Joe Biden Pivots to Dreamers and Family Unification As Border Woes Fade

The first picture of a group with President Joe Biden in the Oval office without masks wasn't of influential labor leaders or senior lawmakers.

They were Dreamers—young immigrants seeking a path to citizenship for themselves and millions of others like them.

That Friday meeting is just the latest example of a strategy the White House and allies have recently embraced, pushing for reforms by highlighting popular planks of an immigration agenda that has been stalled for months, or, in the eyes of activists, for nearly two decades. The two main areas of focus now are protecting Dreamers and unifying families separated during the Trump administration.

The strategy was previewed during a briefing early last week convened by Building Back Together, a White House-backed outside group that is working to increase support for the president's agenda, and shared with Newsweek by people in attendance.

Matt Barreto, a senior advisor for the group and former Biden campaign pollster, presented the results of a poll to 100 allied groups that showed majority support among the electorate for Biden's efforts to undo Trump's child separation policy, as well as very strong support for Biden's family reunification task force.

Commenting on HR 6, the legislation known as the American Dream and Promise Act, Barreto reported that every subgroup within the electorate had majority support for passing the Dream act, including Trump 2020 voters, white non-college voters, and self-described conservatives, with no group opposed the Dream act.

The polling was conducted before high-profile family reunifications began making news during the first week of May, and again on Mother's Day weekend, with the administration seeking to reunify hundreds of families the rest of this year.

"It's going to be hard to reunify all 500 of those kids, but they're going to do it," a Biden ally close to the group said. "They're going to reunify every single one, and every week there will be new footage,"

The influx of migrants at the border, which mired the early months of Biden's presidency, will continue be a visible challenge, particularly for an administration that drew clear lines during the election on its view of how children in the immigration system should be treated.

But the White House is also hoping to improve its standing on immigration by drawing sharper contrasts between its policy goals and the family separations of the Trump era and Republican recalcitrance on moving immigration forward.

There is also an urgency by allies to get Democrats off the sidelines and engaged to seize the moment on immigration.

A memo sent to lawmakers and staff on Friday by Jessica Morales Rocketto, the co-chair of Families Belong Together, entitled "Going on offense on immigration," traced her argument that Republicans set Biden up to fail at the border knowing that seasonal increases were coming.

But Biden has now made progress with the number of children in border patrol custody, which is down 84% from March to April, and "powerful coverage of the first family reunifications after being separated by Trump."

The memo, obtained by Newsweek, highlighted an Associated Press poll showing Biden's support from independents on his handling of immigration rising 11 points from April to May, and said, "the only way this message gets covered is if Democrats and the White House lean in and make it happen," invoking both family reunifications and legislation that would legalize Dreamers and farmworkers.

"Republicans politicized the border again per usual, and it wasn't that effective, honestly," Morales Rocketto told Newsweek. "It went away pretty quickly, and that wasn't by accident. We've worked really hard to tell stories of what's actually happening there, and what we've seen with family reunifications is getting people animated."

On the Building Back Together briefing, Todd Schulte, the president of FWD.us, the immigration advocacy organization founded by Mark Zuckerberg, sketched out the legislative framework that would include Dreamers, farmworkers, and temporary protected status (TPS) holders.

"Right now there is a very real moral imperative," Schulte told Newsweek in detailing his policy presentation. "It's a huge opportunity for the White House to go on offense and make the Dream act—which is incredibly popular—the central immigration fight and frame. It's the right thing to do."

Media coverage of border issues has greatly decreased as the Biden administration has shown improvements. Building Back Together sharing a graph of media mentions of the "border crisis" with Newsweek that showed enormous peaks in coverage in March and the first half of April, but which have fallen off dramatically since.

Still, English-language media isn't the only game in town, and the story isn't all positive on Spanish-language network giants like Univision and Telemundo.

While there has been coverage of family reunifications, both networks have given considerable coverage in recent weeks to the Biden administration's use of Title 42 to expel immigrants arriving at the border using a public health provision, which Trump began using in March 2020 when the pandemic began.

Some allies on the Build Back Together briefing like Schulte, for example, have been critical of the Biden's administration's continued use of Title 42, and the critical coverage on Univision and Telemundo is expected to continue.

"In Spanish-language media you find real criticism of the Biden administration," a Univision network source told Newsweek, adding that their network has given a lot of coverage to Title 42 expulsions.

A recent report by Telemundo's senior Washington correspondent Cristina Londoño Rooney reviewing Biden's first 100 days in office was also seen in Spanish-language media circles as being critical of his immigration policy, invoking the idea of his empty promises.

An immigration activist who was on the Build Back Together briefing call said that given these continued challenges facing the White House, Biden's former pollster giving quotes saying Democrats should go on offense on immigration was seen as a positive step, calling it a "stake in the ground" moving forward.

"They have the opportunity to pick the frame of engagement here," the source said. "They can go on offense on the things they are trusted on, are most popular on, and they can win on."

family reunification
Samuel and his son Daniel from Honduras embrace at LaGuardia airport in New York on March 30, 2021 after being separated for months. Daniel and his mother, Dania, were release from a US government holding facility for illegal migrants seeking asylum in McAllen, Texas. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images