Biden’s immigration backpedal is a big mistake 

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Biden’s immigration backpedal is a big mistake 

Nothing marks the start of the summer campaign season quite like Democrats’ frenzied race to the political right. This year is no different, with President Biden announcing on Monday a tough new executive order sealing the U.S.-Mexico border and sharply restricting which immigrants qualify for asylum hearings. 

Spooked by his weak polling on immigration issues, Biden seems to have decided the best way to defuse Donald Trump’s immigration argument is to become a softer, gentler version of his predecessor. That includes invoking the same 1952 law that Trump used to enact his illegal “Muslim ban” in 2017, an act Biden decried as barbaric at the time.  

Biden and Democrats once warned American voters that Trump’s plan to seal the southern border was a staggering failure of moral responsibility. Now it’s official White House policy. Good luck finding a single national Democrat willing to publicly condemn Biden’s cynical backpedaling on such a fundamental human rights issue.  

It’s understandable that Democrats are willing to do just about anything to keep Trump out of the White House. A second Trump term would damage American institutions in ways that would echo for generations. But adopting the MAGA line on immigration isn’t going to turn a single Trump-aligned voter away from their anointed candidate. It will, however, fracture a Democratic base that’s now being asked to accept policies their leaders once called inhumane, unconstitutional, cruel and anti-American.  

At issue is a fundamental question of what Democrats actually believe, and which groups they actually care to protect, when the political waves get choppy. The party is excellent at defending migrant families when they lack the power to meaningfully affect the outcome, as we saw during the Trump years. But once in power, their actual governing strategy is almost indistinguishable from the MAGA extremism they previously condemned.  

We see that in President Biden’s continuation of Trump’s asylum suspension under Title 42 until just last year, when the White House could no longer use COVID as a shield to keep the policy in place. In fact, Biden expelled more migrants under Title 42 than Trump ever did, totaling 2.28 million removals compared to just 400,000 for Trump. 

In its place, Biden implemented new policies that dozens of his fellow Democrats say violate international law concerning the treatment of asylum seekers. Legal experts even warned that Biden’s conservative turn on immigration put America at risk of failing its own international treaty obligations. Democrats’ outrage didn’t change Biden’s tack, but it was encouraging to see the party standing behind its core belief in the human dignity of migrants who made the long and dangerous trek to seek asylum at our border. 

Unlike last year, though, national Democrats have been cowed into silence about Biden’s latest rightward leap for fear of jeopardizing what’s certain to be a close presidential election. What a disgraceful lack of moral courage from men and women who know better.  

Once again, the people most likely to suffer from this game of political football are the migrant families who exist on the margins of our political consciousness. Don’t expect to see a parade of prominent Democrats marching to Texas or Arizona to protest Biden’s restrictive policies the way they did Trump’s back in 2017 and 2018. Clearly, this election is too important to be weighed down by something as cumbersome as moral consistency.  

Worst of all, Biden’s new executive order effectively validates Trump’s bogus argument that the southern border is in crisis and America is overrun with migrants. Far from looking tough on immigration, skeptical voters are now likely to believe that Trump is onto something with all of his border fearmongering. After all, if Trump is just lying — as Biden has said in the past — why would the White House rush to adopt exactly the border policies Trump is proposing? 

In their rush to respond to polling, the Biden administration has instead played directly into the GOP narrative. Despite a long history of acknowledging that these cynical pivots to the right don’t work and in fact only alienate Democratic base voters, the party has once again taken Republicans’ bait. GOP leaders must be wondering how many more times they can pull off this same trick before Democrats finally wise up and learn to stand on their principles. 

Max Burns is a veteran Democratic strategist and founder of Third Degree Strategies.