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WASHINGTON — A sharply divided U.S. House passed a border security package Thursday that was heavily influenced by Texas Republicans who took the reins on their party’s border agenda this year.
Dubbed the Secure the Border Act, it was approved largely along party lines in a 219-213 vote that was taken on the same day Title 42, a pandemic-era public health order that allowed authorities to quickly expel migrants without letting them request asylum, was scheduled to expire.
House Republicans and Democrats, as well as the White House, have been concerned that the end of Title 42 would lead to a dramatic increase in migrants crossing the border with Mexico, overwhelming nearby communities.
“I cannot overstate how much of a challenge it is going to be and how we all have to deal with it as one administration and one country,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Thursday about the end of Title 42.
Democrats decried the Republican-written bill as a draconian package and a pointless exercise that had no chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate. House Democrats dubbed the bill the “Child Deportation Act” in official correspondence.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, stressed the need to rely on diplomacy to address root causes of migration in countries of origin, as well as reforming visa and immigration laws. Escobar hinted last week that she was working on another bipartisan border and immigration package that is still under wraps.
“The federal government has approached immigration as a border-only situation. We’ve seen that it doesn’t work,” Escobar said Wednesday. “We are not going to address what’s happening on our border in the way that Republicans are attempting to approach this, which is focused only on enforcement and shutting down every possible legal pathway.”
But House Republicans said they wanted to stop or limit border crossings before trying to tackle other issues.
The Secure the Border Act would resume construction of the border wall begun under President Donald Trump, limit asylum eligibility to ports of entry, require migrants to wait out asylum claims in Mexico, provide grants for law enforcement engaged in border security and add stiffer penalties for overstaying visas. It also would extend expulsion authority akin to Title 42.
Texans were responsible for key provisions in the bill.
House Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul, R-Austin, included language to push the administration to keep migrants in Mexico as they await their asylum claims as well as a provision exploring reimbursing border states for their initiatives on the border.
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, was one of the first members to introduce border legislation this year with a brief bill that would require the detention of asylum-seekers as they wait out their asylum claims. It would also allow the secretary of Homeland Security to shut down the border if there was not enough detention capacity for migrants. A version of Roy’s bill made it into the final package.
House Republicans have fought bitterly over the final contours of their border legislation — with Texans leading the charge in many of the debates. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, engaged in a monthslong public back and forth with Roy over his border proposals, saying they were too severe and unrealistic to get through the Senate.
The Secure the Border Act also initially included language from Gonzales that would designate drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations — a proposal that Roy has also floated. But U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, pushed back on the idea, fearing it could lead to more asylum claims being deemed legitimate. The argument was among a handful of sticking points that delayed votes on the bill, with Crenshaw’s camp ultimately prevailing.
“Washington politicians fight to water down my portion of the border security bill that labels cartels as TERRORIST — as gunfire breaks out along the Texas/Mexico border. Who’s side are they on?” Gonzales wrote on Twitter.
Though several Republicans had to accept provisions they didn’t want, only two GOP representatives voted against the bill — Thomas Massie of Kentucky and John Duarte of California.
“We pretty much got everything we wanted,” Roy said outside the House chamber, though he acknowledged “there’s one or two things I probably wouldn’t have put in there.”
No Democrats voted for the bill.
Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, voted against the bill despite previously calling for Title 42 to be extended. Gonzalez had cited concerns from small business and agriculture interests about earlier versions of the bill that required employers to use E-Verify, a web system that checks employees’ immigration status.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, called a border wall an “antiquated” solution.
“Rather than pushing partisan messaging bills, we need to work together to streamline legal immigration while bolstering border security,” Cuellar said.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, also had issues with the bill’s treatment of humanitarian parole for migrants from countries such as Afghanistan and Ukraine, saying it would drastically reduce the number of people eligible to remain in the United States.
“What we’ve seen time and time again is that cruel, restrictive policies like Title 42 and ‘remain in Mexico’ do not stop desperate people from fleeing persecution, oppression and violence,” Castro, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said during a House Rules Committee hearing. “This bill, sadly, is a way to get rid of a problem without solving it, and that’s the best that we could hope to accomplish by passing this piece of legislation.”
A bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Arizona, and including Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has been working with their House counterparts to develop a comprehensive border and immigration bill. Sinema and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, created a framework late last year that would pair border security provisions and the extension of Title 42 expulsion authority with new protections for migrants who arrived illegally as children.
Though Sinema and Cornyn acknowledged Thursday that the House-passed Secure the Border Act was unlikely to pass the Senate as is, they were excited to see any legislative movement and expressed optimism the bill could be reworked into something palatable for 60 senators.
“I’m sure there’ll be some demands for changes in what the House sends us. But that is just part of the process,” Cornyn said. “The narrow path forward is for the House to pass a border security bill and send it over to us, and then we can see what the art of the possible is.”
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