Landmark Senate Deal Unveiled: Border Security Reforms Tied to $118 Billion Aid Package for Ukraine and Israel

On Sunday, the United States Senate released the long-awaited text of a deal, concluding negotiations that commenced in December, aiming to implement border security reforms in exchange for providing aid to Ukraine.

The 370-page bill, titled the Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2024, allocates a total of $118 billion, with $48 billion designated for aiding Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, and nearly $16 billion for supporting Israel in its conflict with Hamas until December 31. Additionally, the funds will contribute to border security reforms, which encompass hiring new immigration judges to expedite asylum and deportation proceedings, along with supporting law enforcement operations to detain and remove foreign nationals present illegally in the United States. Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, the chief GOP negotiator, emphasized that the border security bill provides resources to enhance border technology, construct a physical barrier, increase detention capacity, and facilitate faster deportation processes. It also addresses the abuse of parole on the southwest border and modifies asylum laws to conduct quicker screenings with a higher evidence standard, limited appeals, and expedited deportations.

Title IV of the bill introduces a critical provision, establishing emergency authority to promptly expel foreign nationals entering the U.S. unlawfully, bypassing the standard removal proceedings outlined in Title 8. This emergency authority comes into effect when the weekly average of such entrants surpasses 5,000 individuals per day and remains in force until the two-week average drops to 3,750 persons per day.

This provision has proved to be controversial among Republicans, who responded to its disclosure ahead of the bill’s release and have argued that it will not meaningfully reduce illegal immigration. The bill imposes caps on the number of days in a calendar year that the emergency authority may be exercised.

“I never believed we should link policy demands to emergency aid for our allies, but Republicans insisted—so Democrats negotiated in good faith over many weeks and now there is a bipartisan deal on border policy legislation,” wrote Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray, who released the bill’s text. “Ukraine’s fate and so much more hangs in the balance—it’s time for Congress to act.” The bill would appropriate $723 million to hire more U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and U.S. Border Patrol agents, who provide front-line border security and law enforcement, as well as $534.68 million to hire more U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents, who are responsible for arresting and removing illegally present foreign nationals. The bill would also invest nearly $4 billion into U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which adjudicates all asylum claims and would support the hiring of 4,338 asylum officers to process these claims.

Asylum officers, furthermore, would be granted new authority to provisionally adjudicate claims for asylum at the border, as opposed to the current practice, where an applicant is released into the country and given a notice to appear later, sometimes years after arriving. USCIS asylum officers would be empowered to conduct interviews at the border to initially determine whether someone is eligible for asylum, according to a new and stricter standard, with those deemed ineligible being placed in removal proceedings.

“Migrants are approaching the border and being processed and released into the country, sometimes with a piece of paper called a ‘notice to appear’ where they may see a judge in five, seven, ten years. No one knows. Our law changes that and ends the practice of catch-and-release,” independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona told CBS Face the Nation on Sunday, ahead of the bill’s release. “So, when people approach the border and say they want to enter our country to seek asylum…we actually do an interview right then and there, to determine whether they meet the standard for asylum.” “For those who do not meet that standard…they will be swiftly returned to their home country,” Sinema said.

Apart from reforms to combat illegal immigration, the bill contains several measures to reform legal immigration, which has been demanded by both Republican and Democratic senators, alike. The bill would authorize 250,000 new immigrant visas for lawful permanent residency (known more commonly as “green cards”) to relieve long backlogs currently faced by many foreign national applicants living legally in the country.

In a major concession to the children of such persons, known as “Documented Dreamers,” who normally “age out” of their parents’ status after residing in the country for most of their lives, the bill allows them to temporarily remain in the United States if they have resided in the country for eight years before turning 21, pending the grant of permanent residency. The bill would, furthermore, grant immediate authorization to foreign fiancées and spouses of U.S. citizens to work in the country, as well as grant permanent residency to certain Afghan refugees who evacuated Kabul in 2021 and are presently in the country. Numerous high-ranking politicians shared their opinions on the deal shortly after it was released.

“I have no doubt that the Senate can, once again, rise to the occasion and lead America forward,” wrote Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Twitter, now known as X. He added that the bill was a “monumental step towards strengthening America’s national abroad and along our borders.”

“The Senate must carefully consider the opportunity in front of us and prepare to act,” wrote Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a statement. He indicated that the bill would “equip future leaders with a system that works and new emergency tools to restore order.”

Others, however, disagreed with the bill. “This is asinine,” wrote Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah on Twitter, noting that much of the bill’s authority would be “left to the discretionary whims of Secretary Mayorkas—who, I might add, is currently being impeached for failing to actually enforce existing law.”

“We’ve reached an agreement on a bipartisan deal that includes the toughest and fairest set of border reforms in decades,” wrote President Joe Biden shortly after the bill’s release, indicating that he would sign it into law. “I urge Congress to pass this bill immediately.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *