Joe Biden
Democrats seek "tougher" immigration and border security rhetoric for upcoming elections AFP

NEW YORK CITY - Following Tom Suozzi's special election victory in New York to take over George Santos' seat in the House of Representatives, Democrats are seeking to reframe the immigration debate and use it in their advantage.

Joe Biden vowed to undo former President Trump's immigration policies in 2020, specifically the ones that set limits on the number of asylum seekers accepted each day at the southern border. This year, however, Biden backed a Senate proposal that would do just that.

Now, as the migrant crisis increases in salience in the public debate ahead of the upcoming elections, Democrats are adopting a rhetoric that paints them as getting tougher on border security. They are welcoming policies long sought by Republicans and attacking them for not following through on them — a shift that leaves behind liberals' traditional policies.

"We need to lean into this and not just on border security, but, yes, tough border security coupled with increased legal pathways," said Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist, to The Associated Press.

The border proposal, struck by Senate Republicans, had the support of the National Border Patrol Council and the Chamber of Commerce.

But even if many are seeing an upside to this strategy, the rhetoric shift can also be risky, as it can strain support from immigrants and their advocates, who campaigned for Biden in 2020.

More than 130 organizations from around the country sent a letter to Biden opposing the deal and the tougher standards for asylum. Some of these activists expressed their frustrations with Biden and a lack of enthusiasm to go knock on doors for him at a recent gathering of more than a dozen advocacy groups in Arizona.

Similarly, Latinos and minorities have consistently been found in recent studies to be further shying away from the Democratic party, an affiliation that has historically been attractive to these demographics.

Julian Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and secretary of housing and urban development who ran against Biden for the presidential nomination in 2020, suggested Biden and his allies were adopting the terms of Trump's "Make America Great Again" movement and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell.

"Democrats, you're never going to be cruel enough, 'tough' enough, anti-immigrant enough or able to deport your way to the negotiating table with McConnell and MAGA," Castro said. "Stop playing their game."

Nonetheless, Biden's rhetoric shift seems to be working for other registered Democrats, specially those in cities largely dealing with the migrant crisis.

In New York, for instance, Democrat Tom Suozzi gained a seat in the House, following a campaign that ran ads calling for more border security and featuring an interview he did on Fox News in which he supported U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

NY-03, the district now represented by Suozzi, includes parts of Queens, a hyper-diverse New York borough that has received thousands of migrants bused from the border.

Suozzi also shares Biden's position on creating a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of immigrants referred to as "Dreamers," who are in the country illegally after coming to the U.S. with their families as children. This view differs generally from what Republicans want.

"The President stands with the overwhelming majority of Americans who demand action from Washington to address our long-broken immigration system," Kevin Munoz, a spokesman for Biden's campaign, said in a statement. "MAGA Republicans, led by Donald Trump, have opted to abdicate their responsibility so they can demonize immigrants to score political points."

Likewise, in Nevada, a critical swing state in November's election, Democrats are resonating with this new rhetoric.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat and the only Hispanic woman in the upper chamber, said her constituents want to see an "orderly process at the border."

"We can work on a broken immigration system but also secure our border," Cortez Masto said in an interview. "Many of the Nevadans that I talked to, including in the Latino community, get that because they want safe communities. They understand that. It doesn't mean we're not going to continue to work on fixing the broken immigration system."

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