WASHINGTON ― After months of painstaking negotiations, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled legislation on Sunday seeking to address the surge of migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border, which Republicans had demanded in exchange for passage of more U.S. aid to Ukraine.
Senate leaders are planning to hold a procedural vote on the bill on Wednesday, forcing Republicans who insisted on a legislative fix to the border crisis to decide whether to allow debate on the bill or side with former President Donald Trump and filibuster it.
“If it’s good for the country but bad for Donald Trump, what do you choose?” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the lead Democratic negotiator on the legislation, asked Friday in a post on X (formerly Twitter).
The legislation would expand the government’s ability to expel migrants at the border, restrict claims for parole, and significantly increase the standard for those seeking asylum, a system that has long suffered from a lack of resources and backlogs in court. It would also automatically close the border if illegal crossings reach or climb past a certain average daily threshold, with certain humanitarian exemptions.
President Joe Biden has said that if the bill were law today, he would “shut down the border right now and fix it quickly.”
In a call with reporters Sunday evening, a senior administration official essentially said it was time for Republicans to put up or shut up on fixing the border.
“The question is now for [House] Speaker [Mike] Johnson and House Republicans. If they believe we must take action as a country to secure our border, doing nothing is simply not an option,” the official said.
Biden’s stance has angered Latino Democrats and the progressive wing of his party, who noted Biden once fiercely opposed Trump’s tough immigration policies and who argued that restrictive border measures wouldn’t solve the crisis.
“The deal includes a new version of a failed Trump-era immigration policy that will cause more chaos at the border, not less,” Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the legislation “throws immigrants under the political bus” and puts “migrant lives in the crosshairs.”
But the loudest criticism of the bipartisan agreement came from the right wing, even though the GOP has for years urged Democrats to address the crisis on the border, insisting that the flow of migrants is an urgent national security threat. Conservatives in the House and Senate have trashed the deal for weeks, before it was unveiled, as Trump urged them in public and in private to reject it.
“There is zero chance I will support this horrible open-borders betrayal of America,” Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, said earlier this week.
Minutes after the bill was unveiled, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) vowed that it “will not” receive a vote in the lower chamber, while other Republicans falsely claimed it gave “amnesty” to millions of undocumented immigrants.
Some Republicans have openly admitted they don’t want to pass the bill and give Biden a victory that would allow him and other Democrats to say they fixed the border crisis ahead of the November election.
The GOP’s reversal on seeking tougher border policies in exchange for approving more military aid to Ukraine has sown chaos in the Senate Republican conference, which held several heated debates on the matter behind closed doors.
“This is what we asked for... let’s take up what we asked for,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said earlier this week.
The bill will need at least 60 votes to advance, but it will require even more GOP support to have a chance of swaying heavy opposition in the House. Johnson (R-La.) called it “dead on arrival,” jeopardizing the future of aid not just for Ukraine but also for Israel and Taiwan.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), who helped craft the legislation alongside Murphy and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), said Congress would regret not passing the bill this year, with Democrats in power willing to make concessions on border policy.
“We have never had a package of this significance under consideration by the U.S. Congress. This is a unique moment, and I think we should take it,” Sinema said last month.
Meanwhile, Lankford sought to tamp down criticism from the right, calling the bill’s border shutdown trigger “the most misunderstood or maybe just misrepresented parts of the bill. Some people have said it would mean 5,000 people a day are coming into the country every day. That is absurd and untrue.”
“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,” the senator added.
However, on Saturday, Johnson shared a letter to House Republicans announcing his plan to vote next week on a standalone Israel foreign aid bill without aid to Ukraine and with no cuts to the IRS, as Republicans previously sought. He also attacked the forthcoming broader Senate package, claiming that senators had “eliminated the ability for swift consideration” of their legislation.
The move is seen as an attempt to jam pro-Israel Democrats and put pressure on Republicans in the Senate to oppose the bipartisan bill. A senior administration official said Sunday, “It’s hard to look at what the speaker has been talking about as much more than a political ploy.”
The immigration provisions are part of a broader emergency national security spending package totaling $118 billion. The bill also includes several other bipartisan priorities, including the Fend Off Fentanyl Act, which targets drug traffickers, and the Afghan Adjustment Act, which establishes a pathway for permanent residence for Afghans in the U.S.
“The Senate’s bipartisan agreement is a monumental step towards strengthening America’s national security abroad and along our borders,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “This is one of the most necessary and important pieces of legislation Congress has put forward in years to ensure America’s future prosperity and security.”