Misinformation circulates on failed US immigration reform proposal

A bipartisan package that included stringent domestic border security measures failed in the US Senate in early February. Republican representatives in the House pushed claims it would have allow 5,000 migrants to enter the country illegally every day, but the sponsoring lawmakers and an expert said that distorted the proposal -- which aimed to expand the executive branch's deportation powers and federal detention capacity.

"Here's what the people pushing this 'deal' aren't telling you: It accepts 5,000 illegal immigrants a day," Republican House Majority Leader Steve Scalise said in a February 4, 2024 X post, formerly known as Twitter, ahead of the Senate negotiated deal's collapse after failing to get the necessary 60 votes. Although the majority of those against the legislation were Republicans, five Democrats also opposed it.

The official account for House Republicans and other members made similar claims, as did many users on various social media platforms.

<span>Screenshots of X posts, taken February 7, 2024</span>
Screenshots of X posts, taken February 7, 2024

For months, Congressional Republicans said the Biden Administration's request for emergency military aid for Ukraine and Israel would only be granted in exchange for reforms related to the southern border.

The Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act (archived here), which had proposed $20 billion in new funding and the toughest border security measures in a generation alongside $60 billion in aid for Ukraine, was shot down by Republicans in a Senate vote on February 7.

Although the bipartisan compromise was full of concessions Democrats typically oppose and immigration policy changes agreed to on both sides, the Senate will now turn to discuss foreign aid packages without the border provisions.

Many blame former president Donald Trump for the failure of the deal, as Republicans angle to make immigration enforcement a defining issue of the 2024 election. Trump, the frontrunner to become the Republican Party's nominee in 2024, pressured lawmakers to kill the effort to deny Biden a win before the election.

The former chief of state also made false claims that the bill would allow 5,000 people to enter the country daily.

"This bill is a disaster. This bill has 5,000 people a day potentially coming into our country. It doesn't make sense," Trump said during a February 5 episode of The Dan Bongino Show.

But the legislation had aimed to put stricter border policies in place and enable the president to reject asylum seekers if encounters at the border surpassed 5,000 on average per day in a given week, a threshold hit multiple times in recent months, according to US Customs and Border Protection statistics (archived here).

5,000 migrants

Regarding the bill "there's definitely a lot of misunderstanding," said Kathleen Bush-Joseph, a lawyer and policy analyst with the US Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute. "It does not mean that 5,000 people would be allowed in."

The bill "would potentially mean many more removals and fewer people getting to come into the country. And so, specifically with the 5,000 amount, that's the point at which the president or the secretary (of Homeland Security) would have to use the border emergency authority," she told AFP on February 6.

Encounters refer to when a border official stops someone from trying to enter the United States -- not the number of people who successfully enter the country without authorization. Migrants caught doing so would still be detained, processed, and face deportation.

Had the legislation passed, when encounters spiked and an emergency is declared, anyone trying to enter the country would no longer be able to apply for asylum, allowing for the rapid removal of migrants without such claims.

Bush-Joseph said the policy was reminiscent "of the quick Title 42 expulsion." That policy had prevented migrants from claiming asylum at the southern border as a Covid-19 public health measure during parts of both the Trump and Biden administrations.

The legislation also sought to raise the standard for asylum qualification and expedite the process, on top of increasing the budget for border-related provisions.

Lawmakers and Border Union push back

A spokesperson for Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a supporter of the legislation,  also said claims were "misinterpreting the bill." In a February 6 email to AFP, the office clarified saying: "5,000 is simply the average number of encounters we have to hit in order for the trigger to be activated."

The bill would also have required the Homeland Security secretary to declare an emergency if there were 8,500 encounters on any single day.

<span>Screenshot of the Emergency National Security Supplemental Bill taken February 8, 2023</span>
Screenshot of the Emergency National Security Supplemental Bill taken February 8, 2023

Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma also made this distinction in a February 4 thread published on X. "The emergency authority is not designed to let 5,000 people in, it is designed to close the border and turn 5,000 people around," he said.

<span>Screenshot of an X post, taken February 7, 2023</span>
Screenshot of an X post, taken February 7, 2023

Independent bill sponsor Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona similarly addressed the claim (archived here).

"5,000 refers to total migrants attempting to cross the border -- not the number of individuals allowed into the country, as some have claimed," says her website. "Those who seek asylum will undergo a swift Protection Determination Interview at the higher screening standard and will be immediately removed from the country if they fail."

The Border Patrol Union had endorsed the bipartisan proposal and the organization's President Brandon Judd refuted the claim in a February 7, 2024 Fox News segment. "This does not say that we're going to release 5,000 people into the United States. In fact, it's the exact opposite. It says that we will hold single adults in custody," adding, "so that is a huge deterrent."

Read more of AFP's reporting on misinformation surrounding migration here.