The Dallas Morning News
Opinion by Carl P. Leubsdorf
A day after President Joe Biden’s much-publicized, long-delayed visit to the U.S.-Mexican border, a bipartisan Senate group made a less publicized visit that could ultimately have a greater impact on easing the toxic immigration problem.
The group, headed by Texas Republican John Cornyn and Arizona Independent Kyrsten Sinema, included several lawmakers who helped to pass last year’s bipartisan legislative successes like the infrastructure, CHIPS and gun safety bills.
Their approach provided a welcome contrast with the politics surrounding Biden’s announcement last week of new border measures and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s denunciation of Sunday’s visit as a “stage-managed” photo op.
Despite persistent political barriers, Cornyn expressed some optimism that a bipartisan deal on the long-stalled issue was possible. But any effort needs to overcome the new House Republican majority’s focus on investigating Biden’s border policies and strengthening security, rather than seeking a broader solution.
“Most of the time when you come to the border, it’s kind of shirts vs. skins,” Cornyn told Punchbowl News’ Andrew Desiderio, who accompanied the group. “It’s all Republicans and everybody’s sort of egging each other on but not actually trying to fix the problem.”
He said he was encouraged the group included Sinema and Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, who “have a history of doing bipartisan things and solving problems. So, I think that’s a great place to start.”
Actually, the starting point for any renewed legislative effort is last year’s proposal by Sinema and North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis. Similar to prior bipartisan measures, it combined enhanced border security measures with a path to citizenship for the Dreamers brought to this country as children.
That is clearly the formula for getting something done legislatively that could at least ease a problem that has bedeviled administrations of both parties. Strong feelings on both sides have killed all recent efforts.
In 2018, former President Donald Trump discussed a package providing additional protection for the Dreamers and funding for his controversial border wall at a White House meeting with senators from both parties. But Trump’s hard-line advisers persuaded him to reject the plan.
And in 2013, the Senate actually passed a bipartisan bill to add up to 40,000 Border Patrol agents, revise the visa system to encourage entry of skilled workers and provide a path to legal status and ultimately citizenship for many of the 11 million unauthorized workers in the United States.
At the time, many analysts thought some form of that measure could also command a bipartisan House majority. But Republican Speaker John Boehner, heeding the views of GOP hardliners, invoked his party’s policy of only considering measures with support from a majority of Republicans.
That could be a barrier again in the new Republican-controlled House. Speaker Kevin McCarthy said last June that any measure offering “amnesty” to those here without authorization “is a nonstarter. It won’t be taken up by a House Republican majority.”
The new House will consider several enforcement measures under the rules package it approved Monday, Forbes reported. They include bills to “authorize the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend the entry of aliens” and require the FBI to alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement and state and local enforcement officials whenever anyone here without authorization tries to buy a firearm.
According to Sinema, the bipartisan group hopes to broaden a House-passed border security bill into a more comprehensive measure that could get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. That might depend on whether it secures support from GOP leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, who was crucial in last year’s enactment of bipartisan bills.
While that’s theoretically possible, it won’t solve the problem of potential House rejection of — or even debate on — a comprehensive bill, despite the GOP majority’s avowed new goal of allowing more open debates.
Meanwhile, Biden’s latest effort to deal with the thousands of asylum-seekers who have been overwhelming border crossing points has drawn a mixed reaction, underscoring the difficulty of finding compromise solutions to the complex problem.
His plan will admit up to 30,000 monthly from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela if they apply from their home countries and have financial supporters in the United States. It will also use so-called Title 42, the Trump administration’s COVID-era measure to block potential entrants on health grounds, to return up to 30,000 asylum-seekers to Mexico.
Migrants seeking asylum on humanitarian grounds will need to submit proof of an eligible sponsor and pass background checks before being allowed to travel elsewhere in the United States. And Biden will provide additional resources to stressed border agencies.
Immigrant rights groups condemned the continued enforcement of Title 42, pending a ruling on its legality expected this spring from the U.S. Supreme Court, while Republicans condemned Biden’s moves as too little too late.
Abbott, who has stationed National Guard troops and Department of Public Safety officers on the border and taken other measures to block migrants, presented Biden in El Paso Sunday with a letter declaring that “chaos” there “is the direct result of your failure to enforce the immigration laws that Congress enacted.” He demanded the president end “the practice of unlawfully paroling aliens en masse,” “aggressively prosecute illegal entry between ports of entry” and resume construction of Trump’s wall.
Efforts to pass bipartisan immigration legislation have failed for more than 30 years. But the situation on the Southern border demands that compromise-minded lawmakers like Cornyn and Sinema keep trying.