Grijlalva & Ciscomani pledge to vote against Senate border bill

U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Juan Ciscomani both said they would vote against the Senate’s border bill, but for different reasons — underscoring the hard road ahead for the first major overhall the U.S. immigration system in 40 years.

For months, U.S. Sen. Krysten Sinema—a  former Arizona Democrat turned independent—worked with Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma and Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, to negotiate a new immigration bill with the White House. Last year, President Joe Biden sought $105 billion from Congress,
including support for Ukraine and Israel, however that funding has been
held up over continued negotiations over the border.

On Sunday evening, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer released
the 400-page bill, which includes military aid for Ukraine and Israel,
as well as the long-awaited border measures. Biden pushed Congress to pass the $118.28 billion bipartisan bill.

“Working with my administration, the United States Senate has done the hard work it takes to reach a bipartisan agreement,” he said in a statement released by the White House. “Now, House Republicans have to decide. Do they want to solve the problem? Or do they want to keep playing politics with the border?”

However, both Grijalva and Ciscomani both panned the bill.

“Our border is in complete chaos, and the Tucson Sector is the most impacted in the entire country right now,” said Ciscomani in a statement. “I have major concerns and cannot support this package in its current form,” he said. “We need a much tougher approach to stop this crisis. In order to vote on an issue of this consequence, I need to know that it’s going to prioritize border communities like mine, and this bill falls short of doing so.”

Grijalva said the Senate “missed an opportunity to create thoughtful and lasting immigration reform and to confront and humanely manage our humanitarian crisis at the border. Instead, the bill doubles down on punitive measures that read like an extreme Republican wish list filled with failed Trump-era immigration policies.”

“The bill lacks any legal pathways to deal with the status of Dreamers, farm workers, or undocumented individuals who have been vital members of our communities for decades. I’m disappointed that time has been wasted on what could have been a productive attempt to create real immigration reform,” Grijalva said in a statement. “While the Senate legislation includes additional resources for personnel, border communities, and minor visa fixes, it does nothing to address the root issues of migration. We desperately need real immigration reform that includes long-term realistic and humane solutions that guarantee safe and orderly entry to this nation. The legislation fails to meet the moment.”

Grijalva also criticized GOP leadership, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, for declaring the bill “dead on arrival.” He said the refusal to consider the Senate’s proposal proves Republicans “want to use immigration as a political campaign wedge in the 2024 election.” 

“Republicans have no interest in solving the humanitarian crisis at the border and the fact that the Republicans in the House will not allow the bill to be debated and voted upon is cynical and cruel,” Grijalva said. “For the Democrats in the House to be denied the opportunity to represent their constituencies on this national issue, is a disrespect to our democracy and the role as their representatives. As the crisis on the border increases, House Republicans will bear the responsibility for that crisis. While doing nothing is not an option, this Senate bill has a long way to go before I would lend my support.”

‘A game of luck and chance’

“As
an organization that assists and accompanies people fleeing violence
and persecution and desperately seeking protection in the U.S., we are
concerned that the restrictive proposals will cause further harm and
create chaos at the border,” said Joanna Williams, executive director of
the Kino Border Initiative.

Based in Nogales, Sonora the Kino Border Initiative is a binational organization that aids the recently deported, as well as people waiting to seek asylum. In recent years, the group has helped support migrant families by accompanying them to their appointments at the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in downtown Nogales.

“Under the current bill, access to
safety will become a game of chance and luck, which is inhumane and
unfair and contradicts the values by which this great nation stands. The
Senators don’t have a practical, on the ground understanding of these
issues and do not seem to realize that further tightening access to
asylum at the border only benefits organized crime, who exploit the lack
of legal pathways for their benefit and who profit from people’s
desperation and need,” Williams said.

“As such, we oppose the current proposal unless it is significantly revised to be realigned with humanity and common sense,” she said.

‘Reform critical to meet this moment’

On Monday morning, advocates from the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Immigration Council, and FWD.us argued in favor of the bipartisan bill.

Ben Johnson, the executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, called the Senate’s bill a beginning and called the current situation on the U.S.-Mexico border “untenable.”

“The funding and infrastructure is just
inadequate to meet the challenges that we face,” he said, adding that legislative reform
“is critical to meeting this moment.”

“The only chance for legislative reform is a bipartisan proposal,” Johnson said. “So the refusal of House leadership to engage in any kind of bipartisan
efforts is to use their terms a dereliction of duty. It is unacceptable
for the House of Representatives to ignore their constitutional mandate
to oversee immigration.”

Johnson argued the Senate’s bill be the “beginning” of a process to get reform along the border.

“But to get there, end of the day, we’re going to need a lot less
dangerous and quite frankly, inaccurate language from politicians around
this issue and around this particular proposal,” he said. He criticized President Biden for “calling for a shutdown of the border.” 

“That’s not what we need. And that is not what this bill would allow,” he said. 

