© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute

Pro-Immigrant Democrats Are Finally (but Warily) Happy With Biden

Stung by the president’s last immigration order, advocates say this one is more like it.

President Joe Biden participates in a working session with world leaders during a G7 summit.
President Joe Biden announced a new order to protect some undocumented immigrants. Andrew Medichini/AP

Immigration advocates let out sighs of relief on Tuesday after President Joe Biden switched up months of tough talk and policy for a sweeping executive action to protect undocumented immigrants.

The policy, announced on the 12th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, creates a pathway to legal status for some undocumented people married to U.S. citizens. And advocates who have been starkly critical of what they say is a Democratic turn toward Republican-lite on immigration felt it’s the exact kind of move that can create a winning contrast with former President Donald Trump.

“Democrats keep getting pushed into the trap where we wind up feeling like we’re in a political squeeze, and then bad policy gets moved forward,” Texas Rep. Greg Casar said. “This is an example of how we can push for a policy that is pro-immigrant, pro-economic growth and pro-stability while also being good electorally for the president.”

Trump’s rhetoric has led immigration politics so far this cycle. Even blue-state Democrats have warned that a growing number of unauthorized migrants is putting the party at political risk. Some recent polling has shown Americans mainstreaming once-extreme policies like mass deportation, which Trump advocates. (His campaign referred to the latest policy as “mass amnesty.”)

Democrats got mileage out of a hypocritical moment in Congress when Republicans walked away from a border bill they helped write after Trump warned them against giving Biden a political win. But the policy shifts toward the right have left some Democratic lawmakers vocally outraged at what they have seen as an abandonment of core principles on immigration in favor of political expediency.

Illinois Rep. Delia Ramirez said Biden’s Tuesday order had not fully closed that gap, but she called it “an important step forward.”

“Today, I celebrate,” she told NOTUS. “Today is a critical moment and reminder of why people like me need to be in Congress. And then tomorrow I get back at it, I roll up my sleeves and continue to fight until we get comprehensive immigration reform.”

Sen. Alex Padilla called Biden’s border-focused executive order “unconscionable” earlier this month, part of a steady stream of criticism toward party leaders on immigration from the California Democrat. On Tuesday, he said he hoped Democrats were finding an immigration policy that separated them from the GOP rather than essentially arguing Trump is fundamentally right about the nation’s immigration challenges.

“I’ve always said the approach needs to be strategic, thoughtful and balanced. That’s what the American people support,” he told NOTUS. “We’ve talked a lot about the border security order’s inhumanity. But we’ve been waiting for relief, and today’s announcement is a huge step in the right direction.”

Given a good day by Biden Tuesday, immigration advocates hope to see the start of a shift in rhetoric that they say will create a conversation around immigration Democrats can actually live with.

“I don’t think that Biden got the border policy right, either in the messaging or in the substance,” said Douglas Rivlin, director of communications at America’s Voice. “However, overall, I think he is drawing a bright line distinction between his approach and the mass deportation approach on offer from the Heritage Foundation, Speaker Johnson and other Republicans, and that will work in Biden’s favor.”

Evan McMorris-Santoro is a reporter at NOTUS. Casey Murray is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.