In a bid to tackle the anticipated surge of border crossings, a bipartisan group of senators is diligently working towards orchestrating a two-year extension of an expiring pandemic-era expulsion authority. This authority enables officials to swiftly deport migrants from the United States. However, the measure faces an uphill battle in the closely divided Senate, highlighting the deep-rooted partisan gridlock that has immobilized Congress when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform. The urgency behind this extension proposal reflects the desperation of certain members to take any necessary steps to prevent the border situation from deteriorating further.
Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who recently switched her party affiliation from Democrat to independent, and Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, have been central figures in the ongoing efforts to forge a comprehensive and bipartisan immigration overhaul. The expiration of the pandemic-era policy, known as Title 42, which encompasses the expedited expulsion authority, has been a strategic element of their approach. They hoped that this impending deadline would serve as a catalyst for congressional action on immigration. In the previous year, the duo attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to rally support for combining the extension with enhanced border security measures and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants brought to the United States as children.
This year, senators have struggled to reach a compromise, and with only a week remaining before the expiration of Title 42, experts predict a significant surge in border crossings. As a result, they are opting for a streamlined approach. According to a report by Politico, the proposed legislation would extend the mandate for two years, requiring officials to promptly return migrants to Mexico or their country of origin. However, the extension includes an additional exemption for asylum claims, allowing individuals to avoid expulsion if they can demonstrate credible threats of torture, or to their life or freedom upon return. This exemption would also encompass all individuals, including unaccompanied minors, who have previously been considered exempt under Title 42.
Senators from both parties voiced opposition to the plan on Thursday, arguing that it lacked the necessary support to advance. Senator James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, who has been collaborating with Senators Sinema and Tillis on a comprehensive immigration overhaul, criticized the proposed fix, stating that the asylum exemption rendered it ineffective in solving the problem. Senator Christopher S. Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, who has also been involved in immigration legislation discussions, revealed that he had not endorsed their latest bare-bones proposal. He expressed concerns about the overwhelming nature of the impending situation and acknowledged the scramble to find solutions to assist the administration.
In an attempt to buy time for the Biden administration to implement a feasible alternative to Title 42, Ms. Sinema and Mr. Tillis presented the legislation with the support of Senators John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, and Joe Manchin III, a Democrat from West Virginia. Ms. Sinema criticized the administration for failing to plan ahead and implement a realistic and workable strategy. Despite the expiration of Title 42, the administration still possesses other authorities to expel migrants. Furthermore, it is exploring new policies involving regional processing centers and eligibility rules for asylum seekers, which would require them to seek humanitarian protection outside the United States.
On Wednesday, a group of Republicans led by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina appealed to President Biden, urging him not to curtail his expulsion authority as planned. They emphasized the deterrent effect of Title 42 and expressed concerns about the potential exacerbation of the border situation in its absence. Meanwhile, Senators Murphy and Lankford sent a letter to Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, urging him to expedite court orders for migrants in custody, aiming to tackle the mounting case backlog before it becomes unmanageable.
The calls come as Republicans are preparing next week to push through a sweeping bill to revive and codify Trump-era border initiatives to keep migrants in detention or outside the United States, policies they argue will help reduce inflows. The legislation is timed to pass just before Title 42 expires. But none of the measures can draw bipartisan support. The House bill is a dead letter in the Senate, where the Democratic majority wants to see border enforcement measures paired with initiatives to expand and streamline avenues to legal immigration. The notion of extending Title 42 on its own is equally anathema to Democrats. Last December, they banded together to reject a proposal from Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, that would have forbid the administration from ending the expulsion authority.