President Biden has vowed to “use it the day I sign the bill” if Congress passes immigration legislation giving him new power to seal off the U.S.-Mexico border during surges of illegal crossings.
His statement came as a bipartisan group of Senators negotiated intensely over a controversial deal that could come up for a vote as early as next week.
The pending bill would mandate the federal government to reject asylum seekers and rapidly deport migrants arriving at the border when illegal crossings exceed certain thresholds. It also aims to expand immigration courts and ICE detention facilities to ramp up deportations.
Key Elements of the Emerging Border Security Agreement
- New Authority to Block Asylum Seekers: The legislation would automatically trigger border shutdowns during periods of high illegal crossings, blocking migrants from requesting asylum. Exceptions could be made for some humanitarian cases.
- Expedited Removal Expansion: More migrants would face rapid deportation without a court hearing through widened eligibility for the expedited removal process.
- Increased Immigration Detention: The deal provides $14 billion to DHS for more immigration judges, detention facilities, and deportation capacity to accelerate processing.
- Discouraging Repeat Crossings: Migrants illegally crossing multiple times would face escalating consequences, while some first-time border crossers may still request asylum.
Biden and Key Senators Make Final Push as Deal Hangs in Balance
“If you’re serious about the border crisis, pass a bipartisan bill and I will sign it,” Biden pledged. The statement aligned him firmly behind the incremental measures negotiated by Democrat Chris Murphy and Republicans Thom Tillis and John Cornyn.
The President argued the bill would allow his administration to finally end the “chaos” at the border. But immigration advocates fiercely contest those claims, arguing the harsh policies could spur more migrants to risk their lives on perilous journeys.
Speaker Mike Johnson and some conservatives have already denounced the emerging deal.
However, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell still backs the bipartisan talks. “We want to solve this crisis,” Johnson recently affirmed during a Texas border trip, signaling some openness to compromise.
Controversial Expansion of Immigration Surveillance and Data Sharing
Tucked into the pending Senate deal is a significant expansion of a rapid deportation program called the Family Expedited Removal (FER) management system. Immigration attorneys warn FER denies due process and can return asylum seekers to danger.
The program collects extensive personal information through invasive interviews and shares data across DHS agencies to flag and track family groups. Enrolling more migrants could normalize persistent surveillance that a hypothetical second Trump administration could exploit further.
Congress should focus immigration policy negotiations on more practical solutions like improving court efficiency, clearing backlogs, and creating pathways to legal status. Providing access to legal counsel would also be far more effective; represented families have 99% attendance at hearings.
Biden’s Early Executive Actions on Immigration and Mixed Results
Upon entering office, President Biden wasted no time in moving to reverse former President Trump’s restrictive immigration policies. He sent an ambitious reform bill to Congress and signed executive orders to:
- Halt border wall construction
- Reverse travel bans from Muslim-majority countries
- Strengthen DACA after years of uncertainty
- End the “public charge” rule denying green cards over public benefits
However, sweeping changes through legislation stalled. And two years in, Biden’s more limited executive actions have led to mixed results in practice.
While the administration expanded temporary immigration programs for Venezuelans, Haitians, and Ukrainians displaced by turmoil, it continues deporting migrants under a reinstated Trump-era border order. Biden also backs the Senate deal’s severe asylum restrictions despite pledging a more welcoming system.
Negotiators Navigate Tricky Politics as Critics Mobilize
The bipartisan group of Senators negotiating the immigration deal must carefully navigate tricky politics on both sides of the aisle. Despite Biden’s support, the ACLU warns the harsh policies are “callous and counterproductive,” instead urging “fair and humane” solutions.
Meanwhile, former President Trump publicly pressured Republicans this week to “not do a Border Deal, at all.” He wants to preserve immigration as an issue for his 2024 campaign. Some GOP Senators like Ted Cruz have echoed Trump in questioning the emerging agreement.
If the Senate passes the plan, the House may prove an even tougher sell. Staunch conservative opposition in the Republican-controlled chamber could sink the bill’s prospects. Democrats retain some leverage, however, by linking border funding to the high-stakes Ukraine aid fight.
Alternative Approaches to Responsibly Manage Migration
Rather than restricting asylum access, experts emphasize a comprehensive multi-pronged approach is needed to responsibly manage migration and security at the southern border over the long term. Key elements could include:
- Expanding lawful work-based visa programs to meet labor market demands
- Increasing immigration court and processing capacity to efficiently handle cases
- Targeting root causes of displacement in origin countries through development aid
- Enhancing reception capacity and support services in border communities
- Strengthening screening technology to interdict drugs and counter human trafficking
The Biden administration has taken some steps in these areas, but a divided Congress will need to break the impasse on structural immigration reforms to keep pace with global migration trends.
Key facts about U.S. immigration policies and Biden’s proposed changes
Republicans tried to hammer Biden on immigration. But they turned into a circular firing squad