Migration Risks Becoming Biden’s Vietnam

Joe Biden knows that when he runs for reelection, he will be under fire from the Republicans, particularly over crime and illegal immigration. The president wants to react, but in doing so he risks dividing his party and betraying the promises he made during his election campaign.

Could immigration become Joe Biden’s Vietnam? Lyndon Johnson will go down in American history as the president who launched the most important American reforms of the postwar era, from civil rights to welfare, but he was overcome by the escalation of the war in Vietnam, a war he inherited from President John F. Kennedy. From the plan to renew America’s crumbling infrastructure to energy transition measures, the most innovative technologies and repatriating strategic production, Biden has also brought about reforms — not as sweeping as Johnson’s, but notable for breaking years of political paralysis. Notwithstanding these reforms, a labor market nearly at full employment and success in reuniting the West against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and containing China, Biden continues to draw poor approval ratings. It is not only the distress felt across a broad swath of social classes due to high inflation, a “monster” that had been reined in for more than 30 years, unknown to many.

Biden knows that in his campaign for reelection, he will be under fire from the Republicans over crime and illegal immigration most of all. The president wants to react, but in doing so runs the risk of sowing division in his party and betraying the promises he made during his presidential election campaign. His initial steps in which he showed that he does not want to reduce prison sentences drew harsh criticism from the Democratic left. They will become even more vociferous if Biden proposes, as it seems he might, a return to detaining individuals and families who enter the United States illegally — a measure that was introduced by Donald Trump and which the Democrats branded inhumane. Biden substituted detention with more focused actions, primarily releasing immigrants in the country illegally who submitted to a system of tracing with electronic bracelets. But the massive wave of illegal entries — 1.7 million in 2021, 2.7 million last year — has pushed him to batten down the hatches. Surveys show the majority of Americans wants restrictive measures with respect to immigrants and even with respect to granting asylum.

Biden needs to do something before May 11 when, with the expiration of Title 42 — the emergency measure that allows for rapid expulsion to reduce the risk of contagion from COVID-19 — another wave of migrants could arrive. Whatever he does end up doing, he will face fierce criticism by the right or the left.

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