With enthusiastic backing from the Biden-Harris administration, a bipartisan group of United States Senators tonight unveiled the text of proposed national security legislation that would increase aid to Ukraine and Israel while making substantial changes to American immigration and naturalization policies. At the same time, House Republicans proclaimed it dead on arrival, saying it has no chance of even being considered in Congress’ larger chamber, which they currently control.
“[I]t would be easy to just keep immigration and border policy as a political cudgel for another forty years,” said Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, one of the negotiators. (Independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republican James Lankford of Oklahoma were the other key figures at the negotiating table.) “But politics at its best is about finding bipartisan compromise on the toughest issues. That’s what we’ve done here.”
Murphy cited the following as highlights of the bill:
- A quicker, fairer asylum process. No more 10 year wait. Claims processed in a non-detained, non-adversarial way in 6 months.
- A slightly higher asylum screening standard at the border.
- Also, no more waiting for work permits. Most asylum seekers can work immediately.
- A brand new right to legal representation for all immigrants. Remember when Trump denied lawyers to victims of the Muslim ban? Never again.
- And…the first ever government paid-for lawyers for young unaccompanied minors. A long standing injustice righted.
- A requirement the President to funnel asylum claims to the land ports of entry when more than 5,000 people cross a day. The border never closes, but claims must be processed at the ports. This allows for a more a more orderly, humane asylum processing system.
- But… important checks on that power. It can only be used for a limited number of days per year. It sunsets in three years. Emergency cases that show up in between the ports still need to be accepted. The ports must process a minimum of 1,400 claims a day.
- You can’t reduce arrivals at the border without allowing for more legal immigration. So, more visas! 50,000 extra employment and family reunification visas each year for the next five years. And a brand new visa category to allow non-citizens to visit family in the U.S.
- A clarification of how humanitarian parole is used at the land borders, but no changes to the President’s ability to bring in vetted, sponsored migrants through the program known as CNHV (Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Venezuela parole).
- A new pathway to citizenship for Afghan parolees (the Afghan Adjustment Act) and the children of H1B holders (these kids are often currently subject to deportation when they become 21).
“The bill helps fix the border and reform our broken asylum system. But it doesn’t deviate from our nation’s core values,” Murphy argued.
“We are a nation that rescues people from terror and violence. We are a nation that is stronger because of our tradition of immigration. Period. Stop.”
The reaction on the other side of the rotunda was colder than icy.
“I’ve seen enough. This bill is even worse than we expected, and won’t come close to ending the border catastrophe the President has created,” grumbled ultra MAGA House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Donald Trump sycophant. “As the lead Democrat [sic] negotiator proclaimed: Under this legislation, ‘the border never closes.’ If this bill reaches the House, it will be dead on arrival.”
“Let me be clear: The Senate Border Bill will not receive a vote in the House,” tweeted House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, the number two House Republican behind Johnson. “Here’s what the people pushing this ‘deal’ aren’t telling you: It accepts 5,000 illegal immigrants a day and gives automatic work permits to asylum recipients — a magnet for more illegal immigration.”
The Biden-Harris administration embraced the deal, ignoring Scalise’s negativity.
“Our immigration system has been broken for decades,” said Vice President Kamala Harris in a statement provided by the White House. “That is why President Biden and I have spent the last three years putting forward solutions to fix it and address the root causes of migration. On the first day of our Administration, we sent a comprehensive immigration reform bill to Congress that included an increase in funding for border security and a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, such as Dreamers who have been here for years.”
“We have partnered with countries in the Western Hemisphere to address global pressures that are forcing people from their homes, and worked with the private sector to promote investment in Central America. Last October, as part of our national security supplemental request, we asked for $14 billion for border security, which would increase personnel and technology to secure the border and provide assistance to cities to manage the influx of migrants.”
“At each step, we have been clear: Congress must act. Unfortunately, we have too often been met with those who sought to play political games instead of participating in solutions. For the past two months, President Biden, members of our Administration, and bipartisan Senate negotiators have worked together. Thanks to their collaboration, additional solutions are now at hand.”
“Congress must quickly pass this agreement.”
“This package will also ensure that the United States can continue to fulfill its role of global leadership by supporting the people of Ukraine in their brave fight against unprovoked Russian aggression; providing Israel what it needs to defend itself against Hamas terrorists; ensuring life-saving humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people; and strengthening our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific.”
“This agreement on border security and immigration does not include everything we have fought for over the past three years — and we will continue to fight for these priorities – but it shows: we can make the border more secure while preserving legal immigration, consistent with our values as a nation.”
