Efforts for a bipartisan immigration overhaul, together with enhanced border security, are emerging in the US Congress as migrants amass across the Mexican border ahead of the end of COVID-era border restrictions in May. In one such last-minute legislative push, U.S. border authorities may be granted similar expulsion powers allowed under the expiring COVID restrictions – referred to as Title 42 – for a period of two years, according to a congressional office involved in the talks.
Title 42 began under Republican former President Donald Trump in 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and allows U.S. authorities to expel migrants to Mexico without the chance to seek asylum. Many Republicans and Democrats fear the end of the order will lead to a rise in migration that authorities are poorly equipped to face. A top border official recently told lawmakers that migrant crossings could jump to 10,000 per day after May 11th, nearly double the daily average in March.
Arizona Independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema, and North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis are leading the efforts to temporarily extend border expulsions. The pair view it as a short-term fix while they work on broader immigration reform. Sinema’s spokesperson, Hannah Hurley, said, “This is squarely about the immediate crisis with the end of Title 42.”
Separately, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives plans to pass a package of border security measures next week, placing tougher constraints on asylum-seekers, resuming the construction of a wall along the southwest border with Mexico, and expanding federal law enforcement. However, some Democrats characterise the House border legislation as inhumane, while several Democratic and Republican senators eagerly await such a bill. Tillis, who is pushing both the short-term fix for the Title 42’s expiration and a more comprehensive immigration package, said a House-passed bill would be “something we can build on”. He added that it could take two to three months to create a compromise, but senators had no illusions that this would be an easy task.
Since a 1986 immigration reform package, which provided some three million immigrants legal status, Congress repeatedly has failed to update the nation’s policies. There are around 11 million unauthorised immigrants in the United States who could have a stake in the outcome of this latest effort, along with US businesses desperately in need of workers.
To succeed in the Democrat-controlled Senate, the legislation would require 60 senators from both parties to support it, as well as the backing of the Republican-controlled House. Republican Senator from a border state, John Cornyn, described it as “a high-wire act,” adding it was “the only path forward.”
In addition, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the largest business association in the nation, has launched a campaign urging Congress to act. It has received endorsements from 400 groups, ranging from the American Farm Bureau Federation to the U.S. Travel Association. Republican-controlled states observe that their farming, ranching, food processing, and manufacturing businesses are in need of workers, a problem that immigrants could help solve if not for Washington’s clunky visa system.
Additionally, passage of an immigration bill coupled with increased border security could bolster President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign and give Republican candidates something to celebrate. The House bill would deal with some of the five “buckets” in the Tillis-Sinema effort, according to a Senate source familiar with their work. Overall, they include a modernisation of the plodding asylum system, improvements to how visas are granted, and measures to more effectively authorise immigrants, including labourers, healthcare workers, doctors, and engineers, to fill American jobs.
It also raises questions of what will happen to the 580,000 “Dreamers” enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, who were brought illegally into the United States as children. Republicans have blocked their path to citizenship for two decades, arguing that it would encourage more people to take the dangerous journey to the border. Senators are aware that some of their goals may need to be abandoned to achieve a “sweet spot.” While Democratic Senator Chris Murphy was asked how the difficulty in winning immigration legislation stacks up to other recent battles, Senator Murphy said, “It’s an 11 on a scale of 10.”