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From the Center

It’s been almost 40 years since Washington accomplished anything of significance on immigration policy. Over the course of a generation, the crisis has continued to worsen, but partisan-fueled paralysis has prevented any real progress from happening. That may be about to change.

But while any deal is still a long way from completion, the key to a breakthrough comes not from the growing numbers of migrants coming from Mexico and Venezuela, not from the heart-wrenching stories of those fleeing from oppression in Cuba or Haiti, nor from the sheer improbability of those finding their way to the border after beginning their journeys in Africa, Asia or the Middle East.

Rather, it appears that if the immigration legislative impasse is finally broken after all these years, it will be as a result of Israel and Ukraine. It’s not that either of these U.S. allies has large numbers of residents who are attempting to move to this country. But because President Biden wants to provide large amounts of funding to both nations to assist in their respective war efforts, and given the growing divides within the Republican Party over Ukraine and among Democrats over Israel, Biden and his advisors have identified two bipartisan sweeteners that they hope can make the deal more enticing to skeptics on both sides of the aisle.

The more obvious of those two issues is Taiwan. Under both Biden and his predecessor, antagonism toward mainland China has become a rare point of bipartisan agreement. Donald Trump upended decades of efforts by presidents of both parties to strengthen ties between the two superpowers. And while Biden’s language has been less combative, the U.S.-China relationship has not significantly improved since he took office. One of the few times that this president has been able to get the two parties to work together in Congress was to pass a bipartisan semiconductor manufacturing bill. While hailed as a major job creation measure, it could not have passed without a healthy dose of anti-China animus from Democrats and Republicans alike.

So it stands to reason that including a pot of money for Taiwan’s defense could make the Ukraine-Israel legislation more alluring. But Biden’s less expected addition is the inclusion of additional funds to beef up security at the U.S.-Mexico border. Given the contentiousness that has prevented meaningful progress on immigration policy for so many years, it seems odd that Biden would toss such a third-rail issue into the middle of such sensitive negotiations. But the White House’s goal on immigration does not appear to be compromise but rather capitulation. The only question is how much Biden is willing to give Republicans on one of their favorite issues in return for the national security funding he wants.

Initially, it appeared that Biden was hoping to simply throw in more money for border security. But GOP leaders have made it clear that while they welcome the additional funding, they also want broader reform, especially in the area of asylum policy. Making it more difficult for those fleeing repression to come to the United States would usually be a non-starter for a Democratic president, but as the number of asylum seekers continues to skyrocket, several Democratic members of Congress facing difficult reelection campaigns have let it be known that they would be open to such changes.

Last week, several of the mayors of America’s largest cities came to Washington to plead for additional support from the White House. These are members of Biden’s own party, and all strongly back him for re-election. But they are under growing pressure from anxious constituents, and they are getting desperate.

All of which makes some type of restrictionist immigration law policy more tempting for Biden. The Democratic base, already furious with the president for what they consider to be his overly strong support of Israel, will be even angrier if they believe that he might be backsliding on immigration policy. But they might not be able to stop him.

There are other areas of immigration reform where progressives still enjoy higher levels of public support, most notably on issues relating to young people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents as young children. Providing additional support and opportunities for these “Dreamers” could become part of a broader immigration package. Now that border security is becoming a bipartisan issue, this might be the best possible outcome for those on both sides of this long-gridlocked argument.

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Dan Schnur is a Professor at the University of California – Berkeley, Pepperdine University, and the University of Southern California, where he teaches courses in politics, communications and leadership. Dan is a No Party Preference voter, but previously worked on four presidential and three gubernatorial campaigns, serving as the national Director of Communications for the 2000 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator John McCain and the chief media spokesman for California Governor Pete Wilson. He has a Center bias.

This piece was reviewed and edited by Isaiah Anthony, Deputy Blog Editor (Center bias).

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo