Joe Biden decided to spend a large part of his early administration’s political capital on immigration reform.
Just look at some of the US President’s Executive Orders.
On January 20, the day of his inauguration, Biden ordered the termination of Trump’s precious border wall between the United States and Mexico. On the same day, he overturned a Trump policy that allowed Immigration and Customs (ICE) officials to arrest undocumented people with ease. In particular, immediately after assuming office, Trump overturned the Obama-era priorities of who should be arrested and gave federal immigration officials a carte blanche to arrest every undocumented immigrant they see fit over the past four years stopped being arrested.
The Biden government has also published a number of priorities for potential legislation, including an avenue for citizenship for the estimated 11 million people lacking legal status and $ 4 billion in aid to Central American countries to address “root causes” such as poverty target and crimes that force people to migrate.
A cynic might interpret such proposals to mean that Biden is “holding on” to Trump – exactly the opposite of what the former president did on the politically charged issue of immigration.
Another way to read Biden’s immigration movements is to think of them as part of a smart political strategy.
Biden’s immigration proposals, if they bear fruit, could take an exciting problem away from Republicans and help cement a new, growing group of voters within the ranks of the Democratic Party.
Primarily, under Trump, immigration was repeatedly used to mobilize support.
Immediately after arriving at the White House, in addition to the order authorizing ICE, Trump issued his controversial travel ban on people from predominantly Muslim countries. Throughout his tenure, Trump routinely threatened to cut federal funding for “protected cities.” In these jurisdictions, local governments had issued ordinances separating the activities of local law enforcement from federal agencies and restricting their ability to assist immigration authorities to locate and arrest migrants. Trump’s efforts to force her to repeal these ordinances largely failed.
There was also a “zero tolerance” policy in which adult minors applied for asylum when they came to the United States. Hundreds of children remain in the United States, separated from their family members, many of whom have been deported.
Regardless of political belief, we now know from Trump’s divisive immigration practices that his approach has failed to curb the flow of migrants to the United States.
Look no further than the approaching caravan of migrants from Central America.
Sure, Biden may seem more welcoming compared to Trump, which could take into account the calculations of those still traveling north. However, the underlying conditions of crime and poverty that force people to leave countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras remain largely the same as they were four years ago.
Even after the “zero tolerance” disaster, migrants continue to come to America in scattered groups and caravans.
Regardless, Trump turned his immigration policy failures into political successes by garnering the support of his electorate.
His failed efforts to force shelters to collaborate with federal immigration officials enabled him to repeatedly refer to them as Democrat-run “havens of criminal behavior,” much as the regular migrant caravan gave Trump the opportunity to legitimize the construction of a border wall .
Resolving the immigration debates by adopting comprehensive reform removes this trigger for Trump’s political base and puts the former president’s future political hopes in a grave blow.
Sure, this is going to anger some of Trump’s vocal supporters. At least according to a poll by the Pew Research Center last June, a majority – 57 percent – of Republicans and Republican-oriented voters support the idea of giving all undocumented immigrants a way to legally reside in the United States.
The passage of the immigration reform not only takes away a central issue from Trump, but also divides the Republicans. Biden can target moderate Republicans, making the Trump Conservative faction a minority on the right.
In the long run, offering a route to citizenship also gives Democrats an opportunity to attract more voters to their side.
However, this is not guaranteed, as shown by the results of the Latino vote in the past election. In particular, Trump has done well with Cuban Americans in Florida and other immigrant communities in cities such as Chicago and New York, as well as others on the Texas-Mexico border.
Still, the Democrats appear to be in a better position than the Republicans to get Latino support. The Latino votes at the national level averaged about 70/30 in favor of Biden. Even in Florida, Biden won the majority of Latinos, despite Trump exceeding expectations.
The broader demographic point is that Latinos have grown by leaps and bounds in terms of population over the past few decades when compared to African American and non-Hispanic whites. This is partly due to the influx of migrants from Latin America, who tend to be younger than the average American and are therefore more likely to have families.
Relying on the expectation that this 70/30 vote will continue to favor the Democrats is a good political investment.
Some Republicans reject Biden’s immigration proposals. Florida Senator Marco Rubio has stated that he does not support “amnesty” – the idea that immigrants currently lacking legal status are given some form of documentation, be it work permits, residency or citizenship . Democrats need support from across the aisle to get a bill through the Senate, especially since Republicans without 60 votes can use the filibuster to block laws.
Team Biden has two options. Hopefully some Republicans will come by their side.
This could be a possibility as some in the GOP, like Mitch McConnell, apparently want Trump to go out of the party. Ending the immigration debate with a bipartisan demonstration in support of Biden’s reform would help silence Trump by eliminating this central issue.
The other option is to trade.
Biden came into office with all sorts of political priorities, from fighting climate change to improving health care.
So make a deal – instead of ending Trump’s corporate tax cut, Democrats might agree to leave him where he is. Make Republican health care ideas, such as the ability for consumers to shop plans across state lines, part of a reform package. Or maybe fracking and natural gas could become part of climate change plans.
Democrats could offer Republicans such political items in exchange for their votes for immigration reform.
More critically, we know which direction the widespread anti-immigrant sentiment can take our country. Why should such conditions fester? Biden has a plan that can help us turn the page on this topic and move forward. For the good of all, it is in the interests of both parties to make changes and to agree on them.
The views expressed in this article are from the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.