Republicans Are Lying About Their Own Border Bill
The immigration reform deal they negotiated has so much of what Republicans claim to want that the only way they can criticize it is by making things up.
THE TOUGHEST BORDER SECURITY LEGISLATION in a generation is finally ready for a Senate vote, but Republicans are threatening to kill the bill they just spent months negotiating. Given the rules of the Senate, any bill requires 60 votes to avoid a filibuster—and as of now they aren’t there. Even if the bill were miraculously to pass the Senate, House Speaker Mike Johnson has pronounced it “dead on arrival” in the House.
So why the sudden reversal among Republicans who’ve been claiming that the situation at the border is an existential crisis that threatens our very sovereignty? The problem is that they’ve demagogued this issue (and so many others) for so long that they’ve effectively divorced electoral politics from policy. They have told so many lies—big and small—about immigration and immigrants that, faced in an election year with the chance to enact their policy proposals, all they can do is lie some more.
Three of the biggest lies Republican congressional leaders are telling about this bill are worth refuting in detail.
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Lie 1: President Biden already has the authority to halt illegal immigration into the United States and doesn’t need another law.
On its face, this assertion makes no sense. The whole point of Republicans’ insistence on tying aid for Ukraine and Israel to more border security money was that there weren’t sufficient resources to do the job in the first place. Indeed, the Senate bill provides an additional $6.76 billion to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to enhance security and $7.6 billion to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hire more agents, provide for better security technology and air assets, and provide more capacity to detain unlawful immigrants, as well as more money to intercept fentanyl and other drugs.
But beyond the money included for border security, the new legislation will change the rules for asylum seekers, which may be its most profound effect. In the 2023 fiscal year, ICE expelled more than 1 million people who had crossed the border illegally under existing law (namely Title 8, after emergency authority under Title 42 lapsed with the end of the pandemic). But increasing numbers of those who show up at the border claim asylum, and existing law dictates that they must be processed and given a hearing to determine if their asylum claims are legitimate. There are already 3 million people awaiting adjudication of their immigration status in the system, which means they will wait years before a determination. Under current law and funding, it would be impossible to detain everyone seeking asylum while they await a chance to prove their claims, so most are released and told to report at a future time and place—not always specified—for their hearing.
The proposed legislation changes these rules and procedures, making it harder to claim asylum. It raises the standard for proof that an individual is eligible for asylum and, most importantly, provides an expedited process. Instead of joining the backlog in the immigration court process, the legislation provides for adjudication at the border—and 4,388 new asylum officers to make those adjudications. Those determined not to have a credible asylum claim would, under this bill, be put into noncustodial removal proceedings. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) will have 90 days to initially interview asylum seekers, who must satisfy a new standard that they have a reasonable possibility of prevailing on their claims, and an additional 90 days to appeal a negative decision. Those who receive a negative determination are also given a choice to depart the U.S. voluntarily—which many will avail themselves of since removal under Title 8 subjects them to an automatic five-year prohibition from re-entering the country.
The bill also allows an asylum seeker’s claims to be rejected if the individual could reasonably have relocated within his or her country of origin or a third country the person resided in before coming to the United States, a change that would affect many asylum seekers who traveled long distances to get here.
Lie 2: The bill will allow 5,000 illegal immigrants into the United States each day.
The hullabaloo over the number 5,000 comes from a provision in the new bill that would mandate that the president “shut down” the border if CBP encountered an average of more than 5,000 migrants a day for a 7-day period or 8,500 in a single day. Shutting down the border would mean that even asylum seekers would be turned back without any proceedings if they presented themselves between legal ports of entry, and only 1,400 could be put into proceedings at those legal entry points. The border could remain closed for up to 270 days in 2024 and the cap would fluctuate each year. It could not be reopened until attempted crossings fell below 75 percent of the number that forced the closure for at least 7 days. USCIS could take up to two weeks to go back to normal procedures.
The law would also bar for at least one year anyone who had tried to enter and been turned away—much like Title 8’s five-year bar—which would also help reduce numbers at the border since about a quarter of the total border encounters from 2020 to 2022 involved people who had already been stopped at the border at least once before.
Lie 3: The legislation is really a mass amnesty that will allow millions of illegal immigrants in each year.
This one is a Donald Trump Jr. special.
There is no amnesty in this legislation—none, zero, nada. Indeed, many Democrats and immigrant advocates hoped that any bipartisan deal would include a provision to grant permanent legal status to DACA recipients, but this bill doesn’t. Afghans who were admitted to the United States after the fall of Kabul will be given conditional status for four years after the date of their original parole but no later than July 1, 2027—an improvement over the status quo but a delay of full, permanent legal status. It also allows the parents or siblings of Afghans who are serving in the U.S. Armed Forces to apply for a special visa, but limits the number available in this category to 2,500 per year and 10,000 total.
Of course, none of this has anything to do with “amnesty,” because the people who get extended protected status or special visa programs are here legally. People can’t receive amnesty for following the law.
THE REAL REASON REPUBLICANS are now opposing a bill that will provide more money and resources to stem the flow at the border is that they want to keep the issue alive for the 2024 election. Trump has made it clear that he intends to make immigration his top policy issue—though he has a hard time sticking to talking points amid his myriad grievances against a legal system that is trying to hold him accountable for his attempt to subvert the results of the last election.
As long as Republicans fear offending Trump, they are not likely to support any legislation that makes things better at the border. They would much rather have scary pictures of thousands of migrants huddled under bridges or crossing the desert at night to convince their voters of an illegal invasion than do anything to solve the crisis they’ve been decrying for years.
Correction (February 8, 2023, 9:37 p.m. EST): As originally published, this article incorrectly suggested that Afghans who came to the United States after the fall of Kabul would not receive permanent legal status under the proposed reforms. That error has been corrected.