After months of protracted negotiations, the Senate has finally unveiled a bipartisan border deal that the GOP had tied to Democrats’ other legislative priorities, including needed funding for Ukraine. Speaker Mike Johnson immediately announced its status in the House: dead on arrival.
The MAGA PR machine went into full churn, calling the deal’s provisions some kind of soft-on-unauthorized-immigration bleeding-heart-fest, a laughable premise for anyone who bothered to actually skim the bill itself. Among other things, it would formalize the use of a Title 42-like policy when the 7-day average of border encounters — which, contrary to a lot of reporting, include people showing up at legal ports of entry, not just crossing illegally — reached 5,000.
The bill would also surge resources to ICE and the Border Patrol and raise the standard to clear the initial step in an asylum application.
That the GOP is now slamming this deal, chock full as it is of policies that they have professed to want while offering precious little of Democratic priorities — unlike most other immigration compromises in recent memory, this one does not provide a new path to citizenship for anyone — puts the lie to the idea that they want legislation at all. They want an exploitable political tool to use in electoral campaigns, including that of Donald Trump.
This also proves rather conclusively that there really is no measure of border restriction and security that the Republicans will be satisfied with, and no lengths Democrats can go to appease them. It’s unfortunate that this lesson had to be relearned after Barack Obama spent his first term trying to deport his way to GOP compromise only to be called an open-borders America-hater.
Regardless of the bill’s significant shortcomings, at least it was an attempt to do something, anything on immigration after decades of stonewalling and stagnation. Tuesday was the birthday of Ronald Reagan, the last man to sign bipartisan immigration reform.
Mixed with the bad are some positive elements, including efforts to provide counsel for more asylum seekers — who now often go completely unrepresented — give them immediate work authorization and hire more staff for the overwhelmed immigration courts.
The bill also has urgently needed aid for Ukraine and Israel, both invaded and caught in war. These are priorities that the Democrats should now simply indicate that they are planning on moving forward on without the assent of the crazies, joining a handful of moderate Republicans.
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries should prepare discharge petitions on the border provisions and the foreign aid. There’s no reason to fear alienating a House Republican leadership that both seems disinterested in negotiations and practically unable to act on legislation anyway.
As an electoral strategy, the GOP game should backfire. When Republicans are out campaigning on the claim that Democrats refuse to act on immigration and the border, the latter should be able to quite simply point to the half-year of careful back-and-forth that Johnson and his cadre decided to toss into the garbage at Trump’s behest.
They are unserious about acting even on an issue that they’ve claimed to be their primary and urgent legislative focus, let alone anything else. Neither their colleagues nor voters should take them seriously.