House Republicans have criticized the Biden administration’s approach to the U.S.-Mexico border for several months, with a focus on tightening immigration laws and cracking down on illegal immigration and drug trafficking. Despite holding hearings and visiting border communities, Republicans have yet to agree on a comprehensive plan, stalling legislation efforts. However, they have launched an immigration and border enforcement package consolidating proposals from various conservative groups into a single bill.
The proposed legislation would make it more challenging to seek asylum and enable the federal government to prevent Mexican migrants from entering the U.S. more easily. As the U.S. government shifts its attention back to border security and the challenges faced by thousands of migrants seeking entry, House GOP representatives are proposing changes to immigration laws in response to a May deadline that is likely to end a federal policy allowing COVID-19-era asylum.
The Republicans are also facing political pressure to deliver their campaign promise to strengthen border security, especially since they are now over 100 days into their new House majority. House Democrats on the Judiciary panel have rejected the proposed immigration and border enforcement bill introduced by Republicans, describing it as an extreme measure with little chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate. The bill has also faced criticism from moderate Republicans, whose support is essential for its approval in the House, where the Republicans hold a slim majority of 222-213.
Democrats Criticized the Republican Bill for Making it Harder for Asylum-seekers & Proposing a Fee
House Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Jerry Nadler, has criticized the Republican proposal for being harmful to vulnerable individuals and lacking a viable solution. The proposed bill aims to increase the difficulty for asylum-seekers to demonstrate that they are escaping religious, political, or racial persecution during their initial interviews, add a $50 fee for adults seeking asylum, and require migrants to make asylum claims only at designated ports of entry.
Additionally, the proposed legislation seeks to expand the E-verify program that would require employers, including those in the agriculture industry, to verify the immigration status of their workers. The proposed GOP bill aims to incorporate a Trump-era policy, the “safe third country” requirement, which would generally disqualify migrants from seeking asylum if they arrive at the U.S. southern border without first seeking refuge in a country they passed through.
Conservative hardliners who believe that migrants are exploiting the asylum process are endorsing the bill. Representative Chip Roy, a conservative member of the Freedom Caucus from Texas who has advocated for stricter border regulations, stated that the bill embodies the measure they have been advocating to enforce the law.
Some Republicans, including Representatives Jordan and Roy, advocate for stricter regulations to limit asylum claims and prevent the release of migrants into the U.S. who don’t have a valid basis for seeking asylum. However, they face opposition from other Republicans who have criticized such measures as inhumane and disconnected from the concerns of Latino communities.
Balancing Tougher Border Enforcement and Legal Immigration
The debate within the Republican party regarding immigration policies and border control has recently intensified. Congressman Tony Gonzales, a Texas Republican representing a long stretch of the US-Mexico border, has emerged as a contrasting voice against Roy’s views. While Roy advocates for tougher border enforcement, Gonzales is insisting on increasing legal immigration as well, including work visas.
Several moderate Republicans, such as Congressman Don Bacon from Nebraska, are pushing for a balanced approach that includes opening up legal immigration. Bacon acknowledges the importance of hardworking immigrants who eventually become great citizens. However, the current border crisis is a catastrophe and needs to be dealt with accordingly. In recent years, the Republican Party has made progress with Latino communities. While many Latino Republican voters support stricter border enforcement, they also want to see an increase in legal immigration.
On Tuesday, the Congressional Hispanic Conference, consisting of 18 House Republicans, held a bilingual press conference in front of the Capitol to demand representation in the negotiation process. Congressman Gonzales emphasized the importance of recognizing the individuals affected by the border crisis, stating that they will not be silent or allow others to dictate the outcome. “This is the reality of the border crisis,” he told reporters.
Congressman Gonzales commented that the Judiciary Committee’s bill under consideration is merely one potential solution and has a long way to go before becoming a major proposal. He noted that the Homeland Security Committee, where Gonzales is a member, is crafting legislation to enhance border enforcement. The Congressional Hispanic Conference identified three policies it seeks: classifying cartels as terrorist groups, increasing criminal consequences for fentanyl smuggling, and raising the pay of Customs and Border Protection agents.