Border Patrol agents escort a group of men through Gate 42 for processing, May 10, 2023. (Corrie Boudreaux for Source NM)
WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans on Thursday pushed through a border security package that mirrors Trump-era immigration policies, aiming criticism at the Biden administration for ending a pandemic-era public health measure used to expel millions of migrants from the country.
The House passed the measure in a 219-213 vote. Only two Republicans voted in opposition, Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and John Duarte of California. All Democrats voted against it.
The symbolic legislation, H.R. 2, has no future in the Senate, but it demonstrates GOP resistance to the Biden administration’s winding down of Title 42, which blocks migrants from claiming asylum during a public health emergency such as the coronavirus.
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President Joe Biden has declared he would veto the GOP immigration package should it reach his desk.
“Today, as the Biden administration allows Title 42 to expire, House Republicans are taking action to address the chaos at our nation’s borders by delivering legislation that will support our Border Patrol agents, block the flow of fentanyl into our country, and put an end to the Biden Border Crisis,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said in a statement following the bill’s passage.
Title 42 will end at midnight Thursday because President Joe Biden has declared the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The GOP bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart of Florida, would resume hundreds of miles of construction of a border wall, strip funding from nonprofits that aid migrants, beef up staffing of Border Patrol agents and restrict the use of parole programs that the Biden administration has used to allow nationals from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to work temporarily in the U.S.
“Allowing (Title) 42 to end (with) no plan to secure our border is not only negligent, but it severely jeopardizes the national security interests of our country,” Díaz-Balart said.
Troops at the border
Leading up to the expiration of Title 42, Biden ordered 1,500 troops to the Southern border and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Wednesday that the Biden administration is doing the best it can within the system that exists and Congress needs to pass immigration reform.
During a Thursday White House press briefing, Mayorkas said after Title 42 expires, migrants will be processed under Title 8, which will carry harsh consequences for people who do not follow some of the legal pathways to immigration the U.S. has set up, such as applying for parole programs, using an app to set up asylum interview appointments and requesting asylum in another country they travel through.
“If anyone arrives at our Southern border after midnight tonight, they will be presumed ineligible for asylum and subject to steeper consequences for unlawful entry,” Mayorkas said.
Under those Title 8 penalties, a migrant would be immediately removed from the U.S., subjected to a five-year ban from claiming asylum and could potentially face criminal charges if they try to re-enter the U.S. without authorization.
“I want to be clear, our borders are not open,” Mayorkas said.
But House Republicans have argued that under President Donald Trump, the U.S.-Mexico border was secure, and that the Biden administration needs to revert to those immigration policies.
GOP lawmakers also blamed the administration for the uptick in child labor violations, given that many of the children the Department of Labor found working in meatpacking plants were undocumented, and said the bill would address the issue by keeping better track of unaccompanied migrant children.
“The legislation we have before us would be a giant step toward ensuring that we can hold this administration accountable, to make sure that we secure our border, protect our citizens and protect migrants who seek to come here,” Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas said during Wednesday’s debate on the House floor.
House Democrats slammed Republicans and said the party is united in opposition.
“This bill is a resurgence of failed MAGA border policies that promise harsh enforcement and nothing more,” Democratic Rep. Linda Sánchez of California said on Wednesday during a press conference where Democrats unveiled their own immigration bill, the Citizenship Act of 2023.
During debate on Thursday, Republican Rep. Cliff Bentz of Oregon said he was supportive of the bill because it was the first step in fixing the country’s immigration system.
He described it as an “essential and necessary step to provide a foundation for a comprehensive revision of our immigration system.”
Democrats also expressed frustration at not having the complete bill text because of work requirements in the bill that drew some GOP objections and were changed.
Republicans hold a small majority, and a sticking point of E-Verify requirements in the bill delayed debate for hours on Wednesday. E-Verify is used by employers to confirm employees are eligible to work in the U.S.
The bill would require U.S. employers to use an E-Verify program to check the immigration status of their employees, and several GOP lawmakers raised concerns that those requirements could have a negative impact on the agricultural sector, which relies heavily on undocumented and temporary workers on work visas.
There was a change to the bill that would require DHS to study the impact of E-Verify on the agriculture sector. Massie said on Twitter that a special carve-out for agriculture workers was included, but the main requirement is still in the bill, and Massie tweeted that is the main reason why he voted against it.
The E-Verify program is run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and it’s currently voluntary, but some states have passed laws to require its use.
Democrats argued that making it mandatory would hurt farmers and ranchers.
During debate on Wednesday, Democratic Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania said the E-Verify provision “has the potential to wipe out half of our agricultural workforce (and) cause huge disruptions in our nation’s food system.”
Democratic Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández of New Mexico said if the bill were passed, it would harm ranchers and her state’s agricultural sector.
“We do not have enough farmworkers to harvest our crops,” she said on the House floor Wednesday.
Republican Rep. Bob Good of Virginia said Biden should have kept in place Trump immigration policies.
“What this bill will do is to codify into law the effective policies under the previous administration that left this president with a secure border,” Good said.
Hours before the House vote, a handful of Senate Republicans held a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol and pushed for the Biden administration to implement Trump-era policies when Title 42 ends, such as finishing the construction of the border wall and reinstating the controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy.
The “Remain in Mexico” policy requires asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while they wait for an asylum hearing for U.S. immigration court. The Biden administration ended the controversial policy that various civil rights and immigration advocates sued over, arguing that requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico put them at risk of violence.
Some of those Senate Republicans included Rick Scott of Florida, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Ted Budd of North Carolina, Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee.
Those senators said while they don’t come from border states, because of the wide spread of opioids and fentanyl overdoses, “every state is a border state,” Ernst said.
They praised the House for moving to pass a border bill and expressed disappointment that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, won’t take it up.
There’s another effort in the Senate to address immigration by independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who on Thursday said that border states are not prepared for the end of Title 42 and called on her colleagues to pass a bill that would temporarily grant the Biden administration the authority for two years to expel migrants in the same capacity as Title 42.
Democrats raised concerns that the House GOP bill would prevent nonprofits like Red Cross and Catholic Charities from aiding migrants, because those organizations would be barred from providing transportation, legal services and lodging.
Democratic Rep. Seth Magaziner of Rhode Island said during Wednesday’s debate that the bill is cruel because it criminalizes nonprofit organizations.
The bill would strip federal funds to nongovernmental organization that help undocumented migrants.
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