2024 will be the ‘immigration election’


Anxiety, frustration over mass movement of people at the border not going away, experts say

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Immigration remains the top concern for American voters less than six months from the November general election, according to the latest Gallup poll.

It’s been the driving issue among a highly polarized electorate for the past few months and is unlikely to go away even after a winner is declared on election night. That’s according to immigration experts and stakeholders converging Tuesday in Houston for a forum sponsored by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

“It has never happened in the history of Gallup that immigration is the main issue driving people to the polls for multiple months in a row. The second issue, the economy, isn’t even close. This is very much an immigration election, and the stakes could not be higher,” said Jeremy Robbins, executive director of the American Immigration Council.

Almost half of Republicans polled say they’re more concerned about increased immigration than the state of the economy, compared to only 8 percent of Democrats.

“It’s about fear, it’s about anxiety, frustration [….] and instability. Sometimes it’s about, ‘Hold on, why am I not hearing English when I go to the grocery store. This is America. Why am I not able to understand people in my own country?’” Robbins said. “Sometimes it’s about economics: ‘I feel really unstable in my job. I can’t even make ends meet, and now people are coming in and are going to compete against me?’”

This anxiety is not confined to white voters, but also immigrants who’ve been in the United States for a long time. Robbins said he recently spoke to a man originally from India upset at an influx of Afghans into his community.

“The idea of, ‘Why are they helping this person and not helping me?’ that I think, is the crux of what is driving immigration in this election. It’s like we feel immigration is happening to us without our control at a time that we feel unstable,” he said.

A March poll by the Pew Research Center shows 75% of Hispanics in the United States described the recent influx of migrants at the border as a “major problem” or a “crisis.” Almost as many Hispanics are critical of the way the U.S. government is handling the situation at the southern border, according to the Pew poll.

Jeremy Robbins, executive director of the American Immigration Council, speaks at an immigration forum sponsored by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Participants in the institute’s “The Future of Immigration in the 2024 Elections” workshop say a permanent solution to a broken immigration system isn’t likely to happen regardless of who wins in November.

Joe Biden might be reelected but continue to be crippled by a divided Congress. Trump might win and restore hardline measures at the border, forcing people to come in other ways. Either man will have to invest heavily in new asylum adjudicators and immigration judges given the backlog of 3.7 million pending claims in court and a docket of 5,000-plus cases per judge. A solution is years in the making.

Images of throngs of people crossing the southern border are being “weaponized” by some politicians to motivate the electorate, speakers said. Emotions are getting in the way of a rational debate on how to lawfully take in people fleeing oppression who could help an economy with unfilled jobs.

A group of migrants stand next to the border wall as a Border Patrol agent takes a head count in Eagle Pass, Texas, Saturday, May 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

“If it’s an us-them (situation), if your community is just people who look like you and you feel unstable, immigration is going to be a really threatening thing,” Robbins said.

Baker Institute Center for the U.S. and Mexico Director Tony Payan said immigration reform has become a difficult goal in a Congress divided today and possibly in the future. But he said immigration has already changed the face of the country and will continue to do so.

Fertility rates among non-Hispanic white women are declining, the rate for African American women is flat and fertility among Latinas is high but “dropping very fast,” he said. In addition, the Baby Boom generation continues to exit the workforce and immigration is the only path to keep the population growing.

“It doesn’t mean we have to take in 100 million people from around the world, but there is room for a few million that can settle and revitalize” communities and the U.S. economy, Payan said.

El Paso Catholic Diocese Bishop Mark J. Seitz said the highly-charged debate has brought additional hardship for migrants crossing the border. That’s because Texas officials, frustrated over their perception of the Biden administration having caused the migrant surge and not doing much to abate it, have sent troops to patrol the border and directed its state police to arrest migrants for state crimes.

“Texas has become a laboratory for the most inhospitable and dehumanizing immigration policy. We are witnessing a new stage in the deadly militarization of our border with Mexico, a country we are not at war with,” Seitz said. “It is a country with which we share so many ties of history and culture and is vital to our state and national prosperity.”

The bishop worries Texas will eventually target migrants far from the border, especially if federal courts uphold the state’s SB4 immigration enforcement law. Amid this environment, Seitz urged people to go vote.

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