President Biden’s action on immigration is a tough sell in this border county

As Democrats and Republicans in Washington negotiated legislation to overhaul the asylum system and strengthen border security earlier this year, many people in Cochise County, Arizona, a conservative stronghold, were holding back. breath.

The bill promised to secure more of the federal grants that helped local mayors and community leaders house and transport migrants crossing their stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border. But after former President Donald J. Trump helped defeat the proposal, even some of President Biden’s staunchest Republican critics in the region expressed disappointment.

And yet, as news spread this week of Mr. Biden’s latest action, which aims to follow through on some of the asylum provisions of a failed law, Republicans and Democrats alike in the region, a a place where many have long felt their needs were ignored, viewed it with skepticism.

Douglas Mayor Donald Huish, a nonpartisan Republican, questioned whether some action was better than nothing.

“On the one hand, I’m happy to get whatever help I can,” he said. “On the other hand, I wish they would just fix the problem.”

Kathleen Gomez, a Democrat-turned-Republican who is running for the county Board of Supervisors, called it “a Band-Aid on a severed artery.”

Cochise County’s response illustrates how the border has become a political headache for Mr. Biden and the challenges that await him as he campaigns for re-election relying on a restrictive approach to immigration. immigration he once pledged to reverse.

Mr. Biden’s shift on immigration allows him to address a major political vulnerability, as more American voters now view the situation at the country’s southern border as a problem and polls show that More people trust Mr. Trump to handle the situation than trust Mr. Biden.

But in critical political battlegrounds like Arizona, residents reacted to the executive order this week with mixed emotions. Some praised Mr. Biden for at least trying to address their concerns. Many had no idea that it would sway voters or go a long way toward solving the fundamental problems they have been grappling with for years.

On the left, Mr. Biden’s harshest critics have said he is playing a right-wing political role at a time when the anti-immigration rhetoric of Republican candidates and their associates has become uglier and more dangerous.

Leo Murrieta, director of Make The Road Nevada Action, an immigrant rights group, said Mr. Biden was treating migrants and their families as pawns to attract voters. “It’s a political gamble that won’t pay off the dividends they think it will. »

Biden campaign officials and their allies counter that the action is just one of many efforts to solve an intractable problem that Republicans have refused to help solve. Although the order aims to curb illegal crossings, it provides exceptions for certain migrants, such as unaccompanied children and victims of human trafficking. Other Biden administration initiatives have sought to expedite immigration processing, increase legal pathways into the country, and improve anti-human trafficking efforts and enforcement operations. fentanyl.

“President Biden knows that being president is not about theater, it’s about taking action on the issues that matter most to our communities,” said Kevin Muñoz, senior spokesperson for the Biden campaign . “Despite inaction from Trump and his loyalists, President Biden is taking action today.”

Some Democratic strategists view this latest move as strategically and politically sound. They argue that could help soften the blow on an issue that Republicans have wielded like a cudgel and allow Mr. Biden and vulnerable Democratic candidates in swing states to run on a message that has long eluded them: that they are a party seeking solutions to the immigration dilemma.

Matt Bennett, co-founder of Third Way, a centrist organization, called Mr. Biden’s latest action “the last leg of a stool.” Mr. Biden has already clashed with Mr. Trump in a duel over visits to the U.S.-Mexico border. He pushed for bipartisan legislation, which Republicans twice blocked, the first time after Mr. Trump opposed it. Now he has signed a decree.

“He clearly shows that he is doing everything he can, up to the limits of his power,” he said.

But some Democratic and Latino strategists warned that Mr. Biden would now have to work harder to draw a contrast between himself and Mr. Trump on immigration.

Biden’s moves to appear tougher on enforcement could help neutralize the problem in the eyes of left-wing and independent voters in Midwestern states far from the southern border, like Wisconsin and Michigan, they said. declared. But they might play differently in the Southwest, where the daily benefits and challenges of coexistence with a southern neighbor are not an abstraction.

Polls show that the majority of Hispanic voters favor stronger border controls, but they say that actions and rhetoric echoing those of Mr. Trump risk depressing turnout among young Latinos, according to a base of Mr. Biden has struggled to consolidate. In states like Arizona, these demographics are credited with helping fuel important Democratic victories.

“They need to be very clear about the difference from what Donald Trump did,” said Kristian Ramos, an adviser to Way to Win, a national progressive network that has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in congressional elections.

In Cochise County, the problems faced by mayors like Mr. Huish’s situation began to deteriorate as the number of migrants began to reach record levels last year. The county, located in southeastern Arizona – encompassing the cities of Naco, Bisbee, Douglas and Sierra Vista – has become a major transit hub.

Federal funds distributed through a county grant program allowed leaders to help bus migrants brought from different ports of entry to cities across the country. A Catholic church was transformed into a refuge. Volunteers organized themselves to collect donations and help new arrivals. It’s a story that has been repeated across the United States, along the border and in other cities, which have often relied on impromptu networks of lawyers and community leaders to feed, house and move migrants to their potential destinations.

The number of people entering the United States illegally from Mexico fell 50 percent in January, when border agents reported more than 124,000 encounters with migrants. But the county, like others along Arizona’s southern border, is still on the edge.

Unlike failed bipartisan legislation, the recent order does not increase federal funding. It’s also clear how the action would play out in this part of the border, where law enforcement says many migrants crossing don’t present themselves to officers seeking asylum, but instead seek to avoid be detected.

Leaving Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Douglas, where he regularly attends Mass, Esgardo Torres, a longtime Democrat and public school custodian, said he had spoken to many migrants who were there housed until spring. He said he believed a “crisis” was looming at the southern border, but he didn’t think increased security — more fences, agents, walls — had made much of a difference in preventing people to seek a better life in the United States. This has resulted in more harassment by law enforcement of border residents, particularly Hispanics, he said.

“I’ve seen it a lot: They have six or seven agents just to catch one guy, maybe two,” Mr. Torres, 74, said, calling it “ridiculous.”

Ann English, a conservative Democrat who sits on the county Board of Supervisors, said Mr. Biden’s order would only lead to costly legal challenges. “It seems like we are in the middle of political theater,” she said.

Mr. Huish had a message for other members of his party who were quick to criticize the government’s new direction.

“You don’t like it?” Well, come up with something,” he said with palpable frustration, adding that Mr. Biden at least had the tenacity to do it. However, he added, he still considered voting for Mr Atout.

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