Last week some Senators released a bipartisan agreement called the border deal. As soon as the draft of the bill was released, few republican Senators swore that they won't allow this bill to pass. The bill was being negotiated by Senator Lankford (R-OK) with full blessings of Senate majority leader Senator McConnell (R-KY).
The bill was criticized by many for being too focused on enforcement, overly harsh, and difficult to implement. No one regarded the bill as pro-immigrant in any way. In fact, it seemed that the GOP Senators negotiating the deal had done an excellent job of pushing the Democratic party to backtrack on many key issues. Overall, the criticism of the bill indicated that Biden was likely making significant compromises in favour of the GOP.
The salient points of the bills were-
- The threshold for claiming asylum was raised significantly, and USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) was assigned to process asylum claims instead of immigration courts, which are overwhelmed with a backlog of over 3 million cases.
- If the number of illegal border crossings exceeds 5,000 per day for several days, it automatically triggers a full border closure, where everyone is immediately expelled.
To give a perspective of how good this bill was in terms of achieving what GOP wanted to achieve, the Border Patrol Union supported this bill describing in detail why this bill is a great improvement over the current situation.
Fwd.us a pro-immigration think tank supported by the likes of Mark Zukerberg, opposed the bill calling it too enforcement-focused and something that waters down the USA's key asylum law.
GOP's confusion over the bill
The bill was essentially everything the Republican party could ask for and much more than what they could accomplish independently.
Donald Trump ordered GOP to oppose the bill
It is said that Donald Trump was greatly upset with the bill and its potential for passing. Any immigration bill would be seen as Biden's ability to reach across the aisle and make a deal, which would reflect positively on him. Additionally, if the bill does help bring the border situation under control, it would further diminish Donald Trump's appeal as an anti-immigrant candidate.
GOP benefits from border chaos
As soon as the draft of the bill was released several Senators like Mike Lee (R-Utah) immediately went on a rant and, a fundraiser to oppose the bill. Others followed the suite. Claiming that there is chaos on the border helps Republicans raise funds, especially from non-border states. It helps them appear as the saviours of the country, the people who will stop this chaos.
This means the GOP actually has incentives to scuttle any possibility of fixing the border. That is what is at play right now.
GOP's claim that no legislation is needed
Another bizarre claim that the GOP started making after the draft was released was that no legislation was needed to stop the border chaos. This was a 180-degree change from their position because the very reason such a deal was brokered was because the GOP wanted to tie Ukraine and Israel funding to some kind of border deal. But when the border deal appeared they claimed it was not needed.
The reality of border chaos
The United States is one of the largest countries in the world with one of the lowest population densities. It is estimated that there are around 9 million job vacancies in the United States today and the country is facing its lowest growth rates in entire history. The strong job market in the USA is pulling in all the migrant labour. Couple with the growing population of retirees and this country can take in a lot more immigrants than ever.
Most immigrants arrive at the southern border of the USA, cross it, and then surrender to the nearest Border Patrol agent they can find. The current law requires the border patrol agent to detain these individuals, process their asylum claims, and then, if the claim is found to be insufficient, deport them. However, in reality, this is a lengthy process, and detaining people is costly. As a result, the border patrol often releases them, asking them to appear before a judge at a later date. Most of them vanish into the country. The asylum law enables all this.
GOP wants to basically cancel the asylum law entirely so no person crossing the southern border can be immediately thrown back into Mexico.
While this idea appears good on paper it has multiple problems. Donald Trump actually could try this out using "Title 42". A rare power that enables the US President to expel any immigrant back due to a health emergency.
This policy turned out to be a complete disaster. Migrants would cross the border and when they realized they would be expelled, they would try to run away from border patrol. This led to deadly chases, riskier border crossing and ended up in more chaos and death. Not to mention folks who were expelled would enter back the next day at some other point along the border.
The second problem with ending asylum law is that expelling people back is much harder and requires cooperation from Mexico. Under Trump, Mexico agreed to take back only Mexican and the Triangle nation citizens to be expelled back into Mexico. Everyone else had to be flown back to their country. This is very expensive.
GOP's solutions favour more restrictions which leads to even more chaos
While GOP has not proposed any major bills and has only talked in abstract terms like "close the border", they favour more and more restrictions which only makes enforcement even harder, more prone to legal scrutiny by courts and confusion for migrants.
Other solutions such as actually simplifying legal immigration, giving opportunities for people to work in the USA etc. have found no takers in the GOP.
H2 is a seasonal worker visa typically used by farmers to bring in farm help and has been extremely popular with Mexican nationals who come to the USA, work hard, make money and then go back to Mexico. This program alone has significantly reduced illegal immigration from Mexico.
Expanding legal immigration is the only way to control the border
Expanding legal immigration is the only way to effectively control the border. Allowing impoverished individuals from South America to properly apply for and enter the country for work would significantly reduce illegal border crossings and help border patrol concentrate on their primary responsibility of apprehending criminals and drug traffickers.
However, the GOP's stance is driven less by policy and more by their focus on nativist voters who are galvanized by Trump. As a result, border chaos is likely to remain a feature of the system for the foreseeable future.
Image source: The Boston Globe