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Immigration Bills Face Challenge as Border Crossings Surge

March 18, 2021 by Reece Nations
FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2019 file photo, immigrants seeking asylum walk at the ICE South Texas Family Residential Center, in Dilley, Texas. The U.S. government plans to use the downtown Dallas convention center to hold up to 3,000 immigrant teenagers as sharply higher numbers of border crossings have severely strained the current capacity to hold youths, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press.  The Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center will be used for up to 90 days beginning as early as this week, according to the written notification sent to members of the Dallas City Council on Monday, March 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

WASHINGTON — Democrats are poised to capitalize on their legislative momentum by passing a pair of immigration bills that would grant legal status to millions of immigrants if enacted. 

Conversely, congressional Republicans are capitalizing on the surge of migrant border crossings to fuel their own momentum ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. The Biden administration said more than 9,400 migrant youths were detained without a parent in February and around 4,000 were still being held in Customs and Border Protection facilities as of last week. 

Apprehensions at the nation’s southern border have risen every month since April 2020 and climbed to 100,441 last month, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

President Joe Biden cautioned migrants not to travel to the United States in an interview with ABC News, but Republicans are honing in on his reversal of the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, among others, as the driving factor behind the rise in border crossings. 

But the policy had received criticism from humanitarian groups who maintained it forced asylum seekers with credible fears of persecution to wait for hearings in unsafe conditions without access to lawyers. Under the policy, more than 71,000 asylum seekers were sent to Mexico where they were vulnerable to interception by criminal groups, according to Human Rights Watch

Both the Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Modernization Workforce Act are expected to receive votes in the full House of Representatives Thursday and move forward to the Senate. The Dream and Promise act was reintroduced this session by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., with widespread but Democrat-exclusive support, while the Farm Modernization Workforce Act was reintroduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., with bipartisan support and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., as its original co-sponsor. 

The “Dream” act aims to grant permanent legal status to over 2.3 million unauthorized immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors, while the Farm Modernization Workforce Act would do the same for roughly 1 million migrant farmworkers, TWN previously reported

Permanent resident status is conditional under both acts, however. Dreamers seeking to obtain legal citizenship under the bill must complete at least two years in good academic standing in a bachelor’s or higher degree program, complete two years of military service with an honorable discharge, or secure employment for at least three years or at least 75% of the time the individual has had employment authorization.

Further, under the Farm Modernization Workforce Act, farmworkers may obtain a five-year “certified agriculture worker visa” so long as the individual continues to meet the minimum required days of work annually. Under the bill’s provisions, certified agriculture workers can cross the border without restriction and may renew their visa status indefinitely. 

Although similar versions of the bills received some Republican support when they were previously filed in 2019, neither received a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate. This time around they head to an evenly divided Senate where the reconciliation process is likely to be utilized to pass the bills with only a simple majority instead of the typical 60-vote threshold needed to move legislation in the chamber forward. 

This week, a delegation of a dozen House Republican lawmakers toured a processing center in El Paso, Texas, constructed less than a year ago by the Trump administration. There, minority leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the overcrowding of the facilities threatens the security of the nearby border. 

“For all those children that are unaccompanied, and sitting in there, there’s 120 border patrol agents that are in (the facility), and not on the border protecting us when a surge is coming,” McCarthy said at a press conference following the tour. 

McCarthy continued in his remarks, “I know the president’s going to travel this week. This is where he should bring Air Force One. This is where he should look people in the eye. This is where he should talk to the border agents, and let them know that this is beyond a crisis.” 

McCarthy had previously expressed his concerns on the situation in a letter to Biden in which he requested a meeting with the president to hash out a bipartisan solution to ease steady escalation of southern border crossings. 

Biden’s immediate plan for addressing the issue of unaccompanied crossings by minors is to increase the number of beds available within the facilities and expedite the process of resolving their litigation while placing them with sponsors in the country. Biden was critical of the existing immigration process in his interview with ABC News, saying he intends to “get control of the mess that was inherited.” 

“We have a very serious challenge, and I don’t think the difficulty of that challenge can be overstated,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Wednesday in testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security. “We also have a plan to address it. We are executing on our plan and we will succeed.” 

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