The bill pitting Biden against Trump would allocate more than $20 billion to the border

The legislation rejected by Republicans would provide funding for border patrols, asylum officers, immigration judges and reception facilities

Gobierno de Joe Biden frente a la crisis migratoria
U.S. President Joe Biden with border patrol agents in Brownsville, Texas.Kevin Lamarque (Reuters)
Miguel Jiménez

On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden took advantage of his visit to the Mexican border in Brownsville, Texas, to increase pressure on Republicans to pass a law to contain immigration strain. Biden noted that as soon as he took office he proposed a bill to reform “a broken immigration system.” He also observed that, in recent months, congressional Democrats and Republicans have been negotiating a bipartisan border security agreement. That agreement has been torpedoed by Donald Trump, who pressured Republicans to reject it. This Thursday, Trump participated in a parallel border rally in Eagle Pass, Texas. The bill would have earmarked over $20 billion to staff and equip immigration and border services.

The bill, which has foundered, included funds for border patrols, asylum officers, immigration judges and reception facilities. It also included a legal amendment that would have allowed Biden to permit immediate deportations, suspending asylum rules when certain inflow thresholds are exceeded. The current legislation allows immigrants to apply for asylum regardless of how they arrive, and they arrive in such numbers that they overwhelm the capacity of the underfunded immigration system. That effectively allows immigrants to settle in the country as their cases are delayed for years. The law would have triggered the immediate repatriation of migrants upon exceeding 5,000 illegal crossings per day on average over a five-day period.

In the event that the bill definitively fails, Biden is analyzing the possibility of issuing an executive order with some measures to hinder the passage of immigrants or facilitate their expulsion. One of the measures Biden’s team is considering is invoking powers under Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which gives the president broad leeway to block the entry of certain immigrants if it would be “detrimental” to the national interest.

Trump repeatedly resorted to that rule during his administration, including his controversial ban on the entry of travelers from Muslim-majority countries, which Biden repealed as soon as he took office. The Biden administration is analyzing whether that provision can be enforced above a certain number of illegal crossings, in line with a provision that was included in the bill. But if the law is not changed, any decree against border crossings will likely be challenged in court.

U.S. President Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate and former president Donald Trump visits the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas. He is joined by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, as seen from Piedras Negras, Mexico. Go Nakamura (REUTERS)

Speaking Thursday at a Border Patrol command center in Brownsville, Biden called on congressional Republicans to “show a little spine” and not be intimidated by pressure from Trump. But he also appealed directly to his predecessor: “Instead of telling members of Congress to block this legislation, join me or I’ll join you in telling the Congress to pass this bipartisan border security bill,” he said. “We can do it together, you know, and I know it’s the toughest, most efficient, most effective border security bill this country’s ever seen. So, instead of playing politics with the issue, why don’t we just get together and get it done,” he added.

According to information provided by the White House, the following are some of the key points of the initiative that Republicans have blocked (for the time being, and perhaps forever):

Border patrol

Border patrol agent staffing has remained virtually flat over the past four years, even though border encounters (a euphemism for apprehensions) have increased by 250% in the same period. Currently, there are only 20,000 Border Patrol agents. The bill would add more than 1,500 new Customs and Border Protection agents.

Asylum officers and asylum reform

Asylum officer staffing has remained stagnant over the past four years and there are not enough asylum officers to do the initial reviews. As a result, each asylum case often takes five to seven years to process and resolve. Currently, there are approximately 1,000 asylum officers; the bill would add an additional 4,300 asylum officers and make the asylum process faster and fairer.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

ICE detention centers are currently over capacity. Today, ICE has approximately 40,000 detention beds. The bipartisan agreement would increase that number to 50,000. In addition, without immediate congressional action, the Department of Homeland Security will have to shift funds from other critical missions to ICE or reduce ICE operations to manage a shortfall of several hundred million dollars.

Immigration judges

Immigration judges currently have a backlog of over two million cases. Each asylum case typically takes five to seven years to resolve. Without more judges, these timelines and backlogs will continue to grow. There is currently funding for 734 immigration judges. The bill would provide funding for an additional 100 immigration judges and their associated staff.

Fighting drug trafficking

In an effort to combat the trafficking of fentanyl and other illicit drugs, the bipartisan agreement would fund the installation of 100 state-of-the-art inspection machines to help detect fentanyl at southwestern border ports of entry. It would also grant the president the authority to impose sanctions on foreign nationals who are knowingly involved in significant fentanyl trafficking for a transnational criminal organization.

Local support

The bill also includes $1.4 billion for cities and states that are providing critical services to new arrivals, and it would expedite work permits for those who are in the country and qualify.

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