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What voters are saying about Congress' latest failure to address immigration reform


Congress has tried but failed to overhaul the country's immigration system for decades. This week, the latest attempt, a bill focused on border security, also fell through. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben checked in with voters about that and found that they're unhappy, to say the least.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: I asked Steve Shoemaker (ph) what he thinks of how Congress handled or didn't handle the border bill this week. The sixth grade social studies teacher from North Canton, Ohio, didn't mince words.

STEVE SHOEMAKER: Oh, that makes me so mad. So mad because we're in it, we're in it, we're in it - oops, 45 said we need that for a campaign thing.

KURTZLEBEN: By 45, Shoemaker means Donald Trump, who personally lobbied Republican lawmakers to oppose the bill after months of bipartisan work.

SHOEMAKER: Come on. Suddenly it's a bad idea even though you helped write it?

KURTZLEBEN: Trump is running heavily on immigration, his signature issue. And immigration is a liability for President Joe Biden right now, something border legislation might have helped. A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that only 29% of Americans, including just over half of Democrats, approve of Biden's performance on immigration. Across the board, voters I spoke to said the U.S. immigration system needs fixing. They differed on what that means, though, or whether this bill would have improved anything. Democrats were angry at Trump's meddling. Here's Bobby Christianson (ph) from Bountiful, Utah.

BOBBY CHRISTIANSON: It disappointed me so badly, I felt like I wanted to just cry. I'm just so angry that we have the interference in our politics by a man who is not in office, and that these Republicans do not remember that they are working for the people.

KURTZLEBEN: She likes the idea of greater border security but thinks the deal fell short in a lot of areas.

CHRISTIANSON: I was listening to Elizabeth Warren. She was on Colbert. She said, you know, the things that they had wanted in the bill was DACA and some of the other things, but they weren't able to get that. So they worked with what they could get.

KURTZLEBEN: Some Republican voters, meanwhile, had their own problems. Some believed incorrectly the deal would have allowed a certain number of people across the border illegally per day. Others didn't like that it contained foreign aid. Here's Danita Penski (ph) from Magalia, Calif.

DANITA PENSKI: The immigration thing is something that belongs to our country and our country alone. And then they're always trying to add something else to it, like Ukraine or Israel's problem and these other countries.

KURTZLEBEN: But then, the point of the bill was compromise. And compromise on immigration in particular is just hard for some voters, not to mention politicians, to stomach. Terry Lee (ph) is an independent voter from Illinois, but one who leans heavily Republican. He is among the 21% of voters who, given the choice of which party would handle immigration better, say they trust neither. In his case, that's because neither party is tough enough.

TERRY LEE: Democrats seem to just not want to have a border, which negates the existence of a country. And the Republicans are not interested in enforcing the laws that we already have.

KURTZLEBEN: Voter anger over this deal will likely fade by Election Day. But unless something major changes, immigration will motivate far more voters on the right than the left. Here's Lee again.

LEE: I would say immigration is one of my top issues because, what's been going on, it all scares the crap out of me.

KURTZLEBEN: Fully 44% of Republicans say immigration is top of mind as they look ahead to November, compared to 6% of Democrats and 23% of independents. It's a reasonable bet that Donald Trump will do anything he can to keep it front and center for his voters.

Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "AWAKE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.