House Republicans have passed a sweeping bill to build more walls along the United States-Mexico border and impose new restrictions on asylum seekers, creating a hardline against the policies of President Joe Biden.
The legislation, which was passed on Thursday, is advancing in the Senate as migrants and asylum seekers gather at the border to end the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill has almost no chance of becoming law. Democrats, who have a narrow grip on the Senate, have criticized the aggressive measures in the legislation as “brutal” and “anti-immigrant”, and Biden has already promised he will veto it.
The legislation passed 219-213, with all Democrats present and two Republicans, Representatives Thomas Massie of Kentucky and John Duarte of California, voting against it.
House Republicans clearly voted down the bill on the same day as the expiration of Title 42, a public health emergency law that allows border authorities to quickly turn back large numbers of migrants and refugees. seeking asylum who crossed the border illegally.
Biden admitted the southern border could be “chaos for a while”, as migrants and asylum seekers weigh whether to cross and US officials use a new set of policies to crack down on illegal immigration while offers several legal avenues.
Republicans have sought to criticize Biden for increasing illegal immigration during his tenure. Passing the bill would ensure that House Republican lawmakers can say they did their part to deliver on a campaign promise to secure the border.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called the package “the strongest border security legislation the country has ever seen.” In a speech on the floor of the House, he sought to compare the approach of his party to the White House: “In the meantime, we have seen a very different record from President Biden.”
It took months, however, for Republicans to push the bill through the House amid sometimes public disagreements between GOP politicians over the legislation. Although the bill was nearing its final form Wednesday, it had to be amended to assuage concerns from the House Freedom Caucus and other lawmakers.
The 213-page bill represents a compromise in the Republican conference between mainstream lawmakers, who want to focus on increasing border enforcement, and hardline conservatives, who want to see more changes. or in US asylum and immigration law.
U.S. and international law give people the right to seek asylum from political, religious or racial persecution, but conservatives say many people are taking advantage of the U.S. system to live and work while they wait. in their refugee claim to be processed in court.
The package would go back to many of the same policies pursued by former President Donald Trump, such as building walls along the border. It would also limit asylum by requiring refugees to cross legally, pay a $50 fee and meet stricter requirements at initial interviews to show they have a credible fear of persecution in their home country. birth place
“This extreme MAGA Republican piece of legislation will turn away children who are fleeing, in many cases, extreme violence and persecution,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the top House Democrat, said at a news conference Thursday. .
“It will build a medieval border wall that is a 14th century solution to a 21st century problem.”
The bill would also scrap a program that allows US officials to accept or quickly turn away some migrants and asylum seekers from Venezuela, Haiti and Nicaragua. The program is a cornerstone of Biden’s immigration efforts, allowing people from those countries to apply to come to the US for two years legally and work.
The unenforceable nature of immigration law has baffled Congress for decades, but there is a growing conversation in the Senate about the issue.
A small group of lawmakers in the House and Senate hoped Thursday’s bill would provide momentum for a separate package of acts that would include aggressive border enforcement along with expanded legal immigration through visas. of work, as well as may provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to. the US as children.
“The bill that we have, I think, is a good starting point,” said Senator Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican. “This, by itself, is not going to get 60 votes to get out of here.”
Any final bill will need bipartisan support to pass the Senate and agreement from House Republicans on key changes.
Some House lawmakers have already expressed concerns about whether the agriculture industry will be disrupted by the bill’s requirement that agricultural businesses verify the immigration status of employees.
In explaining his vote against the bill, Duarte, who represents a district made up of farms in California’s Central Valley, said in a statement that the legislation would “harm many working families in our Valley and will create difficulties for our food producers”.
Massie, the other Republican against the bill, made a libertarian argument against a system that tracks people’s immigration status.
Meanwhile, Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Senate Democrat, introduced legislation that would help border officials and speed up the asylum application process.
And Tillis joined Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent who has accepted committee assignments from Democrats, to push a bill that would restore the government’s power to immediately deport refugee applicants who cannot be processed. their asylum claims for another two years.
“It is clear that the Biden administration, while having two years to prepare for the end of Title 42, failed to do so,” Sinema told reporters.
“And over the last few weeks, I’ve had the unpleasant job of talking daily, sometimes even hourly, with sheriffs, Border Patrol agents, mayors and even the governor of Arizona to find out. how can we prepare to face this crisis.”
Biden has received countless barbs from Congress but a Texas Republican key to immigration negotiations, Representative Tony Gonzales, is already thinking about how to get the president on board.
“Until the president of the United States signs a bill that becomes law, this is all a theater,” said Gonzales, who represents a large part of the border country. “A lot of people are good at political theater. Meanwhile, back in my district, we’re facing a real crisis.”