“Let us remember: we are a nation of immigrants. Immigrants have always helped strengthen our country, grow our economy, and drive innovation. We know that in America, diversity is our strength. So rather than politicize this issue, let us all address it with the urgency and seriousness it requires.”
United States Representative Pramila Jayapal took a starkly different opposing view, saying that the legislation is needlessly punitive and problematic.
“I am still reviewing the text of this proposal, which was constructed under Republican hostage-taking and refusal to fund aid for Ukraine without cruelty toward immigrants,” began a statement from Jayapal, the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a longtime champion of immigrant rights.
“However, it is already clear it includes poison pill provisions such as new Title 42-like expulsion authority that will close the border and turn away asylum seekers without due process, a boon to cartels who prey on migrants.”
“For migrants who are able to seek asylum, they would now be subject to unrealistic standards and timelines under which to present their asylum claims, forcing too many people back to certain death, discrimination, or other harm. The bill also limits parole at land ports of entry which will only disincentivize people coming to ports to be processed in a safe and orderly way.”
“This enforcement-only approach in the proposed legislation will not be able to meaningfully relieve pressure on the southern border — in fact these similar provisions, when utilized by Donald Trump, only made things worse, increasing illegal border crossings by over 300 percent during his tenure as president,” Jayapal noted. “As we saw under Trump, it would also lead to inhumane camps on the Mexico side of the border and further embolden cartels.”
“It does not create any additional legal and safe pathways for the migrants who are arriving or do anything for the immigrant communities who have lived in limbo, waiting for a roadmap to citizenship, for decades.”
“There is no question that we need significant changes to our immigration system. It is long overdue for modernization to allow for efficient and orderly processing of migrants who seek to come to the United States and to increase legal pathways for work and family visas, refugees, and asylum seekers. However, this proposal includes none of the thoughtful reforms to do that or to actually address the situation at the border in a humane way that recognizes the contributions immigrants make to our economy and our communities.
“While Donald Trump abhorrently says, ‘immigrants are poisoning the blood of our country,’ congressional Republicans continue to openly admit they’d prefer the politics of a broken immigration system to a functional, just process.”
“Democrats have given in to these extremist views over and over again for thirty years. By refusing to make the structural changes in the Senate needed to pass true reforms, allowing MAGA Republicans to lie to the American public, and declining to stand up and defend immigrant communities, it appears that President Biden and Senate Democrats have fallen into the same trap again.”
“We have clear evidence that shows the way to reduce border crossings is to establish legal pathways, including the ability for migrants to apply to come to the U.S. in their home countries, and increase resources to provide orderly processing at the border and of visa backlogs. No amount of tough rhetoric or enforcement-only policies will change that reality.”
“The Senate will try to sell this so-called deal by pointing to some additional green cards and fixes for small immigrant groups. However, let’s be clear: minor visa tweaks in exchange for shutting down the asylum system and exacting further harm on the vulnerable people seeking refuge in the United States is not serious reform and it once again throws immigrants under the political bus.
“I will continue to closely examine the text released today, but I cannot support a proposal that fails to learn from thirty years of data and would only repeat our mistakes — with migrant lives in the crosshairs.”
The White House is well aware that the votes probably don’t exist to pass this legislation in the House — and even if they did, Speaker Mike Johnson and his ultra MAGA allies would never bring it up for consideration.
Johnson has admitted House Republicans are taking orders from Donald Trump, and Trump doesn’t want any deal to reach President Biden’s desk for signature, no matter how many concessions to Republican demands it might contain.
For the administration, this deal appears to be a sort of election-year triangulation maneuver, designed to take some of the wind out of the sails of Republicans wanting to run hard on immigration this year. After the agreement goes nowhere, Biden and Harris will be able to credibly say, we were ready to compromise and do a deal with the Republicans to address what is happening at the border, but the extremists in their party did Donald Trump’s bidding and said no.
In the future, if Democrats regain a federal trifecta, the Congressional Progressive Caucus would effectively have a veto over any deal because its members’ votes would likely be needed to pass it in the House, whereas Senate Republicans could lose their veto if the filibuster were to finally be retired.
The “deal” Biden and Harris have just agreed to is thus probably the most favorable arrangement Republicans could possibly hope to get under divided government. And yet Johnson and Scalise are rejecting it without even a second thought. That says a lot about the sorry state of American politics in 2024.
Below is a fact sheet from the White House promoting the agreement.
FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Calls on Congress to Immediately Pass the Bipartisan National Security Agreement
The Biden-Harris Administration strongly supports the bipartisan agreement announced in the Senate that would address a number of pressing national security issues. President Biden has repeatedly said he is willing to work in a bipartisan way to secure the border and fix our broken immigration system. From his first day in office, he has called on Congress to act and over the course of several months, his administration has worked with a bipartisan group of Senators on important reforms and necessary funding.
This agreement, if passed into law, would be the toughest and fairest set of reforms to secure the border we’ve had in decades. It will make our country safer, make our border more secure, and treat people fairly and humanely while preserving legal immigration, consistent with our values as a nation.
This bipartisan national security agreement would also advance our national security interests by continuing our support for the people of Ukraine and Israel as they defend themselves against tyranny and terrorism while also providing much-needed humanitarian assistance to civilians affected by conflicts around the world. The Biden-Harris Administration calls on Congress to not delay and immediately pass the bipartisan national security agreement.
Provides Temporary Emergency Authority for the President to Shut Down the Border When the System is Overwhelmed
- Establishes a new temporary authority, the “Border Emergency Authority,” that allows the President and Secretary of Homeland Security to temporarily prohibit individuals from seeking asylum, with limited exceptions, when the Southwest Border is overwhelmed. The authority preserves access to other protections, consistent with our international obligations, and will sunset after three years.
- Importantly, this authority is to be used when the number of migrants encountered at the border reaches very high levels – levels that strain the U.S. government’s ability to process migrants. Additionally, the authority is limited to a set number of days each calendar year – in the third year of implementation the authority may only be exercised for half of a given calendar year.
- The United States is a country of refuge for those fleeing persecution. For that reason, the legislation requires asylum access be preserved for a minimum number of individuals per day, limited to those using a safe and orderly process at ports of entry, when the authority is invoked.
Expedites Access to Work Authorization for Hundreds of Thousands of Migrants
- Ensures that those who are here and qualify are able to get to work faster. It provides work authorization to asylum seekers once they receive a positive protection screening determination. This will allow asylum seekers to begin to support themselves and their families in the United States much earlier than the current 180-day statutorily required waiting period, which only begins after an individual submits an asylum application. This will also reduce the resource strain on our cities and states who have been supporting asylum seekers during this existing waiting period.
- This bill provides work authorization to approximately 25,000 K‑1, K‑2, and K‑3 nonimmigrant visa holders (fiancé or spouse and children of U.S. citizens) per year, and about 100,000 H‑4 spouses and children of certain H‑1B nonimmigrant visa holders who have completed immigrant petitions (temporary skilled workers) per year, so they no longer have to apply and wait for approval before they can begin working in the United States.
Establishes an Efficient and Fair Process for Consideration of Asylum and other Protection Claims by those arriving at our Southwest Border
- Today, the process to get to a final decision on a migrant’s asylum claim can take 5–7 years. That is far too long. Once fully implemented, this bipartisan agreement would – for the first time – give the Administration the authority and resources to reduce that process to 6 months. This gets people quick decisions on their asylum claims rather than leaving them and their families in limbo for years.
- The agreement also for the first time gives Asylum Officers the authority to grant a claim at the protection screening stage if the case is clear and convincing, thereby reducing the strain on the asylum system.
Recalibrates the Asylum Screening Process
- Moves consideration of statutory bars to asylum eligibility, such as criminal convictions, into the screening stage. This will ensure that those who pose a public safety or national security risk are removed as quickly in the process as possible rather than remaining in prolonged, costly detention prior to removal.
- Modifies the screening threshold for asylum from “significant possibility” to “reasonable possibility,” with the goal of making it more likely that those who are screened in to pursue protection claims are ultimately found to have a valid asylum claim. Currently, of all migrants screened in and allowed to go to the next phase, only roughly 20 percent are ultimately granted asylum.
Provides Critical Funding for Combatting Smuggling and Drug Trafficking, Border Security, and Asylum Processing
- Funds the installation of 100 cutting-edge inspection machines to help detect fentanyl at our Southwest Border ports of entry.
- Over 1,500 new U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel including Border Patrol Agents and CBP Officers.
- Over 4,300 new Asylum Officers and additional U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services staff to facilitate timely and fair decisions.
- 100 new immigration judge teams to help reduce the asylum caseload backlog and adjudicate cases more quickly.
- Shelter and critical services for newcomers in our cities and states.
- 1,200 new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel for functions including enforcement and deportations.
- More resources to fund transportation needs to enable increased removals.
- Support to partner nations hosting large numbers of migrants and refugees, and funding to partner nations to ensure cooperation in accepting returns associated with the implementation of the Border Emergency Authority.
