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Will Biden’s new border measures be enough to change voters’ minds?

WASHINGTON (news agencies) — President Joe Biden tried to address a major liability for his reelection campaign by taking executive action to significantly restrict asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But it’s unclear whether his efforts will be enough to change the minds of voters who have increasingly voiced alarm over the record influx of migrants on his watch. Polls have found immigration and border security to be a top issue this election year and one that has been seized on by former President Donald Trump and his campaign.

Biden has shifted far to the right on immigration since his winning campaign four years ago, when he criticized Trump’s immigration priorities and promised he would restore asylum protections. Many Democrats acknowledge Biden now faces a wholly different political reality, even as key parts of his base push him to repudiate border restrictions and compare his move to Trump’s policies as president.

Sue-Ann DiVito, a 61-year-old realtor from the Philadelphia suburb of Jenkintown who became an immigration advocate during the Trump administration, says Republicans have been successful at spreading anti-immigrant messages in communities like hers, making some of her friends who are Democrat worry about the high number of people arriving in the U.S.

“I think that’s why we see people who would normally support immigrants are now more quiet,” DiVito said.

The border has been a top issue for voters throughout the presidential campaign so far.

According to Gallup’s monthly data, Americans named immigration as the top issue facing the country in February, March, and April, surpassing even the share who cited the economy despite persistently higher prices. Immigration came up less frequently as a top issue in Gallup’s May poll as attention turned to Trump’s criminal trial and as the number of illegal crossings ebbed. The issue was still tied with the government and the economy as what voters saw as the nation’s most important problem.

Most Americans, 56%, say Biden’s presidency has hurt the country on the issue of immigration and border security, according to an news agencies-NORC poll conducted in April. That’s far higher than the number — 37% — who said the same about Trump’s time in office.

Even among Democrats, only about 3 in 10 say that Biden’s presidency has done more to help the country on immigration and border security, while about the same share say it has hurt. Nearly 9 in 10 Republicans say Trump’s presidency helped on this issue.

Hispanic adults are also more likely to think Trump’s presidency helped the country with immigration and border security, compared to Biden’s. About half of Hispanic adults in March said that Biden’s presidency had done more to hurt the country on immigration and border security — a potentially alarming number as Trump’s campaign works to chip away at Democrats’ advantage with Hispanic voters.

“President Biden had no choice. He saw what was going on at the border. The numbers were higher than ever in terms of people trying to come here to seek asylum, and he knew he had to do something,” said Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist.

Frank Luntz, a longtime pollster who has previously worked for Republicans, said immigration seemed to be especially resonating earlier this spring across the political spectrum in a way it never had before.

He said he believes Biden is especially vulnerable with African American men under 40 who are worried about newcomers competing for jobs and Latinos who may resent those entering illegally.

“The reason why immigration matters so much to so many is that it is a living, breathing illustration of the failure of Washington to solve what everyone else in America sees as a crisis,” he said Tuesday. “Biden‘s decision seems too little and too late. The public doesn’t think he cares, and therefore thinks he doesn’t get it.”

Trump has been campaigning on the border and immigration since he launched his 2016 bid with a speech in which he cast migrants from Mexico as criminals and rapists and vowed to build a southern border wall.

While in office, his administration separated immigrant parents and children to try to deter families from illegally crossing the border, a measure that drew widespread condemnation.

Border crossings hit record highs — albeit far below the marks they’ve reached under Biden — until falling sharply as the COVID-19 pandemic began.

As he runs to return to the White House again this year, Trump has escalated his already alarmist rhetoric, accusing Biden of orchestrating a “border bloodbath” and highlighting cases of women and children killed by people who entered the U.S. illegally. He’s vowed to carry out the largest deportation operation in U.S. history if elected again.

His campaign quickly tried to cast Biden’s effort as ineffective and one that would permit thousands of migrant crossings each week.

“This executive order from Biden can only be understood as a pro-invasion, pro-illegal migration executive order,” said former Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller, who orchestrated some of Trump’s most hard-line immigration policies, during a call with reporters organized by the campaign ahead of Biden’s announcement.

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