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Biden’s handling of immigration gets low marks in his own pollster’s survey

The results of the new poll come just days ahead of Biden’s State of the Union address.
Image: Joe Biden
President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress as Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., applaud at the U.S. Capitol on April 28, 2021.Melina Mara / Pool/AFP via Getty Images file

A majority of likely midterm voters — 66 percent — disapprove of President Joe Biden’s handling of immigration issues, according to a new survey conducted by a Democratic firm that has acted as Biden’s chief political pollster.  

The results of the new poll, commissioned by the immigrant advocacy group NILC Immigrant Justice Fund and provided first to NBC News, come days ahead of Biden’s State of the Union address, in which he is expected to outline his priorities and mark his administration’s achievements over the past year, all amid a still unfolding conflict in Ukraine as Russia continues its all-out assault

According to the survey, 71 percent said immigration reform should be an extremely or very important priority for the White House and Congress. The survey of 802 likely 2022 voters was conducted February 10-17, by Impact Research, a firm formerly known as ALG polling and founded by John Anzalone, Biden’s chief political pollster. (Anzalone was not personally involved in the poll that his firm conducted.) It had a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent.  

Briannon Gillis, political director for the Immigrant Justice Fund, the advocacy arm of the National Immigration Law Center, argued that the numbers mean voters would welcome Biden taking more aggressive action before the midterms to overturn former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. 

“The lack of action that we’re seeing from the Biden administration has been a political miscalculation,” Gillis said, urging the president to re-emphasize immigration as a priority in this week’s State of the Union speech. 

Biden could take more executive actions and again make immigration legislation a priority before the midterms, Gillis said, but described the administration as being “overly cautious” and “tiptoeing” around immigration issues. 

“We all agree that our immigration system is outdated and in bad need of reform, but making the necessary changes isn’t going to happen overnight,” White House spokesman Vedant Patel said in a statement. “This Administration remains committed to working day in and day out to provide relief to immigrants and bring our immigration system into the 21st century.”

Upon taking office last year, Biden stopped construction of Trump’s border wall and signed three executive orders that the administration then said would reverse “moral failings” of Trump immigration policies. He also reversed a travel ban on majority Muslim countries and started the Family Reunification Task Force that works to reunite families separated at the border under Trump administration policy. But Biden was stymied by courts or Congress in its other attempts at broader immigration changes.

Immigration rights groups, in the meantime, have scoffed at the administration’s recent move amid the omicron wave to extend the Trump-era Title 42 program that allows asylum seekers to be turned back due to public health concerns.

The survey, in which Biden’s overall favorability was at 41 percent, suggested broad support for reversing more Trump-era policies, including 52 percent who said they somewhat or strongly supported ending Title 42, and 53 percent who said they somewhat or strongly supported reversing the Trump-era remain-in-Mexico policy that compels asylum seekers to stay in Mexico until their cases are heard by an immigration court. The Biden administration has attempted to reverse this policy only to be shot down by federal judges. The matter is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said they favored creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Democrats, who control the White House and both chambers of Congress, albeit with slim majorities, have sought to make changes by attempting to include immigration reform provisions in a larger package of climate and social safety net legislation that Biden has dubbed his Build Back Better agenda. While the House advanced the matter, an arcane Senate rule prohibited the provisions from being included in a bill that could pass with support from only Democratic senators, or a simple majority. Senate rules require 60 votes for most types of legislation to pass, and Republican lawmakers have made clear their opposition to Democrats’ efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

Republicans have attacked Biden on immigration from the day he took office — when he proposed a sweeping immigration reform bill that Senate Republicans the next day called a “nonstarter” — accusing the president of holding an “open” border policy, a sentiment repeated again and again in conservative media coverage. 

Biden does not have an open border policy, and immigrants rights' groups have instead complained of the administration extending Title 42 and have pressed for Biden to allow more refugees into the country.

In the NILC-commissioned survey, Trump notched much higher marks with his base on how he handled immigration issues (86 percent positive) than Biden did with his (54 percent approval)

But the two were closer when it came to independents, with Biden at 19 percent and Trump at 21 percent approval. The group argued that this meant Biden had room to gain ground with his base without alienating independents.

“The propaganda that’s coming out from Republicans about what’s going on at the border and needing to keep some of these policies in place is not borne out in this poll,” said Will Dempster, communications director for the NILC Immigrant Justice Fund. “This is an opportunity for them to take those steps to change course in a way that would resonate with voters and also with independent voters.” 

Gillis argued that a “Democratic trifecta” in the White House and Congress should mean more concrete results. 

“The Biden-Harris administration was given a mandate. They made campaign promises and the electorate wants them to deliver and delivering would be a political winner,” Gillis said.

CORRECTION (Feb. 27, 2022, 9:40 p.m. ET): A photo caption on a previous version of this article misstated the order of the people in the photo. Vice President Kamala Harris is on the left, not the right; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is on the right.