Strengthens Federal Law Against Fentanyl Trafficking
- Declares that international trafficking of fentanyl is a national emergency and gives the President authority to impose sanctions on any foreign person knowingly involved in significant trafficking of fentanyl by a transnational criminal organization.
- Allows for transfer of sanctioned persons’ forfeited property to forfeiture funds and authorizes Treasury to impose additional restrictions against sanctioned persons upon a determination that their transactions are of primary money laundering concern.
- Directs Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to issue guidance on filing suspicious transactions reports related to fentanyl trafficking by transnational criminal organizations.
Increases Lawful Pathways to Come to the United States
- For the first time in over 30 years, raises the cap on the number of immigrant visas available annually by adding an additional 250,000 immigrant visas over 5 years (50,000/year). 160,000 of these visas will be family-based, and the other 90,000 will be employment-based.
- These additional immigrant visas expand lawful pathways to the United States, prioritizing family reunification and reducing the time families have to spend apart, and get U.S. businesses access to additional workers.
- Establishes a faster pathway to permanent status for the approximately 76,000 Afghan allies who entered the United States under Operation Allies Welcome and their families.
Promotes Family Unity and Stability for Noncitizens
- Provides relief to over 250,000 individuals who came to the United States as children on their parents’ work visa. These individuals have resided lawfully in the United States since they were children and have established lives here in the U.S but have since “aged out” of continuing to receive lawful status through their parents and have no other means of lawfully remaining in the United States with their families. Noncitizens who lived lawfully in the United States as a dependent child of an employment-based nonimmigrant for at least 8 years before turning 21 will be eligible to remain temporarily in the United States with work authorization.
- In support of family unity, the bill makes clear that certain noncitizens can travel to the United States on a temporary visitor (B) visa to visit their family members.
Ensure the Humane and Fair Treatment of Those Seeking Asylum, Especially the Most Vulnerable
- Children should not be expected to represent themselves in a court – and this agreement will provide, for the first time, government-mandated and funded legal counsel for unaccompanied children age 13 or younger as they go through the process to seek asylum. The bill would also provide counsel to particularly vulnerable, mentally incompetent adults.
- Strengthens legal requirements that migrants always be provided with clear and accessible information about their rights, including their right to counsel.
- Mandates that only trained Asylum Officers are permitted to conduct protection screenings.
- Provides critically-needed military aid to help the people of Ukraine defend themselves against Russian aggression. Russia continues to launch aerial assaults on Ukrainian cities and is actively attacking Ukrainian forces.
- Invests in our defense industrial base, supporting American jobs across our country, and produce weapons and equipment that the United States can send Ukraine to help Ukraine’s military protect its people, defend against Russian attacks, and succeed on the battlefield.
- Enables the United States to continue to send economic assistance to Ukraine. Putin has made destroying Ukraine’s economy central to his war strategy and boosting Ukraine’s economy is essential to its survival. If Ukraine’s economy collapses, they will not be able to keep fighting. This aid will help Ukraine pay its first responders, import basic goods, and provide essential services to its population.
- Authorizes the United States to provide additional military aid to help Israel defend itself from Hamas, which committed horrific acts of terror on October 7th, and whose leaders have pledged to repeat the attacks of October 7th over and over again until Israel is annihilated.
- The aid in this agreement will also help Israel replenish its air defenses and ensure it is prepared for any future contingencies.
- This includes its defense against Iran and groups backed by Iran, including Hezbollah. The funding in this agreement is essential to supporting Israel’s short- and long-term defense needs against a broad array of immediate and future threats.
- Includes important humanitarian aid funding to help civilians in need around the world, whether it’s to address the spillover effects of Putin’s war and help Ukrainians who have been displaced by Russia’s invasion, or to help Palestinians in Gaza, where we are actively working to increase the flow of aid for Palestinian civilians who have nothing to do with Hamas.
- Provides resources to help our allies and partners in the region build the capabilities necessary to address threats from an increasingly assertive PRC and to meet emerging challenges. It is critically important that we maintain our focus on the Indo-Pacific and preserve peace and stability.
The text of the deal is below in case you’d like to read it yourself.Proposed bipartisan national security agreement
It’s unclear if Congress will be able to pass any aid package for any of America’s allies this year. Given the dysfunction on Capitol Hill and the growing power of the isolationist wing of Donald Trump’s Republican Party, it’s hard to rate the prospects for security assistance to Ukraine in particular as anything but poor. And the Netanyahu government’s conduct and indefensible decisions are making it less likely that Congress will be able to agree on further assistance for Israel, either.