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There's no excusing Joe Biden deciding to add to Donald Trump's border wall

Such a heel turn from Biden on the construction of a border wall could make some Latino voters question their support for his re-election.
Immigrants at the border wall
Immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. reach through the border wall as volunteers offer assistance on the other side in San Diego, Calif., on May 12.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

“There will not be another foot of wall constructed,” then-candidate Joe Biden said in an interview with Black and Latino journalists in August 2020 when asked about his immigration policy. Yet on Thursday, a year after a Government Accountability Office report said former President Donald Trump’s border wall resulted in “significant damage and destruction” to the environment and cultural sites, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it had waived 26 federal laws, allowing border wall construction to continue.

Despite vowing to be the opposite of Trump on immigration, Biden has been a lot more like his predecessor than he and his Democratic supporters want to admit.

The White House and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection say Congress had already approved funding for fencing in 2019, and that they were only following this funding appropriation. In June, DHS authorized CBP to “move forward with the planning and execution of up to approximately 20 miles of border barrier system” in the Rio Grande Valley. That's a cop-out. Biden could have used the GAO for cover not to resume construction of a border wall.

Despite vowing to be the opposite of Trump on immigration, Biden has been a lot more like his predecessor than he and his Democratic supporters want to admit.

Just days before the border wall news, the Biden campaign was praising itself for beginning more targeted and aggressive outreach to Latino voters in 2024.

“President Biden’s campaign knows Latinos’ political power and is investing early and aggressively to make his case because we won’t take their votes for granted,” Maca Casado, the Biden campaign’s Hispanic media director campaign, told NBC News last week.

From the looks of it, the Biden re-election campaign, led by Julie Chávez Rodríguez, a granddaughter of the late labor leader César Chávez, is banking on running two campaigns — one that is more Republican on the issue of immigration, and another one that is more Democratic in its attempts to cater to Latinos.

“Walls don’t work… President Biden promised he wouldn’t build them,” Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat who ran for president in 2020 and governor of Texas last year, wrote on the social media platform X. O’Rourke was right when he added, “Now harder for voters to distinguish between him & Trump on border/immigration… Wasted opportunity to use executive power to actually fix our asylum system instead of impotent political posturing.”

The Biden campaign needs to understand how disconnected its outreach strategy is with its policy decisions. Polling from last month showed that the majority of Latino voters in key swing state districts want more extensions of legal protections and status for unauthorized immigrants, not just straight border security talk.

Once again, Democrats are running the risk of taking Latino voters for granted. If Latino voters want to stop getting played, then there needs to be more unity in criticizing Biden’s immigration policy and holding him accountable. Critics must demand that he stop, to borrow O’Rourke’s words, his “impotent political posturing.”

A Univision poll released at the end of September shows 58% of Latino registered voters favoring Biden in a 2024 run against Trump; Trump was favored by 31% of Latinos. Such a heel turn from Biden on the construction of a border wall could make some Latino voters question their support for his re-election.

The majority of Latino voters in key swing state districts want more extensions of legal protections and status for unauthorized immigrants.

“In the Rio Grande Valley, it’s been consistent that the federal government has been building border wall over the last several years, and this is just a continuation of those policies,” Roberto Lopez, of the Texas Civil Rights Project, explained to NBC News on Thursday. “I’m from South Texas. I’m from these areas. It feels like a slap in the face. It feels like bollards are going up, when infrastructure in these communities is struggling.”

Such sentiments could become the new normal for the Biden re-election campaign. If Biden does not get more than 60% of the 2024 Latino vote, he will lose. Border wall pivots leave a cynical taste that will be hard to overcome. Unlike 2020, Latino voters will be voting more on Biden’s record and less against Trump.

The Biden administration's immigration agenda cannot just be about border security. O’Rourke rightly called Biden’s actions a “wasted opportunity to use executive power to actually fix our asylum system instead of impotent political posturing.” Biden still has a golden opportunity to move the needle on immigration reform, which would significantly alter the national debate and the focus. It could lead to even more Latino voter support for him.

This is not the first time such a pivot has occurred under Biden’s watch. In the lead-up to the 2022 midterms, the White House?was saying?it would make immigration a priority. Noting materialized. We continue to witness a system that primarily punishes migration and results in more deaths, including the 3-year-old?who died in August?on a bus headed to Chicago.

Despite those campaign promises that a 2020 Biden presidency would be different from the four years of punitive Trump policies, Thursday’s border wall news is just another acquiescence to Republican policy.

And another example of him taking for granted the Latino voters he needs to win.

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