House Republicans Pass Border Bill
WASHINGTON — House Republicans passed their border protection bill in a 219-213 vote on Thursday, just hours before President Biden is about to end the use of the COVID-19 health emergency as a means to bar illegal immigrants from entering the country.
That policy, Title 42, is set to sunset at midnight tonight as the nation moves from an emergency footing in dealing with COVID-19 to one where it is considered an “established and ongoing health issue” that is likely here to stay.
Even the most optimistic observers say the end of the exclusion policy is going to result in a crush of migrants at the border, some suggesting the sheer number of people surging toward the U.S. border will be higher than seen in decades.
A number of factors are driving the migration — the pandemic itself and the ensuing recession being paramount because both ravaged Latin America.
At the same time, smugglers seeking to capitalize on calamity have been running social media campaigns encouraging people to migrate to the United States based on empty promises.
The biggest change coming with the end of Title 42 is that migrants who enter the U.S. illegally will now have an opportunity to apply for asylum, something that’s been denied to them for the past three years.
The Biden administration is deploying 1,500 active-duty troops to the southwest border to help deal with an expected surge, and it is also rolling out new eligibility restrictions that it hopes will quickly tamp down expectations that entry into the U.S. will be easy.
Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, are seeking to inflict all the pain they can on the Democrat in the White House, accusing the president of essentially throwing open the nation’s borders.
Part of that effort has been the crafting and now passage of H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act.
As previously reported by The Well News, House Republicans say the Secure the Border Act will secure the border and combat illegal immigration by deploying technology to the southern and northern borders; increase the number of border patrol agents and provide them with bonus pay; strengthen current laws aimed at protecting unaccompanied children from human trafficking and strengthen and streamline the asylum process, among other measures.
But it is the border wall, former President Donald Trump’s signature promise during the 2016 presidential campaign, that leads the bill.
The Secure the Border Act would require the secretary of Homeland Security to resume “all activities related to the construction of the border wall between the United States and Mexico” within seven days of its enactment.
To carry this out, the act directs the secretary to “expend all unexpired funds appropriated or explicitly obligated for the construction of the border wall … beginning on Oct. 1, 2019.”
It also directs that “any unused materials purchased … for the construction of the border wall” during the Trump years “may be used for activities related to the [renewed] construction of the border wall.”
In addition, the act requires the secretary of Homeland Security to submit an implementation plan including annual benchmarks for the construction of 200 miles of the border wall as well as cost estimates associated with the work.
The White House has already indicated that if the bill were somehow to pass the Democratically controlled Senate — something considered highly unlikely — the president will veto it.
Nevertheless, in a joint statement on Thursday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., and Chairwoman Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., chair of the House Republican Conference, said the party had delivered legislation “to address the chaos at our nation’s borders.”
“H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act, delivers on our commitment to America to end this crisis,” the Republican leaders said.
“While President Biden and Washington Democrats continue to ignore the chaos at our border, House Republicans are taking charge by passing the strongest border security bill this country has ever seen. The American people deserve nothing less,” they said.
Democrats in the House panned the bill, describing it as much less than meets the eye.
Among them was Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., ranking member of the Border Security and Enforcement Subcommittee.
“Today, my colleagues rushed through this chamber an unserious and un-American piece of legislation that will wreck our economy and make the challenges on our southern border worse,” Correa said in a written statement.
“In the wake of Title 42 being lifted, and on the heels of nearly four decades of inaction on immigration reform, we should be working in a bipartisan manner to craft a package that truly secures the border, protects dreamers and solves the workforce challenges our small businesses are facing,” he said.
Getting down to specifics, Correa said the bill that is now being sent over to the Senate provides no additional resources for Customs and Border Patrol officers at ports of entry, criminalizes nonprofits and faith organizations trying to help the government process asylum seekers and give support to local border communities, and makes thousands of small businesses and farmers criminals for unknowingly hiring undocumented workers.
“Instead of offering real, tenable solutions, or welcoming Democrats to the negotiating table, my Republican colleagues have decided to rush through a misguided piece of legislation that will create more chaos, strip essential resources for the orderly processing of migrants and dampen our nation’s economic prosperity,” Correa said. “We can, and must, do better and tackle root causes of migration and fund safe, moral border security measures. This bill does neither.”
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, was similarly frustrated, calling the Republican bill “cruel, unworkable and extreme.”
“It is little more than a messaging bill for House Republicans to exploit the challenging conditions at the southwest border. It seems designed to create more chaos at our borders, overload our already busy ports of entry, and deliver on the failed and un-American immigration policies of the Trump administration,” he said.
Thompson went on to say the Secure the Border Act will do nothing to prevent fentanyl from flowing over the border and into U.S. communities.
“If Republicans were serious about securing the border and preventing fentanyl trafficking, they would have put in provisions to secure our ports of entry, where over 90% of the fentanyl and other drugs that CBP interdicts are found,” Thompson said. “If this was a legitimate effort, they would work with Democrats to expand legal pathways for migrants and address the root causes of migration. But they refuse to do so. Everyone knows we need comprehensive immigration reform. An enforcement-only strategy like this simply won’t work. We are better than this.”