A record surge of migrants at the southern U.S. border last year brought the issue of border security and immigration even more into focus. Credit: IStock

Media Contacts: Javier Rojas, javier.rojas@csun.edu

When voters head to the ballot box this November, they will weigh a long list of issues, one of which is expected to be immigration and border security, a wedge issue that could determine the next president of the United States.

While issues like inflation and the economy remain important to voters, recent national polling shows that immigration has been listed as the top “U.S. problem” for three straight months, the longest stretch for this particular issue in the past 24 years, according to Gallup. This should come as no surprise, said California State University, Northridge’s Linda Alvarez, an associate professor of political science, and Axel Montepeque, an associate professor of modern and classical languages and literatures.

Linda Alvarez, associate professor of political science.

“Immigration has historically been one of the most politically divisive issues in the U.S. for decades. This year will be no different,” Alvarez said. “A centerpiece of Trump’s successful 2016 campaign was border security, and his 2024 campaign thus far has only continued this trend, albeit with even more emboldened anti-immigrant rhetoric than in the past.”

A record surge of migrants at the southern U.S. border last year brought the issue of border security and immigration even more into focus — and while attempted crossings have eased slightly since then, they are expected to increase as the spring continues.

During this period, President Joe Biden’s approval rating for his handling of immigration has been continuously poor. With the presidential election about six months away and immigration top of mind, the issue remains a vulnerability for Biden as he seeks reelection, Montepeque said.

Axel Montepeque, associate professor of modern and classical languages and literatures.

“Leading up to the 2024 election, the Republican Party has also been successful in presenting President Joe Biden as responsible for the high numbers of migrant encounters on the southern border,” Montepeque said. “On the other hand, President Joe Biden is in a challenging situation as he needs to balance projecting a strong response to the crisis, while managing among Democrats a significant internal division over immigration that has not been seen in quite some time. Given this context, immigration and border security will be one of the most important wedge issues in the ‘24 election.”

Other contributing factors include Biden’s actions since he’s taken office in 2020, such as record-high migrant encounters — 302,000 in December 2023; historic levels of border apprehensions in 2022 — 2.2 million; and “the Republican strategy of bussing over 100,000 migrants to major US cities, which has made the issue more visible and immediate to Americans, leading to heightened concerns and higher disapproval rates compared to previous cycles,” Alvarez said.

“During his 2020 campaign, Biden emphasized his contrasting stance on immigration compared to Trump’s policies,” she continued. “He pledged to end controversial practices such as family separation and aimed to ‘restore humanity and American values to our immigration system.'”

However, Montepeque pointed out that, “critics argue Biden’s administration has been inactive on immigration matters, despite over 530 immigration-related executive actions, which have either been blocked in court or failed to progress in Congress. Nevertheless, this perceived lack of action has disappointed many voters, particularly progressives.”

Despite a bipartisan immigration bill being killed by former President Trump — a fierce opponent of a border deal who lobbied Republicans to vote against the bill since it would help Biden in November — Montepeque said, it is Biden who will bear the brunt of this Republican stonewalling.

“In essence, Biden is caught in a dilemma — if he remains passive, he risks being blamed for enabling undocumented immigration,” Montepeque said. “On the other hand, implementing stringent policies could lead to accusations of reneging on his promises, thereby upsetting congressional Democrats and progressives.”

With the election still months away, there is still time for voters to be swayed, including independent voters who may be the deciding factor in November.

However, Alvarez said, “it can be challenging to accurately predict because independent voters sometimes garner higher poll numbers than their actual performance in elections.”

“Nevertheless, Biden’s shift towards a more hardline stance has the potential to resonate with a broader spectrum of moderates and independents,” she said. “If Biden wants to remain a viable contender in the 2024 election, he may be compelled to adopt stricter immigration and border security measures, despite the potential backlash from progressives within his base. The direction Biden takes on undocumented immigration and border security will shape his chances of winning the election.”


Media Contact: javier.rojas@csun.edu - (818) 677-2497

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