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Biden takes fresh immigration moves into debate with Trump

Published 06/24/2024, 08:54 AM
Updated 06/24/2024, 10:21 AM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: DACA recipient Javier Quiroz Castro introduces U.S. President Joe Biden, before the announcement an executive action to provide immigration relief for spouses of U.S. citizens, coinciding with the 12th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Ch

By Ted Hesson and Kristina Cooke

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden heads into a crucial debate with rival Donald Trump this week armed with new immigration and border policies that his backers hope will boost his standing among skeptical voters.

Biden announced two major policy moves in June that seek to address migration challenges and woo the electorate: an asylum ban to cut illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border and a sweeping legalization for long-term residents married to U.S. citizens.

The two policies - one aimed at turning away new migrants and the other focused on legalizing hundreds of thousands already here - illustrate the political tightrope that Biden has walked as he competes for another term in the White House.

Record numbers of migrants have been caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border during Biden's presidency and immigration has emerged as a top voter concern ahead of the Nov. 5 election.

Biden, a Democrat, has toughened his approach to border enforcement in the face of criticism from Trump, a Republican who adopted hardline policies in his 2017-2021 presidency and has vowed a vast immigration crackdown if reelected.

On immigration policy, registered voters prefer Trump over Biden by a 17 percentage point margin, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll in mid-May. The issue is sure to feature when the two candidates face off in their debate on Thursday in Atlanta.

Earlier this year, Biden pushed Congress to pass a bipartisan Senate border security bill but Republicans rejected the effort in February after Trump came out in opposition.

Biden rolled out a new policy on June 4 that barred most migrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border from seeking asylum, saying the executive action was needed to reduce illegal immigration in the absence of legislation.

The policy aims to quickly deport migrants arriving at the border to their home countries or back to Mexico instead of releasing them in the U.S. where they might wait years to resolve their case in court.

The number of migrants caught crossing has dropped in recent weeks although U.S. officials say it is too soon to gauge whether the trend will continue.

While the clampdown on the border was driven by polling data that showed most Americans want tighter controls, the White House has also looked at other polls showing what it believes is an opportunity to mobilize Latino voters with pro-immigrant action, two sources familiar with the matter said.

The polls included one by the advocacy group Immigration Hub that showed a move to legalize spouses of U.S. citizens would have strong support among voters, especially Latinos, one of the sources said.

The polls - along with a push from Democrats and advocates - encouraged Biden to offer a path to citizenship to some 500,000 spouses of U.S. citizens, the majority of whom were long-term U.S. residents from Mexico, they said.

Matt Barreto, a Biden campaign pollster who conducted the Immigration Hub survey, said Americans view migrants at the border differently than long-term residents and want both border enforcement and fair treatment for those living and working in their communities for years.

"When it comes up in focus groups and we say, 'What about the person who cleans your house? What about the person who takes care of your children or your elderly mother?'" Barreto said. "They love them."

DEPORTATIONS

Trump campaign spokesperson Karoline Leavitt last week criticized the new Biden program and pointed to voter support for deportations. A Reuters/Ipsos poll in May found over half of U.S. voters backed deportations of most or all immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

"On Day One back in the White House, President Trump will begin the largest criminal deportation operation of illegal immigrants and restore the rule of law," she said.

Trump has signaled openness to skilled, legal migration. He said on a podcast last week that all foreigners graduating from U.S. colleges should receive permanent residence, also known as a green card.

Trump's campaign said afterward that only after "the most aggressive vetting process in U.S. history" would "the most skilled graduates who can make significant contributions to America" be able to stay.

Meanwhile, Latino community organizers said the new Biden legalization for spouses could help re-engage some Latino voters.

Mi Familia Vota, a nonpartisan organization that operates in 10 states including the battleground states of Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, said it would highlight Biden's spouse legalization effort in voter outreach.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: DACA recipient Javier Quiroz Castro introduces U.S. President Joe Biden, before the announcement an executive action to provide immigration relief for spouses of U.S. citizens, coinciding with the 12th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 18, 2024. REUTERS/Anna Rose Layden/File Photo

Hector Sanchez Barba, the group's executive director, said the initiative was significant.

"This is a big deal for the Latino community," he said.

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