Apr 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Senate Democrats split as Biden eyes strict border move

President Joe Biden speaks during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute 46th Annual Gala

President Joe Biden speaks during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute 46th Annual Gala. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Senate Democrats are divided over President Biden using executive power to crack down on illegal border crossings.

Why it matters: Immigration is a no-win political issue for Biden, who has faced nonstop "open border" attacks from the right as well as increasingly vocal frustration from the more progressive wing of his own party.

Between the lines: Democrats have shifted on the issue, aware of the real political vulnerability on the border— especially as cities across the U.S. have struggled to accommodate tens of thousands of new arrivals from the border over the past year.

  • Then Republicans — egged on by former President Trump — killed a bipartisan border deal earlier this year, which gave Democrats political cover.
  • "Because of that failure, I think it's appropriate that [Biden] takes another look and see what he can do," Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) told Axios.
  • Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) told Axios that "anything that could approximate or resemble what we did with the bipartisan border deal is very important."

The other side: Other Democrats have expressed concern about new policies that could restrict access to asylum. Some have accused the White House of not involving enough border and Hispanic lawmakers in their planning.

  • "There are a lot of tools at the President's disposal to improve our immigration system that don't include banning asylum seekers from exercising their right to seek safety," Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) told Axios in a statement.
  • He and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have urged Biden to use his power to provide pathways to citizenship to undocumented immigrants.

A handful of senators who have been critical in the past are waiting to see if an order materializes and what it would do.

  • "I'm always willing to take a look at policy," Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) told Axios. "But I've been very clear about my concerns in the past associated with policies that have been pushed by some."
  • Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who worked closely with the administration on a bipartisan border deal, said he would have to wait to see the details of any potential action. "I can't comment on something that doesn't exist," he told Axios.

What to watch: Congressional Hispanic Caucus and border members have been irked by the White House's not involving them more with their planning.

  • "I don't know that the administration has done a good job at staying in touch and reaching out with colleagues from border states," Luján said.
  • Luján said he appreciates the White House chief of staff's outreach at times, but that "many of our colleagues should be at the table having these conversations and I'm not aware of any that are."
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