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Latino voters want Biden to take more aggressive action on immigration, polls find

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Washington — A majority of Latino voters in key 2024 states and districts want President Biden to take more aggressive actions to both provide immigration relief to millions of immigrants living in the U.S. without legal status and secure the southern border, according to new polling.

A survey commissioned by the Immigration Hub, an advocacy group that supports progressive immigration policies, found that most prospective Latino voters in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas and two swing districts in California and New York support proposals for the Biden administration to grant deportation protections and work permits to unauthorized immigrants.

Eighty-five percent of the 2,000 registered Latino voters surveyed over the summer indicated they wanted the Biden administration to expand the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, so additional immigrants from crisis-stricken countries can live and work in the U.S. legally. The survey also found that 75% support offering temporary legal status to unauthorized immigrants who have lived in the U.S. "for a long time."

Support for legalizing "Dreamers," or undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, stood at 77% among the Latinos who participated in the poll, which was first reported by CBS News and was also commissioned by the groups Somos Votantes and UnidosUS Action. Earlier this week, a federal judge ruled against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows nearly 600,000 "Dreamers" to live and work in the U.S. legally.

Latino voters in those states and districts currently approve of Mr. Biden's presidency by a 22 point margin (66% approve and 39% disapprove), according to the poll. But enthusiasm among Latinos to reelect Mr. Biden dwindles by 9 percentage points, the survey found, when they are told he will focus on border security without offering legal status to immigrants already in the U.S.

There were an estimated 11.2 million immigrants living in the U.S. without legal status in 2021, an increase from 11 million in 2019, according to an estimate released this week by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. Researchers noted the number is likely higher now, given the record high levels of migrant apprehensions reported along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021 and 2022. 

Another recent poll commissioned by the center-right Latino group LIBRE Institute also found that Latino voters broadly back legal immigration pathways and legalizing "Dreamers" — 87% and 82%, respectively. But the same survey found that 65% of 1,000 Latinos surveyed indicated that more needed to be done to control illegal immigration along the southern border. The Immigration Hub-commissioned poll also found 63% of Latino voters support increased border security.

The polls illustrate the tricky political challenges faced by Mr. Biden on immigration policy, one of the country's most divisive issues. Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates have faulted Mr. Biden for the record levels of illegal border crossings in the past two years, while progressive activists and Democrats have criticized his administration for enacting some restrictions on asylum. 

Democratic lawmakers for decades have also faced pressure from Latino leaders and groups to legalize undocumented immigrants, but all proposals to do so have faltered in Congress, including a bill Mr. Biden proposed early in his presidency. The odds of a divided Congress acting on Mr. Biden's bill have become even slimmer, with Republican leaders in the GOP-led House vowing to oppose "amnesty."

The political situation for Mr. Biden has been complicated further in recent months, as Democratic leaders in New York and other large cities struggling to house migrants have openly criticized the Biden administration for not doing enough to help their jurisdictions accommodate the new arrivals.

Big-city Democrats have also called on the administration to grant recently arrived migrants temporary legal status, through the TPS program or other means, so they can apply for work permits more quickly and stop relying on local services. But Biden administration officials have been reluctant to do so, fearing that it could encourage more migrants to cross the U.S. border illegally, CBS News reported last month.

On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters during a briefing that his department did not have "any intention right now" to expand the TPS program to allow hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans to apply for work permits and deportation protections. "That is not to say that we do not continuously review the country conditions," Mayorkas said.

Mr. Biden implemented a new migration strategy this year that allows tens of thousands of migrants to enter the U.S. each month through an app and a sponsorship program, while disqualifying from asylum those who enter the country illegally. The administration credited those policies for a two-year low in migrant crossings in June, but migration to the U.S. border has increased sharply in recent weeks.

Matt Barreto, president of BSP Research, the firm that conducted the poll commissioned by the Immigration Hub, said the survey shows that Mr. Biden has "huge opportunities" to "shore up" support among Latinos by using his executive authority to grant immigrants temporary legal status.

"Latinos want to see Democrats deliver a balanced agenda on the issue of immigration, one that involves humane border solutions and secures legal pathways for long-settled immigrants like Dreamers and TPS holders to continue to live and work in the U.S.," Barreto said.   

However, Daniel Garza, president of the LIBRE Initiative, said Mr. Biden and Democrats could be punished at the polls because of the spike in illegal border entries over the past two years and the inability to get an immigration reform law passed in Congress, a longstanding Democratic promise.

"After you've been told once and again, and been promised that you're going to get immigration reform if you vote for me, and then you keep voting for the same party and they never deliver, after a while you're just sort of like, 'You know what, man, I don't even believe you anymore,'" Garza said.

"Joe Biden is singing the same tune with the same broken promise," he added.

Garza also noted that he thinks immigration has been increasingly overshadowed by concerns among Latinos about the state of the U.S. economy. The poll commissioned by the Libre Institute found that only 8% of those surveyed ranked immigration as their top issue, while 34% picked economic issues including inflation. Nearly 50% of respondents said the state of the economy was poor.

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