As U.S. President Joe Biden prepares for a key debate with rival Donald Trump, he is introducing new immigration and border policies that his supporters hope will

appeal to skeptical voters. Biden's recent policy announcements aim to address migration challenges and sway the electorate: an asylum ban to reduce illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border and a comprehensive legalization plan for long-term residents married to U.S. citizens.

These two policies—one to curb new migrant arrivals and the other to legalize hundreds of thousands already in the country—highlight the delicate balance Biden must maintain as he seeks another term in the White House. Record numbers of migrants have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border during Biden's presidency, making immigration a top voter concern ahead of the November 5 election.

In response to criticism from Trump, who implemented stringent immigration policies during his 2017-2021 presidency and promises a severe crackdown if re-elected, Biden has hardened his stance on border enforcement. A Reuters/Ipsos poll in mid-May showed that registered voters preferred Trump over Biden on immigration policy by a 17 percentage point margin, an issue likely to feature prominently in their Thursday debate in Atlanta.

Earlier this year, Biden urged Congress to pass a bipartisan Senate border security bill, but Republicans rejected the effort in February after Trump voiced opposition. On June 4, Biden introduced a new policy barring most migrants who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border from seeking asylum, stating that the executive action was necessary to curb illegal immigration in the absence of legislation. The policy aims to expedite deportations of migrants back to their home countries or Mexico, rather than releasing them into the U.S. to await lengthy court proceedings.

While the number of migrants caught crossing has declined in recent weeks, U.S. officials caution that it is too early to determine if this trend will continue. The border clampdown was influenced by polling data showing that most Americans favor stricter controls. Simultaneously, the White House has identified an opportunity to mobilize Latino voters with pro-immigrant actions, according to sources familiar with the matter.

A recent poll by the advocacy group Immigration Hub indicated strong voter support, particularly among Latinos, for legalizing spouses of U.S. citizens. Encouraged by these findings and pressure from Democrats and advocates, Biden proposed a path to citizenship for around 500,000 spouses of U.S. citizens, predominantly long-term residents from Mexico.

Matt Barreto, a Biden campaign pollster who conducted the Immigration Hub survey, noted that Americans differentiate between border migrants and long-term residents, seeking both border enforcement and fair treatment for those integrated into their communities. "When it comes up in focus groups and we say, 'What about the person who cleans your house? What about the person who takes care of your children or your elderly mother?'" Barreto said. "They love them."

Trump campaign spokesperson Karoline Leavitt criticized Biden's new program, highlighting voter support for deportations. A Reuters/Ipsos poll in May found that over half of U.S. voters supported deportations of most or all immigrants in the U.S. illegally. Leavitt stated, "On Day One back in the White House, President Trump will begin the largest criminal deportation operation of illegal immigrants and restore the rule of law."

Although Trump has shown openness to skilled, legal migration, stating on a podcast that all foreign graduates from U.S. colleges should receive permanent residence, his campaign clarified that only after "the most aggressive vetting process in U.S. history" would "the most skilled graduates who can make significant contributions to America" be allowed to stay.

Latino community organizers believe Biden's legalization plan for spouses could help re-engage Latino voters. Mi Familia Vota, a nonpartisan organization active in ten states including battleground states Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia, plans to highlight Biden's spouse legalization effort in voter outreach. Hector Sanchez Barba, the group's executive director, emphasized the initiative's importance, stating, "This is a big deal for the Latino community." Photo by Tomascastelazo, Wikimedia commons.