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Senators unveil bipartisan bill to impose tougher asylum and border laws

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WASHINGTON — Senators released the long-awaited text of a bipartisan agreement to impose tougher immigration and asylum laws on Sunday, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer eyes votes on the package this week.

The $118 billion package includes a series of provisions aimed at reducing record-high crossings at the southern border and tightening an asylum system that has been overwhelmed by migrants fleeing their homes to seek refuge. It also includes critical aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, which Republicans have said they’ll only support if paired with significant new U.S. immigration restrictions.

The agreement — reached by Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz. — would be the most aggressive border security and migration overhaul bill in decades if it passes Congress. It would raise the standard to get asylum, send away those who don’t qualify and expedite cases for those who do.

“The Senate’s bipartisan agreement is a monumental step towards strengthening America’s national security abroad and along our borders,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “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.”

But the deal is mired in election-year politics and it’s unclear if it has the support to pass the Senate, where it will need at least 60 votes to defeat a guaranteed filibuster. Conservative senators have been mobilizing against the deal, egged on by former President Donald Trump, who has told Republicans to reject it if it isn’t “perfect.” He has also falsely suggested that the bill would allow 5,000 illegal border crossings per day as he seeks to wield border chaos as a political weapon in a likely 2024 rematch against President Joe Biden, who endorsed the pact prior to the release of its text.

“The border security bill will put a huge number of new enforcement tools in the hands of a future administration and push the current Administration to finally stop the illegal flow,” Lankford, the top Republican negotiator, said in a statement. “The bill provides funding to build the wall, increase technology at the border, and add more detention beds, more agents, and more deportation flights. The border security bill ends the abuse of parole on our southwest border that has waived in over a million people. It dramatically changes our ambiguous asylum laws by conducting fast screenings at a higher standard of evidence, limited appeals, and fast deportation.”

Sinema made her case for the immigration changes on Sunday.

“We’ll no longer have people just entering the country and maybe going to court in the next 7 or 10 years,” she said Sunday on CBS’ “Face The Nation.” “Instead, we’ll make swift justice. Folks who do qualify for asylum will be on a rapid path — six months or less — to start a new life in America. And those who do not qualify will quickly be returned to their home countries.”

Right-leaning Senate Republicans who have blasted the deal for not going far enough. The bill may also lose support from some progressives and Hispanic Caucus members, who worry that Democrats are conceding too much and complain that they’ve been shut out of negotiations.

“Every time it gets to this immigration stuff, regardless of who the president is, they always err on the side of being stricter,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., a member of the Hispanic Caucus and a former leader of the Progressive Caucus. “A lot of Democrats are gonna be in a tough spot when that comes over, and if the Republicans here don’t support it, it’s never gonna see the light of day.”

Prospects in the House

The package could face long odds in the House. In his maiden floor speech last week, entirely focused on border security, Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., slammed the emerging Senate legislation for not going far enough to stop illegal immigration: This “so-called deal does not include these transformational policy changes that are needed to actually stop the border catastrophe,” he said.

Johnson announced Saturday that the House will vote in the week ahead on a stand-alone Israel aid bill, without any border provisions or Ukraine funding.

Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., who served in the House with Johnson and discussed the Senate border deal with him last week, conceded that it’s a politically tricky issue for Republicans to touch during an election year and that it likely does not have backing from a majority of the 219-member House GOP conference.

“Here’s the issue that the speaker has: He can’t bring a bill to the floor without the majority of the majority. At this point, it’s very tough to say that the House has a majority of the majority to bring it to the floor,” Mullin told reporters after meeting with the speaker. “You have a lot of people up for re-election, and the perception of the American people is that it’s bad. So it’s really hard to get ahead of that.”

There are other challenges in the House as well. As Johnson faces pressure from his right flank, House Republicans are readying a floor vote to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, one of several administration officials who met with senators as they crafted the new immigration deal. House Republicans are accusing him and Biden of failing to enforce immigration laws and secure the southern border.

“No president in the history of our county has ever done more to intentionally harm the United States than what the president has done with the border invasion,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., the leader of the far-right Freedom Caucus, whose members have aggressively pushed for impeachment.

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