“Equally, Speaker Johnson and the Freedom Caucus are wrong to say that
this proposal would allow 5,000 undocumented immigrants
coming into the United States every day,” he said. “And, they are completely
irresponsible and out of touch in their expectation that immigration
reform can only happen with zero border crossings. That kind of
political posturing is not what we need in this moment.”

Jeremy Robbins, the executive director of AILA, called the bill a “bipartisan step forward,” and said while the bill has solutions, they “often miss the mark as much as they hit it.” 

Robbins noted the bill accelerates the timeline for decisions on asylum requests, guarantees legal representation for migrant children under 13 years-old, and adds more funding for alternatives-to-detention programs managed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He also noted U.S. Customs and Border Protection will be required to set asylum appointments for 1,400 people per day under the agency’s CBPOne program.

The bill also sends $4 billion to fund 4,000 asylum officers, and adds $20 billion in funding for CBP to handle more migrants coming to U.S. border crossings. Robbins said these measures “fall short” of the need, but helps push people to the nation’s ports of entry. “If the goal is to get people to make their asylum claim at a point of entry, we need to have a point of entry where that is functional.”

The bill would also shift asylum requests away from the nation’s immigration judges, who are managed by the Justice Department, to asylum officers operating under the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service under the Department of Homeland Security. Appeals to decisions would be handled by a board of asylum officers. 

Robbins added the bill also adds 50,000 visas for families and employment over the next five years.

Andrea Flores, the vice president for immigration policy and campaigns at FWD.US and a former White House official said it was important to both preserve and reform the asylum system.

She said since 2014, the majority of people coming to the U.S. “may not meet the high legal standard to receive asylum, but it has taken 10 years for Congress to take that seriously enough to start asking the difficult question of how do we process both asylum seekers and people who are coming for different reasons.”

“But a critical failure of this approach actually reflects the last 10 years and why border policy has not righted the ship and improved conditions at the border,” she said. She said the U.S. immigration policy shouldn’t force migrants to travel across the western hemisphere to seek asylum.

The current system in part requires families to use a smuggler to come to the border, an “archaic system”  that should be reformed, and the bill is missing provisions that could help. “

“But we should also not expect most families to have to use a smuggling network to seek asylum. Instead, we should be providing new pathways that are for people who want to work here. People who want to reunite with family and people who may have protection needs that don’t actually meet the level of an asylum protection.” 

As part of the bill’s provisions, Homeland Security would be granted the ability to quickly expel people from the U.S. if the daily average number of migrants arriving reaches a 4,000 a week. If encounters—or the number of times CBP officials take people into custody—exceeds 8,500 in a single day, DHS officials would be required to close the border to all migrants who don’t have an appointment under CBP One.

The plan would rely on the part of immigration law that allowed the White House to quickly expel people under Title 42—a public health order created by the Trump administration during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic that continued until last spring.

DHS would not be allowed to expel unaccompanied children, nor those facing medical emergencies. The plan would also allow people to come into the U.S. if they face “an extreme and imminent threat to their life or safety” and well as those who are the victims of human trafficking.

Robbins questioned this provision, calling it a “blunt instrument” that would include people with valid asylum claims. He also noted DHS would be unlikely to tell people when the border was “closed” to migrants to avoid “tipping off the cartels.”

“If you’re a migrant, how are you going to be deterred by that? So I think things like that are a huge problem,” Robbins said.

Greg Chen, the senior director for government relations at AILA, said the trigger to “close” the border to migrants would likely happen immediately if the bill was passed, and in the long-term, he said the provision would likely “foster more crime and violence at the border rather than border security because asylum seekers are still going to come to the border, and they’ll wait.”

Chen said migrants will likely establish camps like they did during the Trump administration’s implementations of the “Remain in Mexico” policy and during Title 42. “And unfortunately, as we saw back then, these encampments will be unsafe and unsanitary and cartels will likely prey upon these individuals. So, we’ll have an increase of crime and violence due to them.” 

“It’s also not clear that it’s going to be an effective deterrent,” Chen said.

“It is critical that there is bipartisan agreement and that there is not a new restriction on the president’s parole pathways,” Flores said, adding the bill’s provisions are  “an important recognition” from Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Lankford that “these parole pathways are the future. And that they’ve redirected migration away from the asylum system.”

‘Better than the status quo’

Sinema’s office also noted the National Border Patrol Council—the union that represents many Border Patrol agents—endorsed the bill.

Brandon Judd, the president of the NBPC and a strident critic of the Biden administration said the Senate’s proposed bill would give Border Patrol agents “authorities codified, in law, that we have not had in the past.”

“This will allow us to remove single adults expeditiously and without a
lengthy judicial review which historically has required the release of
these individuals into the interior of the United States,” he said. “This alone
will drop illegal border crossings nationwide and will allow our agents
to get back to detecting and apprehending those who want to cross our
borders illegally and evade apprehension.” 

“While not perfect, the Border
Act of 2024 is a step in the right direction and is far better than the
current status quo,” Judd said.