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Bipartisan Senate group releases text of Ukraine-immigration agreement

Bipartisan Senate group releases text of Ukraine-immigration agreement

The bipartisan group of Senators that have negotiated since late last year released the text of their legislation that would restrict immigration in exchange for aid to Ukraine and Israel on Sunday evening.

The group—comprised of Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, Independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut—released the text of the legislation on Sunday after months of back-and-forth. The bill’s total price tag is approximately $118bn.

President Joe Biden praised the bill on Sunday evening, calling it the “toughest and fairest” border reform legislation in “decades” and urged Congress to pass it.

“Now, House Republicans have to decide,” Mr Biden added. “Do they want to solve the problem? Or do they want to keep playing politics with the border? I’ve made my decision. I’m ready to solve the problem.”

Mr Murphy said the bill fixes “our broken asylum system” but “doesn’t deviate from our nation’s core values.”

“We are a nation that rescues people from terror and violence,” he said on X. “We are a nation that is stronger because of our tradition of immigration. Period. Stop.”

Immigration restrictions take centre stage in bipartisan bill

The senators introduced several provisions that further restrict immigration to the US.

The bipartisan bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to “shut down” the US-Mexico border when it records an average of 5,000 migrants crossing per day over seven days. The legislation also provides $650m to build and reinforce several miles of the border wall, Mr Lankford said in a statement.

Furthermore, it would also further curb the practice of “catch and release,” in which border officials release migrants into the US as they await their court dates.

“What we are doing is detaining folks upon their entrance to the country and then using a higher initial standard so that we can better determine who was an economic migrant and who may have a valid claim at asylum,” Ms Sinema told reporters Sunday night.

“If they can prove that they’re fleeing violence and persecution, they will be released into the country with a work permit, and they will also be under supervision for an additional 90 days until their final asylum determination occurs,” she continued.

A senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity late on Sunday said that the administration would anticipate that the president and Department of Homeland Security would trigger the authority immediately based on current trends of border encounters.

“Individuals who are encountered will not be generally eligible for asylum.” the official said. “Legislation will require a manifestation of fear standard and individuals who manifest a fear would be assessed for a past interview to determine whether they have a fear of persecution or torture, such that they cannot be removed.”

The bill also includes funding for the Department of Homeland Security to hire more personnel, which Ms Sinema said will “reduce the immigration asylum backlog” and help officials adjudicate asylum claims faster.

The bill also includes major provisions of the Afghan Adjustment Act. The bipartisan law that failed to pass last Congress would build a pathway to permanent residence for Afghans who helped US troops before Mr Biden pulled Americans out of Afghanistan in 2021.

Most Afghans who came to the US following the withdrawal arrived on humanitarian parole, wherein people who may be otherwise ineligible for admission into the United States are allowed to enter for humanitarian reasons. If passed, the bill would allow the Secretary of Homeland Security to grant conditional lawful permanent resident status to Afghan refugees following a vetting process.

These immigration policies come in exchange for aid to Ukraine and Israel, which both Mr Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer praised in Sunday evening statements. Numerous Republicans have expressed scepticism about supporting Ukraine and argued that migration to the southern border was a national security policy.

“[The bill] provides billions in vital investments in America’s national security to address growing threats in the Middle East and Red Sea, equips Ukraine to fight off Putin, helps Israel defend itself against forces that wish to wipe a Jewish state off the map while also providing humanitarian assistance to innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza, answers the call for humanitarian assistance around the world, and bolsters Taiwan and other allies in the Indo-Pacific region against China,” Mr Schumer said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, also praised Mr Lankford’s work on the bill while attacking the Biden administration.

“President Biden’s campaign promise to welcome illegal aliens at the border overwhelmed a broken asylum system that unified Republican government had tried desperately to fix in the face of Democrat obstruction,” Mr McConnell said in a statement.

GOP hardliners oppose the bill as Mr Trump’s presence looms

But several conservatives and immigration hawks voiced their opposition as soon as the bipartisan group released the text.

Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican senator and ally to Mr McConnell, came out in stark opposition to the bill.

“I will never vote to make illegal immigration legal, and I will not support this deal,” she wrote on X.

Meanwhile Congressman Eli Crane of Arizona, who has criticised the negotiations in the past, unsurprisingly opposed the bill.

“As expected, the Senate’s border bill is another spineless sellout by the establishment that does nothing to protect Americans and instead, legitimizes an invasion,” he said in a statement on X.

Many Republicans in the Senate opposed the agreement before negotiations ended. Last month, House Speaker Mike Johnson has previously said the agreement is “dead on arrival” in the lower chamber. Conservatives in the House have said the legislation is insufficient and they have pushed their own legislation, known as the Secure the Border Act.

Just days before Sunday night’s text came out, members of the GOP voted to advance articles of impeachment against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The articles, which will likely land on the House floor in coming days, accuse Mr Mayorkas of “willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law” by allowing the release of migrants awaiting legal proceedings and a breach of “public trust” when he told lawmakers the US-Mexico border was secure.

Former president and presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump has shown that he is willing to accept blame for the legislation’s demise. Last month, in the middle of the negotiations, Mr Trump posted on Truth Social that Republicans should oppose any agreement “unless we get EVERYTHING needed” to secure the US-Mexico border.

Last week, Mr Trump also told supporters in Las Vegas he wanted lawmakers to ‘blame’ him if the bipartisan bill fails.

“I’ll fight it all the way,” Mr Trump said. “A lot of the senators are trying to say — respectfully, they’re blaming it on me. I say, that’s OK. Please blame it on me. Please.”

Mr McConnell raised alarms for many Republicans who want to curb the flow of migrants when during a Senate luncheon he seemed to indicate that Mr Trump would want to run on criticising Mr Biden on immigration.

“I listened to what he had to say. He said the campaign politics have changed and that the former president’s campaign would prefer not having a border deal,” Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, a supporter of Ukraine and additional restrictions on immigration, told The Independent at the time.

Senator JD Vance of Ohio, a staunch ally to Mr Trump, declared the bill an “atrocious proposal.”

Congressman Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida and supporter of Mr Trump, railed against the bill on X.

“The Senate Amnesty Bill literally would force President Trump to let in illegals well into his term,” he said. “Any Republican who votes for this is no better than a Democrat!”

Ms Sinema literally laughed off accusations that the legislation could be an “amnesty,” which would mean giving a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, when asked about it during a call with reporters.

“Let me be very clear, individuals should not be coming into our country between ports of entry,” she said. “That is an unlawful form of entry into our country.”

In addition, Senator Alex Padilla, a Democrat from California, criticised the legislation late Sunday evening, saying the legislation “misses the mark.”

“It is critical that we support our allies in their fight to defend democracy and provide humanitarian relief, but not at the expense of dismantling our asylum system while ultimately failing to alleviate the challenges at our border,” Mr Padilla, who represents a border state, said on X.

Republicans control only 219 seats in the House, meaning the legislation would require a majority of Democrats to pass. Mr Johnson has faced criticism from many in his conference, with Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene threatening to file a motion to vacate should there be a vote to pass aid to Ukraine. The bill would also require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and pass the Senate.