Immigration, one of the most politically contentious and complex issues in the United States for decades, is emerging as a major issue in the 2024 election.
Look no further than Iowa and New Hampshire, two states holding early elections thousands of miles from the southwestern border.
Voters there ranked immigration as no less important than the economy when asked which issue was most important in determining how they would vote in Republican presidential contests.
“I think the most important thing to me overall is securing the border and national security,” Bill Collins of Bedford, New Hampshire, told ABC News at a polling place on Tuesday.
Border security was a central focus of Donald Trump’s successful 2016 campaign, and he is now repeating those messages (and in many cases going further than he did eight years ago, accused of imitating Hitler in saying that immigrants “poison the blood of our country”) to energize and unite his supporters against what he called It’s Republicans’ “Biden Border Crisis.”
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is facing a rancor within his own party, as Democratic leaders in New York and Illinois are forced to deal with the fallout from busloads of migrants being sent to their cities by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott amid a historic influx of border crossings.
“In his entire administration, this has overshadowed everything else,” said Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.
Migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border reached a record high of 302,000 in December, and apprehensions reached a historic peak of 2.2 million in fiscal year 2022. More than 100,000 migrants have been transported to cities such as Washington, Los Angeles and New York.
Images of migrants lining the streets in Manhattan or Chicago helped shift perceptions of the issue from a distant problem to a near-daily reminder of border unrest, making it more effective than in previous sessions.
“This is where it is different from any other chapter in our history,” Chishti said.
“When there is an organic assimilation of immigrants into society, it goes unnoticed,” Chishti added. “But when sudden and exciting groups of people appear, it becomes a different kind of problem.”
Opinion polls show that immigration represents a major political weakness for Biden. Trump has an approval rating of just 18% on the issue, the lowest of any president since ABC News and the Washington Post began asking the question in January 2024.
ABC News/Ipsos reconnaissance Results conducted last November, one year after Election Day, showed that Republicans were generally more confident in doing a better job than Democrats when it came to dealing with immigration. Meanwhile, nearly a third of American adults said they had no confidence in either party’s ability to effectively deal with the issue.
The clear shift for Biden
Biden’s campaign was a foil to Trump on immigration, promising to put an end to controversial policies like those that have led to families being separated at the border. Shortly after taking office, he sent a bill to Congress to, he said, “restore humanity and American values to our immigration system.”
But now, amid relentless attacks from critics of his handling of the border, he is relishing negotiations with Republicans over an immigration compromise bill in exchange for unlocking urgent aid to Ukraine. While hosting the mayors at the White House last week, Biden said he was open to “massive changes” to solve the problem at the border, including reforms to asylum laws.
Some Democrats in Congress have already expressed frustration with the administration, though the text of the bill has not been released or announced. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, led by Representative Nanette Díaz Barragán, called on Biden to “reject the Trump-era immigration policies” pursued by Republicans, saying that it was “unconscionable for the president to consider going back on his word to enact what amounts to an immigration law.” Asylum ban.”
Biden’s apparent shift “appeals to moderates and independents in the electorate, but risks alienating the more progressive members of the party,” said Luis Di Sibio, a political science professor and Chicano Latino professor at the University of California, Irvine.
“Biden is on a tightrope on this issue,” DeSipio said. “This is the first time in a long time that Democrats have experienced this level of internal division on immigration.”
While a bipartisan agreement could downplay GOP talk that Biden has not adequately addressed the issue, there is a looming question about whether that will happen at all. Trump urged Republicans not to accept what is agreed upon between Senate negotiators and the Biden administration. House Speaker Mike Johnson, who speaks to Trump frequently about the issue, said he does not believe now is the time for sweeping reform. Instead, Johnson said Biden should use executive action to address the border.
“It’s an issue that Republicans will run on, but they won’t legislate on,” said Douglas Rivlin, senior communications director for Voice of America, a progressive pro-immigration group.
Biden and the White House are resisting Republican signals of opposition.
“They have to choose whether they want to solve a problem or continue to use the issue as a weapon to score political points against the president,” Biden said last week.
According to reporters in the room, when asked if the border was secure, Biden replied: “No.” He also said “no” when asked if his administration’s policies caused any of the problems.
Some immigration activists accused Biden and Democrats of letting Republicans control the narrative.
“Over and over again, what I see in our polls and in our research is that Americans are not hearing from Democrats,” said Beatriz Lopez, deputy director of the Immigration Center.
The group urged the Biden team not to cede too much ground in border negotiations to GOP demands, and instead refocus on rebuilding its coalition and reminding voters what is at stake in 2024, Lopez said.
“You’re not going to win non-Republicans,” Lopez said. “You will win by leaning toward good practical solutions, reminding people of our shared values and countering anti-immigrant rhetoric. That’s the formula,” he added.
Trump intensifies his anti-immigrant rhetoric
Trump appears to be more daring in this campaign regarding a number of issues, most notably the immigration issue.
If elected, Trump has said he intends to crack down on legal and illegal immigration. He has pledged to carry out “the largest internal deportation in American history” and sign an executive order ending birthright citizenship — both of which would face significant legal challenges, if not impossible to implement in practice.
Not only has he gone so far as to suggest that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” but more recently he has described immigrants arriving at the border as dangerous people coming from “lunatic asylums” that are being emptied around the world. CNN mentioned Earlier this year his campaign was unable to provide any evidence to support his claims.
But his message about the “invasion” of immigrants appears to be resonating among some Republicans.
Debbie Magee, a Trump supporter, cited the border as the most important issue to her while attending one of his rallies in New Hampshire.
“We’re not safe,” Magee said.
Trump, during his presidency and in the years since, “seized the fear of change that was coming to the country” with immigration over the past few decades and amplified it, DeSipio said.
“This idea has resonated with Republicans since 2016, and now increasingly with some independents and some Democrats,” DeSipio said, though he noted it may do more harm than good among independents and moderates.
Proving the Republican Party’s support for Trump’s proposals, there was little disagreement between him and his rivals in the Republican Party about how to deal with this issue if elected.
While the issue helped propel Trump first into the White House, it was not as successful in 2018 or 2020. Trump and other Republicans made the migrant caravan’s movement toward the United States a rallying cry in 2018, although Democrats They flipped control of the House of Representatives with a net gain of more than 40 seats. In the 2020 election, immigration issues were largely overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy.
But as the 2024 race increasingly turns into a potential rematch between Trump and Biden, Trump is criticizing his main rival over his management of the border.
“We have millions and millions of people flowing into our country illegally,” Trump said in his victory speech in New Hampshire. “We have no idea who the hell they are. They come from prisons and from mental institutions. And it’s just killing our country.”
This article originally appeared on abcnews.go.com