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Senators from both parties began hashing out options for immigration legislation but are far from agreeing on a package, as border security debates reach a boiling point on Capitol Hill.
Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) met Thursday morning to discuss immigration proposals that could notch enough bipartisan support to pass the Senate. The talks are in early stages and will continue over the coming weeks.
“There’s a lot of potential paths to go in,” Padilla said. “We didn’t come away with any specifics other than a commitment to keep at it, and we know time is of the essence.”
Tillis said the group is far from putting together a package. “It was a good meeting with some of the members and the staff, and we’ve just got to build on an architecture,” he said.
Lawmakers face an uphill battle to advance any comprehensive immigration bill during an election year, especially as Republicans have taken up border security as a top campaign issue. Some advocates are hoping for action in the lame duck period after the midterm elections in November.
Title 42 Grilling
The difficulty was on display later Thursday as members of the House Judiciary Committee grilled Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on how his agency will manage an anticipated increase in migrants arriving at the border when a pandemic-related restriction called Title 42 is scheduled to end next month.
Mayorkas urged lawmakers to pass legislation to offer a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants and revamp the U.S.’s strained immigration system, but his pleas fell on deaf ears as Republican lawmakers retorted that DHS should tighten border security first.
“I appreciate that you want us to legislate, as I do, but your job is to enforce the law,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said.
Title 42 is already looming over the nascent bipartisan immigration talks.
“My position was that until we address the mass of humanity coming across the border and claiming asylum and who are then being released into the interior of the United States, that it’s not going to be possible for us to come up with a negotiated settlement,” Cornyn said.
A growing number of moderate Democrats have spoken out against the Biden administration’s plans to end Title 42. That dynamic may help build bipartisan support for new border security measures, although any deal that increases migrant detention and deportation would imperil the support of progressive Democrats.