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The Recent Failure of the Immigration Bill (an Op-Ed)

Jack McCurry, Grade 11, Staff Writer


On February 5, 2024, the Senate released the text of a much-anticipated bipartisan immigration deal. This deal was reached after four months of negotiations led by Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, Independent Senator Kristan Sinema of Arizona, and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

Both political parties have argued for decades that our immigration system is broken, but they vary greatly in their proposals to fix it. Republicans have generally argued for strong border security and deportations of immigrants who enter the country illegally, while Democrats place greater emphasis on paths to legal status for those who enter the country without proper documentation.

In recent years, Republicans have repeatedly attacked the Biden administration's immigration policies, blaming it for the recent surge in illegal entries at the border. An estimated 10 million immigrants have entered the country illegally since 2020 according to The Hill. Even among Democrats, pressure has been building on Biden to do more to crack down on illegal immigration, citing the strain immigration has placed on local and state governments. New York City, in particular, has borne the brunt of the immigration crisis, taking in nearly 95,000 new arrivals in 2023 alone.

In the leadup to the release of the compromise, Republicans in the House and Senate pledged that they would not vote for sending more foreign aid to Ukraine to assist with their war against Russia, another Democratic priority, unless Democrats agreed to tough legislation on illegal immigration at the Southern border. The Trump administration’s hardline border policies, most infamously the family separation policy, led Democrats to shift their priorities towards protecting people fleeing from war and persecution rather than focusing on bolstering border security. However, the surge of illegal entries at the border during the Biden administration led many Democrats, including President Biden himself, to rethink their positions and possibly give into Republican demands to fortify the border. The result was an extremely conservative border deal that was almost entirely about border security.

Most notably, the compromise would have required the Department of Homeland Security to shut down the border if crossings reached an average of 5,000 per day over a 7-day period. It also would have raised the standards for asylum claims from migrants, with new considerations of factors such as criminal histories. Under the bill, immigrants who did not meet the asylum requirements would be automatically barred from entering the United States and deported. Additionally, the deal would have ended the policy of “catch and release,” allowing migrants caught crossing the border illegally to simply return to their home country, and replaced it with mandating the detainment of those migrants. It would have also provided billions of dollars in funding for customs and border control and cracking down on the Fentanyl Trade.

The bill failed to address several key Democratic priorities; such as pathways to citizenship for DREAMERS, children of undocumented immigrants. In exchange for these Democratic concessions, the bill would have given $60 billion dollars towards supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia and $14 billion in security assistance for Israel. It would have also allocated $10 billion dollars towards humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza and the West Bank.

As soon as the contents of the bill came out, the overwhelmingly majority of Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Shumer and President Joe Biden came out in support of the bill. . Though a good number of Republicans, most remarkably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, initially came out in support of the bill, many backed off from that position after likely Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump publicly critiqued the compromise through X, or twitter. Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson called the bill "worse than we expected" and said that it would be "dead on arrival" in the House. However, the Bill never made it that far, dying by a vote of 49-51 in the Senate. Only 4 out of the 49 Republican senators voted for it.

The failure of the immigration compromise is another marker of how the Republican Party is now dominated by close allies of former President Trump. This new generation of Republican leaders

stands out from previous generations because of their unwillingness to reach bipartisan compromises. Closely divided power in the Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House has given hardliners, particularly on the right, unprecedented power to subvert legislation they do not feel fully meets their demands. The 118th congress has been called the least productive congress since 1951, with almost no signature policy achievements.

Political division is undermining confidence in the ability of our government and the two party system to solve pressing issues and commit to our allies. It is up to all citizens, particularly young people who are entering the world of politics, to not allow political nihilism to weaken our faith in democracy. Regardless of personal political views or party, we should all demand that our politicians, rather than trying to stay in power, negotiate in good faith with members of their opposing party and fulfill their duty to help solve the most pressing societal issues.

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