Magnus said people “fleeing repressive regimes pose significant challenges for processing and removal.”

He also noted a decrease in economic immigrants at the Southwest border. Magnus credited that to Biden administration efforts.

“The number of migrants entering from Mexico and northern Central America has decreased for the third consecutive month, as the Biden-Harris Administration works with our partners in the region to address the root causes of migration,” Magnus said in a statement accompanying the newly released figures.

‘Open border’ attacks

Republicans have roundly criticized Biden’s efforts as failed “open border” policies.

“His amnesty agenda and open border policies have led to record-breaking illegal immigration, and with it, an unchecked deluge of drugs pouring into the United States,” wrote U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, in an op-ed that appeared in the Washington Times.

The attacks on Biden administration policies by Republican leaders have lead GOP candidates, including Adam Laxalt in Nevada, to adopt those tactics in a race that has so far been defined by economic woes, inflation and the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn the right to abortion.

Republicans highlighted the issue to spur base voters in 2018, when they lost control of the House and Senate, and in 2020, when they lost the presidency.

“We have seen this movie before. Like clockwork, every election the GOP attempts to politicize immigration and the unveiling of their latest anti-immigrant agenda is no different,’’ said Sergio Gonzales, executive director with Immigration Hub, an advocacy group.

Biden administration officials say the record number of apprehensions prove the border is not open, as Republicans claim.

Democrats disgruntled

Still, Democrats in competitive races have been stymied by the Biden administration’s handling of the immigration issue.

Some were disgruntled with the administration’s slow response early in the president’s term when immigrants and refugees were huddled along the border and crowding detention centers in border states.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention invoked Title 42, a U.S. law to combat disease pandemics that requires asylum seekers to stay in Mexico until their cases were called.

Biden kept in place the Trump-era rule, modified for small children and others, but has decided to lift it as the pandemic has waned.

About a half-dozen Democratic senators in competitive races, including Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, initially urged the Biden administration not to immediately lift Title 42, fearing the administration was unprepared to handle a surge at the border.

They demanded a detailed plan, which officials have produced, in preparation for easing the public health rule and processing migrants.

Conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation have opposed Biden administration plans to expedite the process for asylum seekers, claiming a majority will not qualify for protected status and remain in the United States illegally.

Legally seeking asylum

Meanwhile, a wave of asylum seekers have already entered the country legally and are waiting for immigration judges to hear their cases.

Republican governors in Arizona, Texas and Florida have sent some to Vice President Kamala Harris’s residence in the District of Columbia, New York and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

In one case, the political stunt could backfire. DeSantis has received backlash from conservative Cuban-Americans and Venezuelan-Americans in Southern Florida sympathetic to refugees fleeing dictatorships and repressive governments.

Nonetheless, the crush of new arrivals being shipped by Republican governors to northern Democratic-controlled cities have prompted New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, both Democrats, to seek federal assistance and use the National Guard.

Despite the disagreement over political tactics, the governors all cite the need for the federal government to step up, enforce federal immigration law with tax dollars.

Not surprisingly, the public agrees with the officials and divides along partisan lines on how best to address the decades-old dilemma.

Overall, 73 percent of Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center last month said increasing border security should be a top priority in U.S immigration policy.

A large majority, 91 percent, of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said border security should be an important goal, while 59 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents listed it as a top priority for immigration policy.

A majority of respondents from both major political parties, 72 percent, supported the United States taking in refugees from countries where people are fleeing war and violence, although more Democrats (85 percent) than Republicans (58 percent) said so.

The survey also found 72 percent said an important immigration goal should be to allow people brought into the country as children illegally to apply for and receive citizenship.

The Pew Research Center survey was conducted Aug. 1 to 14 and included 7,647 respondents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.7 percentage points.

Although leaders in both political parties agree that the current system of immigration laws is antiquated, Congress has failed to pass an immigration reform bill that would update the process of legal immigration, as well as address illegal immigration.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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