(Updates with additional reporting throughout.)
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Wall construction would resume across the southern border under a new proposal from House Republicans, their latest effort to ramp up enforcement and deter migrant crossings.
The House Homeland Security Committee unveiled the bill Monday, just days after their colleagues on the Judiciary Committee advanced a sweeping plan to increase immigrant detention, tighten asylum access, and make other changes to federal immigration laws.
The homeland panel’s bill, which the committee plans to vote on this week, would require spending for border infrastructure and technology, restrict government funding for nonprofits, and boost the Border Patrol to 22,000 agents. Border Patrol leaders have long suggested 22,000 as the optimal size for the agency, which now has about 19,000 people in the role.
“Today, this Committee introduced real border security solutions crafted with the insight of those who pay the cost of this crisis every day: frontline Border Patrol agents, their families, local business owners, state and local law enforcement, as well as farmers and ranchers,” Chairman Mark Green (R-Tenn.) said in a statement Monday.
Republicans are using the multi-pronged legislative effort to try to make good on campaign promises to tighten border enforcement, with migrant encounters hitting records during much of President Joe Biden’s tenure so far. Any House-passed border legislation is likely to come to a standstill in the Senate, though narrower provisions could serve as fodder for future immigration negotiations.
House Republican leaders are eyeing a floor vote on border measures in May, but they’ll still have to contend with objections within their party. The Judiciary panel amended its bill to address some GOP worries about asylum access, but other Republicans have raised concerns about a requirement for employers to check workers’ status through the E-Verify program.
Border Wall Mandate
It remains to be seen whether the Homeland package becomes as divisive as its Judiciary companion. Some of the provisions, including funding for border technology, may attract bipartisan support.
The border wall mandate, however, will ensure many Democrats line up against the legislation; former President Donald Trump made the border wall a central plank of his presidential campaign. The bill would rely on previously appropriated and unexpired funds for the work. Democrats are also likely to oppose a measure that would block the Department of Homeland Security’s use of an app called CBP One to allow would-be border-crossers to schedule appointments to seek entry to the US.
The bill also includes provisions that would handcuff DHS and nonprofits that care for migrants after they enter the US. The bill would bar the department from using funds to process immigrants who cross the border between official ports of entry, and would prohibit the distribution of congressionally appropriated funds to organizations that provide services for immigrants who have entered the US, “whether at or between ports of entry.”
Additional sticking points are poised to surface during a Homeland Security Committee markup planned for April 26.
Other parts of the bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to release monthly data on “gotaways” at the border, provide a retention bonus to some Border Patrol agents, and increase support to local law enforcement through an existing grant program called Operation Stonegarden.
The Homeland Security Committee consulted with GOP leadership and the Judiciary Committee in drafting the new bill. Republicans on the panel also traveled to the border in February and March. A committee aide, who spoke anonymously to discuss the bill before its release, said the panel is confident the House will pass the bill.
Democrats, who declined to attend a recent Texas field hearing with the head of the Border Patrol, went on their own border trip late last week.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org