Representative Matt Gaetz, the right-wing gadfly from Florida who ousted Kevin McCarthy, called it the “Senate Amnesty Bill” and said that it would force a future president Donald Trump administration “to let in illegals well into his term.” House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, who is currently auditioning to be Trump’s running mate, called it an “absolute non-starter.” In the Senate, Ohio’s JD Vance, perhaps the Trumpiest senator, said he “cannot imagine why any Republican supports this atrocious proposal.”
But this is far from an “amnesty bill,” to borrow from Gaetz’s words. Rather, it ends the process of “catch-and-release”, wherein border officials release previously arrested migrants into the United States while they await their court dates. It also moves the process for migrants who claim asylum from the court system to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Some fear that move could lead to fewer people being able to claim asylum.
Furthermore, it also gives the executive branch the power to “shut down” the US-Mexico border when more than 5,000 migrants seek to cross into the US in a week.
And remember Donald Trump’s “big, beautiful wall”? Not only does the new legislation allocate $650m for such a barrier, but a one-pager by Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, the Republican negotiator, noted that it “withholds the majority of the wall money to be used during the next administration.”
If Trump were to win the White House in nine months (and polling right now shows he has a good shot of doing so), it would give him sweeping authority to implement draconian immigration policies that he otherwise never would have been able to do.
The bill does not contain a path to citizenship for “Dreamers” who came to the United States as children by their parents . The closest aspect it has to something resembling immigrant relief is issuing 50,000 new employment and family-based visas for five years. It also includes parts of the Afghan Adjustment Act, a bill that helps Afghans who aided US servicemembers in America’s longest war achieve permanent resident status.
Only one of the three Senators who negotiated this bill — Sinema, the Democrat-turned-independent — represents a border state and all of the negotiators were white. This is why Alex Padilla, the senior Democratic senator from California, said the “deal misses the mark.”
This legislation would essentially give Trump the authority to act on his most severe anti-immigration rhetoric. This is why Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who was initially part of the bipartisan negotiations but pulled out, told me last month: “Imagine the additional resources that he could put on an interior enforcement. When people look at the bill when it gets filed, judge it on that basis.”
Much like how Trump tried to hold up money for Ukraine in exchange for then-newly-elected President Volodymyr Zelensky investigating Hunter Biden in 2019, Republicans said they would not provide additional aid to Ukraine unless Democrats attached immigration restrictions. And now, they plan to sink the whole bill.
But doing so might bite them in the long run, even if Trump wins. Even if Republicans somehow keep the House — which is highly unlikely, even in the event of a Trump victory — and flip every contested Senate seat, they will not be able to overcome a filibuster. And the remaining Democrats will lean liberal enough to want to block such legislation.
Conservatives seem stuck on the fact that migrants would likely still cross the border. Lankford tried to defend it on Twitter/X by saying: “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.”
Ironically, Padilla and other immigrant advocates agree with the Gaetz and Stefanik when they say completely cutting off the flow of migrants is virtually impossible. And limiting the ways to enter legally will likely increase illegal crossings.
If Republicans were serious about actually restricting immigration, they would jam this bill through the Senate and the House, say they “owned the libs” by moving the Overton window on immigration so far that even sympathetic migrants have no relief, and talk about the powers they can now give a future Trump administration.
But as I have said frequently, these are not serious people; they are, instead, cosplaying as legislators. It would be more understandable if they had torpedoed negotiations last year and told the world that the United States would abandon its allies and international obligations. Instead, the GOP wasted everyone’s time with fruitless negotiations.