An aerial view of the American flags flying over an international bridge as immigrants line up next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence to seek asylum on Dec. 22, 2022 in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by John Moore / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Top U.S. House Republican leaders on Thursday unveiled an immigration package of bills that appropriates millions in funds for border security and imposes sweeping restrictions on asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The plan is in sharp contrast with an announcement earlier Thursday by the Biden administration on how it would begin to handle legal migration through processing centers in Colombia and Guatemala.
“Since we took the majority, we have been hard at work putting together a strong border security package,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana said during a press conference.
Republicans plan to put the bill on the House floor for a vote in May, the same time when a pandemic-era tool used to expel millions of migrants, known as Title 42, is set to expire. Even if passed by the House, the GOP plan will not be taken up in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority.
The package combines bills from the House Judiciary and House Homeland Security committees.
GOP leaders who joined Scalise included House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan of Ohio, House Homeland Security Chair Mark Green of Tennessee, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul of Texas, and House Homeland Security Vice Chair Michael Guest of Mississippi.
“We think it’s a strong bill that will correct the … problems we have seen now, the entire two years of this administration,” Jordan said.
The bill from the House Homeland Security Committee would:
- Resume building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
- Hire 22,000 border agents.
- Appropriate $100 million in retention bonuses to agents.
- Appropriate $110 million in grants to local police.
- Limit the use of an app that migrants use to make appointments to apply for asylum.
Green said that the bill takes away money from certain areas in order to cover some other areas.
The bill removes funds for nongovernmental organizations to support migrants and ends funding for the Department of Homeland Security to process migrants arriving at U.S. ports of entry.
It also does not allow funding for the Shelter Service Program, which allocates $800 million to the Customs and Border Patrol “to transfer to FEMA to establish a new Shelter and Services Grant Program (SSP) to support CBP in effectively managing migrant processing and preventing the overcrowding of short-term CBP holding facilities.”
The bill from the House Judiciary Committee would:
- Expand migrant family detention.
- Increase penalties for immigration violations.
- Increase requirements for employment verifications.
- Allow for the expedited removal of unaccompanied migrant children unless they are a victim of trafficking or can prove a credible threat to their lives.
Scalise said Republicans welcomed the Biden administration to join them in creating a legal pathway for immigration.
“What we’re saying is, let’s get back to the legal system,” he said.
Under the Biden plan unveiled Thursday, migrants will be screened in Colombia and Guatemala — and if found eligible — referred to programs like the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, parole programs, family reunification or existing labor pathways.
Migrants who do not apply through those legal pathways and cross the U.S.-Mexico border will be subject to swift deportation “in a matter of days” and barred from applying for asylum for five years, senior administration officials said.
Scalise called those “failed policies” — the policies have not yet gone into effect — and said the processing centers would just make matters worse.
He was critical of “this idea that you just create more opportunities for people to come here illegally and then look the other way.”
“That’s what created this new problem, is that they’re encouraging people to come into America legally knowing they don’t have valid asylum claims.”
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