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Biden Immigration AP-24156669351258
President Joe Biden speaks about an executive order at the White House. Alex Brandon/AP

Border Democrats Love Biden’s Immigration Order — If They’re in Vulnerable Districts

Want to figure out if a border Democrat in Congress supported or opposed Biden’s executive order? Just look at their district.

When President Joe Biden announced his executive order to curb the ability of border crossers to claim asylum earlier this week, he claimed the new policy wasn’t about shifting politics.

But for most Democrats, those who agree with Biden on the policy and those who don’t, politics may best explain whether they supported or opposed the executive order. Specifically, how Democrats in Congress viewed Biden’s executive order — at least those who represent a border district — seemed to come down to how Democratic their district is.

For Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat who represents the Rio Grande Valley and who has a Partisan Voting Index rating of D+9 — meaning the district leans toward Democrats by 9% — Biden’s action was “long overdue.”

“I have frequently stated that we must reconsider how and where asylum claims are processed,” Gonzalez said in a statement, “especially as only about 30% of migrants coming to our southern border are granted asylum.”

Rep. Henry Cuellar, another Rio Grande Democrat in Congress with a PVI of D+3, said he’s been “advocating for these measures for years because they will bring relief to our border communities.”

“While this executive order is a step in the right direction, we must continue to support our border communities and federal law enforcement at the border by providing additional technology, equipment, personnel and resources to effectively address the uptick in irregular migration,” Cuellar said in his own statement. “We also need to continue working with Mexico to ensure they help stop illegal migration before it gets to our border.”

It wasn’t just Democrats in Congress lauding Biden’s crackdown. Perhaps most tellingly, local Democratic officials on the border were also cheering on the president’s action.

Among the locally elected Democrats who supported Biden’s executive order was Victor Trevino, the Democratic mayor of Laredo, Texas; Roland Salinas, the Democratic mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas; and Ron Nirenberg, the Democratic mayor of San Antonio.

The support for the president’s action among border Democrats is somewhat surprising. A healthy number of Democrats in these areas are Hispanic immigrants themselves, and a border crackdown hasn’t been the most popular policy among that community. Recent polling suggests Hispanics are less likely than non-Hispanics to describe the migrant situation as a “crisis.” But that same polling suggests a majority of U.S. Hispanics — 75% — describe the recent increase in the number of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. as a “major problem” or “crisis,” according to Pew Research Center.

It helps explain why Democrats in more vulnerable border areas are supportive of Biden’s tightening on asylum claims.

Of course, not every Democrat was rushing to praise Biden for his decision.

Rep. Greg Casar, a progressive who represents Austin and San Antonio in Congress, was less than enthused by the executive order.

“It’s unfortunate that President Biden is responding to those politics through this executive order, falling into Republican-light policies,” he said.

Rep. Nanette Barragán of California also called out Biden for turning to “Trump-era politics.”

“It’s not the time to go and use the tools that Trump used. That doesn’t make this better,” she said.

Neither of those Democrats, however, are strictly border Democrats, even though both are close to the border and certainly affected by undocumented immigration. But both represent districts that are extremely Democratic. Casar represents an area with a PVI of D+21, and Barragán represents a district that is D+24. The only realistic way either loses their seat is through a primary challenge from a fellow Democrat.

Biden Immigration
President Joe Biden walks off after speaking about an executive order at the White House. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

It’s a similar dynamic to that of longtime Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona. Grijalva — coming from a border district with a D+15 PVI — said Biden’s executive order “represents a significant departure from President Biden’s promise of a more humane and just approach to immigration.”

“It tramples on the universal right to claim asylum and prevents migrants from attempting to legally access safety and security in the United States,” he said. “It is ripe for legal challenges and antithetical to our values.”

And it was a similar story with Rep. Veronica Escobar, who represents El Paso and is a co-chair for the Biden campaign. In a statement about the executive order, Escobar — who has a D+17 PVI — noted that many of the migrants crossing the border are economic migrants who wouldn’t qualify for asylum.

“While I understand the administration is doing its best to navigate this challenge without adequate resources and appropriate legislation, I am disappointed that the focus today is only on enforcement,” she said.

But for Democratic Rep. Gabe Vasquez of New Mexico, who has a narrow D+1 PVI, the order “takes an initial step to fix our long-standing broken immigration system and the challenges we face at our border.”

Vasquez added that the executive order does not address “the totality of the problems our immigration system faces, and now more than ever, we need congressional action to tackle this humanitarian crisis.”

The differing politics, depending on the political leanings of different districts, wasn’t lost on Mike Carrera, a political consultant in South Texas.

Carrera told NOTUS Biden’s executive order was “the right decision when it comes to a political year.”

“The left has already made up their mind, the right has already made up their mind, so this is going to impact the middle,” he said.

He added that Democrats along the border have been “pressed by the community to take a stronger stance.”

“From the political side, I think it helps Biden among centrists, and there’s a lot of centrists here,” he said.

Ryan Hernández is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow. Casey Murray, a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow, contributed reporting.