Senators unveil long-awaited border deal

Senators unveil long-awaited border deal

Senators in both parties have finalized a deal on stricter border and immigration policies that is headed toward an uncertain floor vote in the coming days.

The $118 billion agreement, which was released Sunday afternoon and negotiated for months, would tighten the standard for migrants to receive asylum, automatically shut down the southern border to illegal crossings if migrant encounters hit certain daily benchmarks and send billions of dollars to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan as well as the border.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to hold a procedural vote to advance the package Wednesday, though it’s unclear if the legislation has the necessary 60 votes to clear the chamber. About 20 to 25 Republican senators are ready to evaluate the specifics and a similar number are leaning against the deal, according to lead GOP negotiator Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). At least a handful of Democrats are also expected to vote against it.

President Joe Biden praised the agreement in a Sunday night statement that called on Congress to send it to his desk: “If you believe, as I do, that we must secure the border now, doing nothing is not an option,” Biden said.

The border-foreign aid deal faces even more difficult odds in the House. Speaker Mike Johnson said on NBC’s Meet The Press on Sunday that the House would take up a $17 billion Israel aid bill instead of the supplemental funding package. In a Saturday letter to House Republicans, Johnson had said the chamber would not swiftly consider the bipartisan deal.

Lankford and GOP allies hope that release of the text will dispel the notion that the bill would allow 5,000 undocumented immigrants to cross into the country daily. Under the parameters of the legislation and the current situation at the border, which sees crossings sometimes exceeding 10,000 per day, the border would be shut down to illegal crossings immediately.

The bill would preserve orderly asylum appointments at ports of entry as a way for immigrants to seek legal entry into the country, requiring that those ports process at least 1,400 migrants daily during periods when the border is shut down.

The legislation also includes the Fend Off Fentanyl Act and Afghan Adjustment Act as part of the larger deal. It would send about $62 billion to support Ukraine in its invasion against Russia, $14 billion in security aid for Israel, $10 billion in humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip and Ukraine, $20 billion for the border and nearly $5 billion to partners in the Indo-Pacific to fight Chinese aggression.

In addition to mandating a border shutdown at 5,000 daily encounters, the bill would allow the president to invoke that authority at 4,000 per day. Once the border is shut it would stay sealed to illegal crossings until encounters of unlawful crossings drop to about 2,000 per day. In addition, the use of presidential parole authority, which gives the president wider latitude to allow more undocumented immigrants into the country, would be curtailed. And the bill speeds up the asylum screening process significantly.

Lankford said he had hoped to release the bill earlier to get the process moving more quickly but the complexity of the language made that tricky: “The words matter.” The legislation is the most ambitious piece of immigration legislation to get serious congressional consideration in six years.

At the end of the new accelerated asylum process that the bill would create, migrants who are “unable to meet that threshold, they are removed from the country in an expedited manner,” Sinema said on Sunday.

“Individuals who are approached between ports of entry are currently paroled,” she added, meaning that the migrants are given a notice to appear and are released. But under the new bill, Sinema said, “those individuals will be taken into custody, where they will then, if they claim asylum, go through the initial protection determination interview.”

“If they do not claim asylum, they will be removed under expedited removal … So people who come through the desert, whether they are evading law enforcement or giving themselves up to law enforcement, if they’re not seeking asylum, they don’t have a claim to the country and will be removed,” she said.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries slammed Johnson in a statement Sunday, calling the speaker’s decision to instead put an Israel aid bill on the floor this week “a cynical attempt to undermine the Senate’s bipartisan effort, given that House Republicans have been ordered by the former president not to pass any border security legislation or assistance for Ukraine.”

Former President Donald Trump and conservatives in both chambers have repeatedly attacked the legislation as insufficient, instead calling on Biden to use his existing executive authorities to shut down the border.

Republicans, including Johnson, had demanded a package last fall that linked border policy changes to billions in foreign aid. But the speaker denies his new position is due to Trump, saying on Meet the Press: “He’s not calling the shots. I’m the one calling the shots.”

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