House Republicans on Thursday formally unveiled their sweeping immigration package due to reach the floor next month, combining two measures that Democrats have complained would severely limit asylum while attacking nonprofits that aid immigrants.
The package joins two bills, one that includes severe restrictions on asylum-seekers from the Judiciary Committee and another from the Homeland Committee that would require completing former President Trump’s border wall.
The package comes fresh off a markup in which Democrats on the Homeland Committee pushed Republicans to scale back a provision that would have been a wholesale ban on any federal funding for any nonprofit that provides aid to an immigrant regardless of how they entered the country.
At a press conference, GOP leaders said they would bring the bill to the floor the same week as Title 42 is set to be lifted — May 11 — ending pandemic-era prohibitions on seeking asylum.
The Biden administration has announced its own plan for addressing border issues after the policy ends, one that involves more rapid deportations and establishing centers in Latin America to process refugees and asylum-seekers.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) called Republicans’ plan the “strongest border security package that Congress has ever taken up.”
“And when we return in May, the same week that Title 42 expires, we’re going to bring a border security package and pass it through this House of Representatives,” Scalise said Thursday, flanked by the sponsors of different components of the bill.
“And we challenge President Biden to work with us to solve this problem. We’re going to show the president how to solve the problem.”
Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) addresses reporters after a closed-door House Republican Conference meeting on Wednesday, April 26, 2023.
Together, the two bills would represent a significant change in U.S. immigration policy, one that is unlikely to gain traction in the Democratic-led Senate and would be sure to be vetoed by the White House.
Still, its introduction serves as the GOP’s official border solution, legislation they offer as a contrast to the Biden administration’s approach.
“Why can’t this be bipartisan? We used to do that. We used to do that. But this is going to be the Republican solution to the problem,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who contributed a portion of the bill that would reinstate a Trump-era policy requiring asylum-seekers wait for a determination in their case in Mexico.
The Judiciary panel bill’s asylum proposals would allow the Department of Homeland Security to prohibit the entry of noncitizens who could present a public health threat until full “operational control” of the border is achieved.
That proposal attracted substantial criticism, in part because it relies on a statutory definition of operational control that requires zero illegal entries and zero smuggling, a condition widely regarded as unrealistic.
Other measures in the joint bill reinstate family detention, including for minors, and mandate that asylum-seeking families be detained for the duration of their legal process.
Another portion seeks to limit who can qualify for asylum, expanding from six to 15 the list of felonies and misdemeanors that exclude people from asylum eligibility.
The bill also raises penalties for visa overstays, targeting those who secure visas to enter the U.S. but remain in the country after their permitted window.
The Homeland bill, dubbed the Border Reinforcement Act, also takes aim at asylum-seekers, stymying a Biden administration effort to provide legal pathways to the U.S.
The Biden administration currently allows citizens from Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba and Haiti to apply for temporary entrance to the U.S. through the CBP One app from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. They must secure a U.S.-based financial sponsor, while others from the four countries are still barred from seeking asylum.
The bill would block the use of that app for anything other than commercial purposes.
“A lot of us are concerned that this bill will actually lead to more chaos at the border,” said Rep. Seth Magaziner (D-R.I.).
“Because what we keep hearing from Border Patrol and other authorities is that it will make their job a lot easier … if people who are seeking asylum can do so at legal points of entry, so that they don’t try instead to cross the border between points of entry,” he added. “And this bill does things like ban the app that people use to get appointments to have their cases heard at the points of entry. And so it really reads not as a border security bill, but as an anti-immigration bill across the board.”
Then-Rep.-elect Seth Magaziner (D-R.I.) is seen during the first day of the 118th session of Congress on Tuesday, January 3, 2023.
Democrats managed to convince Republicans to tweak a portion of the bill blocking help to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that aid immigrants.
“H.R. 2794 would prohibit DHS funding to any nonprofit that provides services for noncitizens who have entered the United States legally or not,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the top Homeland Security Committee Democrat, during a markup.
“If this nonsensical provision were to become law, a hospital in New York would be ineligible for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program because it provides medical care to a tourist from Europe. Let that sink in.”
Speaking with The Hill amid the markup, Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.) said Wednesday he agreed with Democrats that the provision was overly broad and later introduced an amendment to scale it back.
“I think there are some valid arguments that have been brought up,” he said, noting that regardless of immigration status medical professionals must be able to care for those in need, and that children should be able to access a suite of services.
“I think in general, the intent of the bill was to prohibit nongovernment organizations from facilitating illegal immigrants from coming into the country.”
Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.) leaves the Capitol following the last votes of the day on Thursday, September 29, 2022. (Greg Nash)
That amendment, adopted Wednesday night, still bars federal funding to any group that provides “transportation, lodging, or immigration legal services to inadmissible aliens.”
It’s a complex standard, as many migrants are permitted to legally enter the country while they pursue their immigration case before a judge.
Democrats also noted that would still be problematic for nonprofits, essentially asking them to check the immigration status of anyone to whom they provide services.
“It puts the NGOs in an impossible position. How are nonprofit organizations supposed to verify the citizenship of people who they’re giving aid to? So that’s certainly a concern,” Magaziner said.
Outside of those measures, the bill seeks to bolster the resources provided to border agents, mandating a certain staffing level and also setting aside $100 million for retention bonuses for agents who stay beyond five years.
“This legislation will hire thousands of new agents. It will pay retention bonuses to frontline officers. We will invest in new technology. We will construct hundreds of miles of walls and barriers, and we will support our local and our state partners,” Guest said Thursday.
Guest on Wednesday said he was hopeful his amendment could help secure Democratic votes for the legislation.
“If we’re going to work with our Democratic friends to find common ground on NGOs, we’d like some assurances that they’re going to openly support the legislation,” he said.
But Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), speaking to the House Homeland provisions, said there was no chance that would happen.
“The overall bill is really cruel and terrible. It doesn’t really do anything to actually help people at the border,” he said.
“Democrats aren’t going to vote for a border bill that doesn’t include any kind of immigration reform and particularly one that is stripping away support for organizations that are helping migrants.”
Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) leads a tour at the Library of Congress for first-term House representatives in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, January 31, 2023. (Annabelle Gordon)
That Judiciary portion of the bill had a rocky road to fruition, with Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) previously threatening to lead a group of Republicans in opposition to any “anti-immigrant” bill, and at one point calling an earlier version of the bill “unchristian.”
But Gonzales told reporters Thursday that he planned to back the bill, citing the removal of a provision that would have further limited asylum.
“I’ve been very vocal on the aspects I thought needed to come out of that bill. And those are the aspects that came out of that bill last week in Judiciary,” he said.
“I wouldn’t have crafted that bill but it’s probably a bill I can get behind,” he said of the legislation.
Scalise said Thursday he was confident that the House has the votes to pass the legislation.
“Our members have been very interested in having us bring a border security package to the floor, since we ran on this last year,” he said.
“So now that we have all the bills out, we’re going to get that information to our members. I’m very confident we’re going to pass it when we return in May.”