Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

Border hurting Biden’s approval

Rating dips amid surge of migrant kids, poll shows

- By Will Weissert and Hannah Fingerhut

More Americans disapprove of how president is handling surge in unaccompan­ied migrant children.

WASHINGTON — More Americans disapprove than approve of how President Joe Biden is handling the sharply increasing number of unaccompan­ied migrant children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, and approval of his efforts on larger immigratio­n policy falls short of other top issues — suggesting it could be a weak point for the new administra­tion.

A new poll by Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research also shows that solving the problem of young people at the border is among Americans’ highest immigratio­n priorities: 59% say providing safe treatment of unaccompan­ied children when they are apprehende­d should be a high priority, and 65% say the same about reuniting families separated at the border.

Former President Donald Trump built his presidency on hard-line policies that expanded and fortified border walls, made it tougher for those fleeing violence and other desperate circumstan­ces in Mexico and Central America to seek U.S. asylum, and separated immigrant families.

Biden has tried to seize momentum on the issue by promising a more humane and orderly system, but his administra­tion has struggled to cope with rising numbers of migrants coming to the border, especially unaccompan­ied children.

Overall, 40% of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of children reaching the nation’s southern border without their parents, compared with just 24% who approve. Thirty-five percent don’t have an opinion either way.

“I don’t know how to politicall­y correctly say this: I do feel that, because there’s this new administra­tion, that people feel that they can come to the country,” said Mindy Kiehl, a 40-yearold real estate agent in Erie, Pennsylvan­ia, who otherwise approves of Biden’s handling of the presidency so far.

“I get it. They’re seeking refuge,” Kiehl added. “But bringing these children, it’s not good for the children, it’s not good for the families. I don’t know how that’s going to solve the problem.”

Biden said at a recent news conference that “we’re sending back the vast majority of the families that are coming.” But his struggles on the issue go beyond unaccompan­ied minors.

Just 42% of Americans say they approve of how the president is handling immigratio­n in general, and a similar share, 44%, say they approve of how he’s handling border security. Both are significan­tly lower than the 61% of Americans who say they approve of how Biden is handling his job overall and fall short of the president’s rating on some other issues, including his response to the coronaviru­s pandemic and managing of the economy.

That gap comes despite the White House endorsing the most ambitious overhaul of the nation’s immigratio­n system in a generation on Biden’s first day in office. It has stalled in Congress, though, and Republican­s and even some top Democrats say passage will be difficult. The plan would provide an eight-year path to citizenshi­p for the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally, but the poll shows doing so isn’t high on the public’s priority list. Only 29% of Americans overall, including 42% of Democrats and 14% of Republican­s, called legal status for people in the country illegally a high priority.

Additional­ly, only a third of Americans each say that allowing refugees to come to the U.S. or expanding “guest worker” programs should be high priorities.

The gap between Biden’s overall approval rating and his handling of immigratio­n crosses party lines. Seventy-four percent of Democrats and 10% of Republican­s approve of Biden’s handling of immigratio­n, compared with 96% of Democrats and 22% of Republican­s who approve overall.

The difference also comes across racial and ethnic groups. Overall, 92% of Black Americans, 67% of Hispanics and 52% of white Americans say they approve of how Biden is handling his job. On immigratio­n, 74% of Black Americans but only 50% of Hispanics and 34% of white Americans say they approve.

Jack Henes, a retiree in Sebastian, Florida, said Biden hasn’t handled immigratio­n as well as some other hot-button issues while calling what’s happening on the U.S. southern border an “administra­tive nightmare.”

While awaiting the larger legislativ­e package, the Democratic-controlled House has passed smaller-scale reforms that face uncertain futures in a Senate split 50-50. Biden also has used executive actions to attempt to roll back many Trump administra­tion immigratio­n policies but has been criticized for failing to do enough fast enough.

Others feel he’s already gone too far.

“My concern is that President Biden has allowed the world to feel it’s OK to just come on in,” said Matthew Behrs, a Trump supporter in Wisconsin.

The poll shows many Americans rank some of the major goals of the Democratic proposal as moderate priorities instead of high ones, suggesting Biden lacks a clear mandate for how best to proceed on the issue, potentiall­y hurting his leverage with Congress.

And many want to see efforts to step up enforcemen­t be part of the conversati­on: For 53%, increasing security at the border is a high priority. Some 47% of Americans also say the federal government should make strengthen­ing policies to prevent immigrants from overstayin­g their visas a high priority.

Fewer, roughly a third, say penalizing companies that hire immigrants living in the U.S. illegally and deporting immigrants living in the U.S. illegally should be high priorities.

The poll also finds Americans are more likely to favor than oppose providing a way for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay legally, 53% to 24%, with 22% saying they are neither in favor nor opposed.

Still, just 41% call extending legal protection­s to so-called Dreamers a high priority. A plan approved by the House but awaiting Senate action seeks to do just that.

Biden has assigned Vice President Kamala Harris to work with Central American countries to try to address the root causes of illegal immigratio­n. Henes, the retiree, suggested that Biden has given the problem to Harris as a way of buying himself some time — but that it hasn’t helped.

“They’re still in the huddle,” Henes said. “They’re not ready to call a play.”

 ?? DARIO LOPEZ-MILLS/AP ?? Minors rest inside a pod at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility March 30 in Donna, Texas. More Americans disapprove of how President Joe Biden’s administra­tion is handling the waves of immigratio­n.
DARIO LOPEZ-MILLS/AP Minors rest inside a pod at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility March 30 in Donna, Texas. More Americans disapprove of how President Joe Biden’s administra­tion is handling the waves of immigratio­n.

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