Posted on June 7, 2024

Growing Frustration on Immigration Threatens to Erode Biden’s Latino Support

David Noriega and Suzanne Gamboa, NBC, June 5, 2024

When Arturo Garino was mayor of Nogales, he joined fellow border mayors to campaign for national Democratic candidates, including then-President Barack Obama.

Now out of public office and with Arizona becoming an immigration hot spot, he told NBC News that he’s certain he won’t be campaigning for President Joe Biden. Though he voted for him in 2020, he said in an interview last month, he doesn’t know how he’ll vote this November.

“I don’t think what this administration is doing it right — letting all these people just come across,” Garino told NBC News. “I’m a Democrat, and I’m pretty pissed off.”

President Biden’s executive action signed Tuesday, dramatically restricting access to asylum for migrants at the border, shows just how vexing immigration is for his campaign, even among Latino voters who have generally sided with his party on the issue.

Voters like Garino, who once chastised the administration for continuing a pandemic ban on border crossings, are frustrated over the high number of migrant arrivals in recent years. At the same time, many blame Biden for a failure to deliver on promises for immigration reform for long-settled immigrants without legal status, despite years of blockades to legalization by Republicans in Congress.

In a presidential race with razor-thin margins, any erosion of Latino support in such a heavily Latino battleground state could be consequential.

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As has historically been the case, immigration is not the top voting issue for Latinos in this election. But many Latino voters have used immigration as a litmus test, judging those to be anti-immigrant to also be anti-Latino, said Carlos Odio, a co-founder of Equis Research, a Democrat-leaning Latino polling and research company.

“That has changed somewhat in the last few years. The Democrats no longer have the advantage they used to,” he said. There are perceptions that Democrats have broken campaign promises to provide pathways to legal status for immigrants, and that Republicans aren’t going to go as far as they say they will with immigration crackdowns, Odio said.

Recent polls have shown a rise in Latinos agreeing with GOP calls for more border control, as well as increases in the percentage of Latinos who say Republicans and presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump could do a better job controlling the border.

According to the latest NBC News survey, U.S. voters ranked immigration and the border a close second to inflation and cost of living as the most important issue facing the country. Less than 30% approved of Biden’s handling of immigration and the border. Republicans were far more likely, 42%, than Democrats, 4%, and independents, 15%, to see immigration and the border as a top issue, the poll showed.

An April poll from Axios-Ipsos and Noticias Telemundo found some hard-line positions on immigration have grown in popularity among Latinos. Building a wall or fence on the border, for example, jumped from 30% to 42% approval among Latinos between December 2021 and March 2024. But Latinos still are less likely than white Americans to support building a wall or calling for deportations, according to a Pew Research Center poll.

The Axios-Ipsos and Noticias Telemundo poll also showed that 64% of adult Latinos polled supported giving the president authority to shut down U.S. borders if too many immigrants are trying to enter the country. But also, 59% support allowing refugees fleeing crime and violence in Latin America to claim asylum in the U.S.

Clarissa Martinez de Castro, vice president of Latino Vote Initiative at UnidosUS, the country’s largest Latino advocacy group, said in a recent interview that the Biden administration and campaign have not been offering Latino swing voters a convincing counter-narrative to Republican talking points on immigration.

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At a recent campaign event in Nogales for Kari Lake (the Trump-aligned Senate candidate), Yvette Serino, chairwoman of Latinos for Lake, said she has succeeded in converting some friends and family members to the MAGA cause. Serino herself comes from a prominent Democratic political family in Nogales, where her grandfather spent decades in public office.

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Like many right-wing Latinos, Serino believes the Republican Party under Trump has successfully tapped into religious conservative values prevalent among Mexican Americans — “God, family, country.” And on immigration, she said, Trump’s rhetoric increasingly appeals to Mexican American families who immigrated to the U.S. without illegally crossing the border or overstaying a visa.

“I get it, people want to come and better their lives,” said Sergio Watson, a 35-year-old owner of a small trucking company who attended the Kari Lake event. “But I also think they should do it the right way, and I see a lot of people who just want a handout.”

Watson was born in Sinaloa, Mexico, before his parents moved their family legally to the U.S. Like most Latinos, Watson cites the economy as his top motivating issue as a voter — but he says the border is not far behind.

He said he voted for Hilary Clinton in 2016, but then voted for Trump in 2020.

“I used to follow [Democrats] because I thought they were for Hispanics, but they’re not,” he said.

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