Latino Democrats Shift from Quiet Concern to Open Opposition to Biden’s Border Talks Concessions

by Ethan Kim
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Immigration Reform

At the outset, prominent Latinos in Congress expressed their concerns privately to the Biden administration regarding the direction of border security negotiations. Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla of California engaged in constant communication with administration officials, questioning why the Senate negotiations omitted meaningful considerations for providing pathways to citizenship for long-time immigrants without proper legal documentation. Similarly, New Mexico Democrat Sen. Ben Ray Luján sought meetings with top-level White House officials to make similar arguments.

However, as the negotiations appeared to yield insufficient results, these influential lawmakers transitioned from their initial quiet concerns to open opposition.

“A return to Trump-era policies is not the fix,” emphasized Padilla. “In fact, it will make the problem worse.”

Padilla took the opportunity to caution President Joe Biden directly at a fundraiser in California, urging him to exercise caution against adopting harmful policies.

The Latino senators find themselves navigating shifting terrain in the immigration debate. President Biden, while striving to strike a border deal as part of a $110 billion package encompassing Ukraine, Israel, and other national security needs, is simultaneously attempting to curtail the historic influx of individuals arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico.

These negotiations, ongoing at the Capitol this weekend, unfold against a backdrop of increasing criticism directed at the Biden administration’s handling of border and immigration issues. This criticism emanates not only from Republicans but also from members of the President’s own party. Democratic cities and states have voiced concerns about the financial strain they attribute to migrants on their resources.

Notably absent from the negotiation table are pro-immigration measures, including the granting of permanent legal status to thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, often referred to as “Dreamers.” These measures, rooted in the DREAM Act, which aimed to provide similar protections for young immigrants but was never approved, remain unaddressed.

A few days after Padilla’s conversation with the President, Padilla, Luján, and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., publicly voiced their concerns during a Congressional Hispanic Caucus news conference in front of the Capitol. They criticized Senate Republicans for linking border policy changes to Ukraine aid and expressed dissatisfaction with concessions they believe undermine the U.S. as a nation that welcomes immigrants.

Padilla noted that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had promised him and several other senators access to proposals before a final agreement. Nevertheless, Latino lawmakers have found themselves largely excluded from the core negotiating group, despite consistently advocating for progressive solutions to the U.S. immigration system.

President Biden faces pressure from multiple fronts, including criticism regarding the record numbers of migrants at the border and efforts to address political vulnerabilities ahead of a potential rematch with former Republican President Donald Trump, who has pledged far-right immigration measures.

The border deal’s framework is currently being pushed for by the White House and Senate leaders, with a target date of Sunday, although some anticipate a longer timeline. Recent negotiations have seen the White House seeking provisions to legalize young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. These immigrants, often referred to as “Dreamers,” represent a priority for Democrats.

While Republicans have insisted on several asylum restrictions that Democrats have resisted, providing protections for “Dreamers” could be a way for Democrats to secure one of their long-standing immigration goals.

Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., emphasized that disagreements persist, and efforts continue to resolve them.

The bipartisan group handling the negotiations acknowledges the potential loss of votes from both the left and right wings of their respective parties. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent and member of the core negotiating group, underscored the humanitarian crisis of individuals stranded in the desert without access to basic necessities.

However, immigration advocates have been mobilizing opposition against proposed changes, drawing comparisons to Trump-era policies. They have used terms like “draconian” and “betrayal” to argue that these proposals could undermine U.S. commitments to accepting those fleeing persecution and do little to deter individuals from undertaking the perilous journey to the border.

One of the considerations would permit border officials to return migrants to Mexico without allowing them to seek asylum in the U.S., a move advocates argue could expose them to dangerous cartels in northern Mexico.

Advocates also point out that previous use of expulsion authority during the pandemic did not deter migrants from repeatedly attempting to enter the U.S.

Greg Chen, senior director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, expressed concerns that these policies would only exacerbate the chaos and danger at the border.

Should the legislation come to a vote, Padilla and other prominent House Democrats, such as Reps. Nanette Barragán of California and Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, are likely to lead opposition from the left.

The potential impact of Biden’s concessions on border restrictions on his support from Latino voters has also been highlighted by Padilla, who deemed it “unconscionable” if concessions do not benefit Dreamers, farm workers, and undocumented essential workers.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Immigration Reform

What are the key concerns of prominent Latino Democrats in Congress regarding border security talks?

Prominent Latino Democrats in Congress are concerned about the direction of border security talks, particularly the omission of meaningful considerations for providing pathways to citizenship for longtime immigrants lacking proper legal documentation.

How have these Latino lawmakers expressed their concerns about the negotiations?

Initially, these lawmakers raised their concerns privately with the Biden administration. However, when they felt that the talks were not yielding satisfactory results, they transitioned to open opposition, publicly expressing their reservations and criticisms.

What specific immigration issues are left off the table in these negotiations?

One significant omission is pro-immigration changes, such as granting permanent legal status to “Dreamers,” young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. These measures, rooted in the DREAM Act, have not been addressed in the current negotiations.

What is the broader context of these border security talks and the Biden administration’s goals?

The negotiations are part of President Biden’s efforts to reduce the historic numbers of people arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico, while also addressing concerns about his administration’s handling of border and immigration issues. These talks are intertwined with broader political considerations, including a potential campaign rematch with former President Donald Trump and the need to support Ukraine’s defense against Russia.

Are there any signs of progress or compromise in these negotiations?

While there are disagreements, the White House has recently pushed to include provisions that would legalize young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children, often referred to as “Dreamers.” Republicans have demanded several asylum restrictions that Democrats have resisted, creating ongoing discussions and negotiations.

What impact could these border restrictions and concessions have on Latino voters’ support for President Biden?

Senator Alex Padilla has cautioned that if concessions do not benefit Dreamers, farm workers, and undocumented essential workers, it could have a lasting impact on President Biden’s support from Latino voters.

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