House Approves Stringent G.O.P. Border Bill, Attacking Biden on Immigration
House Republicans pushed through a sweeping border security bill on Thursday that would crack down on unlawful immigration, blowing past solid Democratic opposition and narrowly avoiding an embarrassing mutiny within their own ranks on one of their signature midterm campaign promises.
Republicans timed approval of the measure, which has no chance in the Democratic-led Senate, to spotlight their hard-line stance on immigration just as President Biden is facing a potential border surge with Thursday night’s expiration of Title 42, the pandemic-era rule allowing for swift expulsion of migrants.
The bill would revive and codify a variety of border policies championed during the Trump administration, including construction of a border wall, the “Remain in Mexico” practice of keeping migrants seeking asylum either in detention facilities or on the opposite side of the border and expedited deportation of unaccompanied children. It also would mandate that companies verify their employees are legally eligible to work in the United States through a program known as E-Verify, and criminalize visa overstays of more than 10 days.
The 219-213 vote to pass the bill came only after months of internal Republican feuding capped by a final, marathon round of haggling this week that highlighted the party’s tenuous hold on its fractious majority and led to a series of last-minute changes to win over holdouts. Two Republicans, Representatives Thomas Massie of Kentucky and John Duarte of California, joined Democrats in opposing the legislation, citing objections to the E-Verify requirement.
The Republican divisions had threatened to muddle a debate the party had timed for maximum political advantage, in which G.O.P. lawmakers denounced the Biden administration for rising waves of migration that are expected to surge further after Title 42 expires.
“Everyone knows we are days away from disaster,” Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on the House floor on Wednesday, mere hours after brokering a deal to keep his conference from splintering. Summing up Mr. Biden’s record as “record crossings, record carelessness, record chaos,” he boasted that Republicans had written “the strongest border security bill to come through Congress in more than 100 years.”
President Biden has threatened to veto the legislation.
“This bill has no chance of being enacted into law, and it is nothing more than pure political theater,” Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said on the floor Thursday, charging that the legislation was a “contradictory and overlapping mess” that would “wreck our economy” and “destroy the asylum system.”
Democrats warned that the bill would empower cartels by banning migrants from using a phone app to schedule immigration interviews at ports of entry, and fuel unprecedented levels of chaos at the border because of provisions punishing many nongovernmental organizations offering assistance to migrants by cutting their access to Department of Homeland Security funding.
Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said on the House floor Wednesday that the bill was “cruel, inhumane and unworkable,” adding that it had been “written in an extreme MAGA Republican echo chamber.”
But some mainstream Republicans who had opposed earlier versions of the measure argued that it had redeeming elements that could form the basis of a bipartisan compromise in the future.
“There’s enough bones in this package for when it goes over to the Senate. The Senate can pick it up and be able to craft something,” said Representative Tony Gonzales, a Republican from Texas. “For me, it never ended with 218 votes in the House. It was always about passing something into law.”
Mr. Gonzales was one of the first and loudest members of his party to condemn early versions of the bill, demanding changes to provisions that would have effectively shut down the asylum system once detention centers filled up. Republican leaders, realizing that Mr. Gonzales was poised to lead a devastating set of defections that would be enough to kill their bill, responded by watering down the language to be slightly less restrictive. He has since become a vocal booster.
“I won,” Mr. Gonzales declared proudly this week. “When you win, you vote yes.”
But other factions in the party threatened to withhold their support this week, forcing leaders to freeze floor proceedings on Wednesday as they tried to twist arms and placate holdouts.
A group of ultraconservative members objected to language they argued would undermine the party’s efforts to restrict asylum claims, while some more mainstream Republicans objected to the legislation’s work eligibility requirements, arguing they would decimate the farm industry.
Though Mr. McCarthy emerged with a razor-thin victory, it illustrated the difficulties he continues to face keeping his unruly conference together.
Representative Daniel Crenshaw, Republican of Texas, whipped members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus into a late-breaking frenzy over a provision of the bill directing the administration to study whether Mexican drug cartels should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.
The change, he argued, would give more asylum seekers grounds to seek protection in the United States.
Republican leaders agreed on Wednesday to strip the provision and replace it with language directing Congress to commission a report on the subject. In the meantime, the House is also expected to set up a task force to study the issue in which Mr. Crenshaw is expected to play a leading role.
G.O.P. lawmakers who raised concerns about the impact of the bill’s work eligibility requirements on the agricultural industry, which relies heavily on undocumented migrant labor, exacted smaller concessions. Republican leaders added a nonbinding “sense of Congress” resolution saying that adverse effects on the agricultural work force and food security would be taken into consideration before the mandate is finalized.
Representative Dan Newhouse, a Washington Republican who led the push to ease up on the farming industry, said the changes were enough to bring “most all” of the members who shared his concerns aboard.
Some senators said they held out hope that the bill’s passage could help propel the Senate to accelerate efforts on a broader, more comprehensive immigration bill.
“I’m less concerned about the elements of the House Republican bill and more concerned that they get a bill over to us,” Senator Kyrsten Sinema, independent of Arizona, told reporters on Thursday.
Ms. Sinema, who along with Senator Thom Tillis, Republican from North Carolina, has been working to cobble together legislation to address both border security and legal immigration, argued that the House’s action could help the Senate “work in a bipartisan, bicameral way to shape a final package.”
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