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Democrats Confront a Surge at the Border

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The Democratic-led House on Thursday passed bills that would offer a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, including so-called Dreamers, and eventually grant legal status to almost a million farmworkers and their families.

By holding votes on these targeted bills — rather than the total immigration overhaul that President Biden has proposed — Democratic lawmakers hoped to draw a clear line between themselves and Republicans on some of the more popular and uncontroversial elements of Biden’s broader immigration plan.

They’re pressing what they see as an advantage on an issue where public opinion has moved significantly to the left over the past five years: Polls show that more than four in five voters nationwide now support allowing Dreamers, or immigrants brought to the United States as children, to become citizens.

But that advantage may be under threat, because of an increasingly difficult situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. A flood of asylum seekers and other migrants has arrived since the start of the Biden administration, drawn in part by the new president’s more accommodating tone compared with his predecessor’s.

Republicans have seized upon the surge, labeling it the “Biden border crisis” in a new series of political ads and splashing coverage across conservative media.

As former President Donald Trump’s political career illustrates, there’s arguably no issue that divides conservatives and liberals as starkly as immigration. While the country’s views became decidedly more pro-immigrant during Mr. Trump’s tenure, a hard-line stance against illegal immigration also became one of the primary rallying cries for the G.O.P.

Mr. Biden and his homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, are balancing their desire to reject Trump’s uncompromising approach — particularly with regard to unaccompanied minors, who have arrived at the border this month at a rate of roughly 400 people a day — with an acknowledgment that proceeding with business as usual simply isn’t an option, as tens of thousands of migrants, fleeing insecurity and poverty at home, require housing and processing.

A month ago, immigration didn’t register as a top concern for most Americans. A Pew Research Center poll in early February found that just 38 percent of the country thought that “reducing illegal immigration” should be a major priority among the United States’ foreign policy goals.

That was half the share saying that protecting American jobs should be a top area of foreign-policy focus. And even fewer said that reducing legal immigration should be a priority.

But in a CNN poll released last week, immigration was the only issue, from a list of seven, on which Americans gave Mr. Biden meaningfully negative reviews. Forty-nine percent of respondents disapproved of how he was handling immigration, while 43 percent approved.

Among political independents, he was 15 points in the hole: 53 percent disapproved, 38 percent approved.

Testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee this week, Mr. Mayorkas acknowledged that the situation at the border “is undoubtedly difficult,” and sought to manage expectations. “We are working around the clock to manage it, and it will take time,” he said.

With coronavirus vaccines quickly becoming available, numerous states are looking to beat President Biden’s goal of offering shots to all adults by May 1.

Alaska and Mississippi have already opened up the vaccine to everyone age 16 or older, regardless of risk factors. Other states — including Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Ohio and Utah — are aiming to follow suit this month or next.

A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College poll found that more than three in five Americans age 75 and up have already been vaccinated. But divisions remain: Nearly half of all respondents who reported having voted to re-elect Donald Trump in November said they wouldn’t get a vaccine after it became available.

Vaccine distribution is ultimately up to the states, but Mr. Biden has made a point of grabbing the bull by the horns — positioning the federal government as a kind of air traffic controller for the vaccine rollout.

The $1.9 trillion relief package that he signed last week has a lot to do with that, as it includes large allotments for vaccine distribution and for state and local governments. I caught up with Sheryl Gay Stolberg, a Washington correspondent covering health policy, for a rundown on where things stand — and what we know (and what we don’t) about the Biden administration’s plans.

The relief bill includes billions for vaccine distribution and coronavirus testing, and hundreds of billions for school districts and state and local governments. Is that funding tied to certain benchmarks? How is the administration using this funding to help guide the distribution of vaccines nationally?

Actually, I don’t think we know what benchmarks the Biden administration is using. I asked what metrics they would use to judge the success of their plan to ramp up coronavirus screening testing in schools. I did not get a clear answer.

States are handling vaccine distribution in widely divergent ways. Most are making vaccines available to residents gradually, depending on their age and other risk factors, but in some states — and certain counties in other states — shots are now available to all adults. Where do health experts, both at the C.D.C. and elsewhere, land on this? Is this worrisome to epidemiologists, or are they saying we’re at a point where it makes sense for vaccines to be openly available?

The bottom line from health experts is this: It is important for as many people as possible to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. Most states are beyond vaccinating the highest priority groups, like health care workers or people who live in nursing homes, and are offering the vaccine at least to essential workers. But as you note, some states have lowered the age of eligibility while others have not.

Vaccination in the United States has always been the province of the states, and the guidance put out by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is just that — guidance. That said, President Biden has ordered all states to make all adults eligible for the vaccine no later than May 1.

As the vaccine supply grows, we are going to soon see a reversal: Instead of having too little vaccine for a public that is clamoring for it, we will have more than enough and the problem will be getting people who don’t want it to take it.

Biden said last week that the federal government would secure another 100 million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. How soon will those vaccines be available? Are we nearing a point where supply more or less equals demand?

Those doses are not likely to be available until the second half of this year. The White House envisions that they would be available to vaccinate children, or for booster doses, or to reformulate vaccines to combat emerging variants.

That said, we are indeed nearing — or at least heading toward — a point where supply equals demand. The administration expects to have enough vaccine on hand to vaccinate every adult American by the end of May.

Public opinion polls have shown that there is stubborn reluctance to take the vaccine among certain demographics in the country — particularly Republican men, about half of whom said in a recent survey that they wouldn’t take a vaccine even if it became available. Does this worry public officials, and are leaders taking steps to address that reluctance?

Vaccine hesitancy is very worrisome to public health officials. Opposition to vaccination could slow the campaign to contain the virus and keep it from spreading, which would in turn set back efforts to revive the economy and get life back to some semblance of normal. And health officials know that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution; different groups are hesitant for different reasons, and public education campaigns need to be tailored to address individuals’ concerns.

With respect to Republicans, as our colleagues Annie Karni and Zolan Kanno-Youngs recently reported, the White House faces a delicate task. Former President Donald Trump spent months telling people the virus was a hoax, and many of his followers do not want to be vaccinated (although both he and his wife, Melania, were vaccinated before leaving the White House).

Trump was noticeably absent from a recent public service announcement that featured the four other living former presidents urging Americans to get the vaccine. But in a televised interview on Tuesday, he publicly endorsed the inoculation, telling his supporters, “I would recommend it.” It remains an open question how much of an impact this will have. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is working with a bipartisan group called the Covid Collaborative, which is working to address vaccine hesitancy among conservatives.

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Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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