Republican House Should Take Advantage of Opportunity to Lead on Border Security and Immigration Reform

Republicans have long campaigned on promises to improve border security. Now that they have control of the House they have two options when it comes to fixing immigration and securing the border: pass partisan bills in the House that will die in the Democrat controlled Senate, or work in a bipartisan manner to pass bills that have a chance of making it to the President’s desk and achieving results for the American people. So far, it appears House Republicans are not sure which of these two options to attempt first.

As a condition for receiving Freedom Caucus Members’ votes in the House Speaker Election, Representative Kevin McCarthy had promised to fast track a vote on Representative Chip Roy of Texas’ Border Safety and Security Act of 2023. The bill, which Roy calls the Texas Border Plan, would direct DHS to turn away any migrant crossing the border without documentation if DHS does not have the capacity to detain that migrant until their immigration court hearing. This would force asylum seekers to remain in Mexico when detention centers are at capacity in an effort to end “catch and release.” The bill would also grant DHS broad authority to prevent any immigrant from crossing the border without legal documents, even at points of entry to claim asylum, if it deems it is neccesary to maintain "operational control" of the border .

However, following Texas Republican Representative Tony Gonzales’ refusal to co-sponsor the bill, it now appears that the bill will be required to clear the Homeland Security Committee (where a hearing on the bill has yet to be scheduled) before having a chance to be voted on in the House where Republicans hold a bill passing majority by only four reps.

Gonzales, whose district includes around 42% of the southern border, said the bill would go too far in restricting genuine claims of asylum when detention centers reach capacity.

“The reality is this is a backdoor way of ending all asylum claims,” said Gonzales. “The asylum process is broken and needs major reform, but abolishment is un-American,” he added.

The bill in its current form is also unlikely to receive any votes from Democrat lawmakers, meaning that it is more of a political statement than a genuine effort at legislating solutions for the border. Perhaps that is why Gonzales called it “all hat and no cattle.”

When it comes to fixing the border and immigration, Republican lawmakers will never be able to get everything they want. But getting some things that they want is better than getting none. That is why it is important for Republicans to make a genuine effort a working with Democrats to achieve bipartisan solutions. Of course, success will also require Democrats working with Republicans.

In his state of the union address, President Biden called on Congress to pass solutions to secure the border which was met with laughs and rebuttals from Republicans in the audience, who blame Biden and Democrats for the record numbers of illegal border crossings. It was a classic example of years past with both sides blaming each other on this issue and nothing getting done.

Biden was also met with rebuttals from Republicans of ‘it’s your fault’ when he brought up the fentanyl crisis in the US. However, one positive takeaway from this was that Biden and Republicans appear to be in agreement on the need to combat drug trafficking.

“Let’s launch a major surge to stop fentanyl production, and the sale and trafficking, with more drug detection machines, inspection cargo, stop pills and powder at the border,” said Biden. Great, that’s one thing that Rs and Ds agree on, so put it in legislation and pass it.

Republicans should seize the opportunity provided by their House majority to take the lead on border security and immigration by offering sensible and realistic solutions like the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act and a legislative solution for Dreamers who came to the US as children through no fault of their own. Border policies that improve the efficiency of asylum processing at ports of entry so that asylum seekers can have their claims proccessed and resolved quickly would greatly decrease crossings by asylum seekers turning themselves in between ports of entry, ultimately allowing border patrol to focus more resources on catching human and drug traffickers that are sneaking in. Policies that increase resources at ports of entry and expand capacity for immigration courts to manage traffic at the border more efficiently should be able to garner bipartisan suppport. 

If Republicans fail to pass border security and immigration bills in the House that can get the 11 votes from Democratic Senators necessary to become law, not only do they fail the American people, but they risk failing themselves by letting Biden and Democrats seize control of the political narrative over the border and immigration.

The Biden Administration has been touting stats showing that its recently implemented policies to deter border crossings from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela have led to a large decrease in border encounters with asylum seekers from those countries. It said this week that border encounters with migrants from those four countries decreased from a seven-day average of 3,367 per day on Dec. 11 to just 115 per day. 


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