Immigration Tops Voters’ Concerns in Latest Poll, as Approval of President’s Handling Plummets

Biden drawing congressional Republicans into a trap to share voters’ ire

By Andrew R. Arthur on January 23, 2024

For the first time in my recollection, “immigration” now tops the list of the most important issues facing the country today in the opinion of voters, jumping seven points in a month and overtaking “inflation”, according to the latest Harvard/Harris poll. President Biden has finally been forced to face reality about what’s happening at the Southwest border, but instead of using his authority to end the crisis, he’s attempting to convince congressional Republicans to share the blame.

That poll was performed for Harvard University’s Center for American Political Studies by survey outfits The Harris Poll and HarrisX between January 17 and 18, and involved 2,346 registered voters.

“What Would You Say Are the Most Important Issues Facing the Country Today?” Respondents were asked “What would you say are the most important issues facing the country today?”, and the results are nothing short of astounding.

More than one in three — 35 percent — of those polled identified “immigration” as among those most important issues, a seven-point jump over similar polling conducted just one month earlier, which itself was a three-point increase from earlier polls.

Note that more respondents likely would have chosen immigration in response, except for a heavy partisan skew on the question. Half of Republicans — 50 percent — said immigration is among the most important issues facing the country, as did 36 percent of Independents. By contrast, just 18 percent of registered Democrats voiced the same concerns.

As noted, immigration topped the list of voters’ concerns, edging out price increases and inflation, which was identified as an “important issue” by 32 percent of respondents. Independents were more likely to identify immigration as a top issue than inflation (the choice of 31 percent of that cohort) by five points, and Republicans by 12 (with 38 percent of GOP voters expressing concerns about inflation).

Biden Approval Rating. Respondents to the Harvard/Harris poll were also asked to rate the president’s performance in 10 different subject areas. Sentiments over his response to Covid-19 aside (51 percent approved of how Biden dealt with the pandemic), he’s underwater on all of them.

Not surprisingly, Biden received his lowest marks on immigration, an area in which just 35 percent of those polled approved of the job the president is doing. As bad as that is already, likely worse for his electoral prospects is that his approval ratings on immigration have plummeted in recent months just as concerns about it have risen, falling 11 points since November (when 46 percent approved).

Personally, immigration is what I do for a living, and Biden’s immigration policies have been a warning sign for me since January 2020, more than a year before he was sworn in. That said, it’s somewhat unclear why so many Americans have come around so quickly to my positions of late.

That said, voters’ increasing concerns about immigration likely relate in part to the fact that the White House’s border-release policies have triggered migrant crises in cities more than 1,000 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico line, as well as to the attention Senate negotiations over border reforms (which I’ll discuss below) have drawn to those policies.

Moreover, DHS admits that the rate at which Biden’s CBP has released illegal aliens at the Southwest border has picked up pace in recent months, as well.

In July, about 116,500 aliens encountered at the U.S.-Mexico line were allowed to enter the country anyway. That was unprecedented, but releases only increased thereafter, exceeding 201,000 in September. Those aliens are now spreading out across the United States, and more Americans are now dealing with the effects of the president’s policies.

Biden’s White House Remarks. Recognizing that immigration is a significant and growing liability for his reelection prospects, President Biden alluded to it during his January 19 address to the U.S. Conference of Mayors at the White House, playing the “helpless victim” of unfair partisan attacks.

The president began bizarrely, attempting to deflect the blame for the migrant surge that began shortly after he took office onto the GOP in what is best described as a “rant”:

I want to talk about another top issue: the border. Now, I love how I turn on, and “Biden — Biden is for a free open border. Just tear down everything. Let everybody come, no restrictions.” Well, one — I — used to be a bipartisan issue in this country, and it should be one again.

It’s true that immigration, to some degree or another, used to be a “bipartisan issue”. In fact, President Trump largely followed the same border policies implemented by the Obama administration and its predecessors. It was Biden himself who created the partisan divide.

He continued:

I’ve been clear from the very beginning: The system is broken. My first day in office, I sent Congress a comprehensive plan on immigration reform. My friends on the other side have done nothing with that.

Respectfully, “the system is broken” only to the degree that the administration is breaking it by swamping the courts with hundreds of thousands of new border cases a year.

And, as a district court judge recently asserted — in a case that the administration facially won: “The immigration system ... dysfunctional and flawed as it is, would work if properly implemented. Instead, the status quo is a harmful mixture of political rancor, ego, and economic and geopolitical realities that serves no one.”

Worse, the president failed to mention that his “comprehensive plan on immigration reform” is little more than a massive amnesty for aliens illegally present in the United States (including a load of criminals), nor did he discuss the fact that it would open the door for aliens deported under the Trump administration to return, as well.

And while it’s true that Biden’s Republican “friends” failed to “do anything with” that proposal, the bill was such a nonstarter that even then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wouldn’t touch it either.

Biden continued with a plea for money to hire more Border Patrol agents and immigration judges. That sounds good, but apparently Border Patrol isn’t fully staffed under current levels and those judges — even assuming enough could be hired — may not be ready to go for a year or more.

Then there’s the fact that most agents on the border are being pulled off the line to “process” and release illegal entrants. More funding would likely just speed up that scheme.

Finally, the president referenced ongoing negotiations in the Senate over border reforms:

My team has been at the table for weeks now on a partisan — with a bipartisan group of senators to negotiate a deal, including border, because I believe we need significant policy changes at the border, including changes in our asylum system to ensure that we have authorities we need to control the border. And I’m ready to act.

I think — hope — “God willing and the crick not rising,” as my grandpop would say — you know, I think next week, we ought to be able to work out something, at least in the Senate. And I’m hopeful it’s going to be a bipartisan package the Senate is going to pass, God willing.

What the president elides is that he already has the authority to end the border crisis without any assistance from the legislative branch. The law currently requires DHS to detain those aliens, and it’s the administration’s refusal to do so that is driving this disaster, as a different federal judge held in March.

As importantly, section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as written gives the president the power to:

by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.

If that sounds familiar, it’s likely because that language is nearly identical to CDC’s authority under Title 42 “to prohibit, in whole or in part, the introduction of persons” into the country to stem the introduction and spread of infectious diseases like Covid-19 — except section 212(f) can be used in any circumstance, not just for public-health purposes.

This speech was a purely political exercise, an attempt to share the blame for a continued border crisis with any Republican willing to sign off on a deal that sounds good but does little — which more or less defines any deal that the administration is willing to strike at this juncture.

The Harvard/Harris poll, like many recent surveys, reveals both that voters are both increasingly worried about immigration and displeased with the president’s handling of the border. Rather than changing his policies in response, Biden is attempting to draw congressional Republicans into a trap in which they will share the blame. Let’s hope they see through his game.