Congress stalls on tackling border security as migrants stream in with no end in sight

Republicans and Democrats remain at loggerheads over solutions to the ongoing migrant crisis, leading to gridlock over a supplemental spending bill – even as President Biden says he is open to “significant compromises” on the matter.

Senate Republicans, as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., blocked a Democratic emergency spending measure on Wednesday that would have provided funding for Israel, Ukraine and the border but did not include border security measures sought by Republicans in the House and Senate. Republicans cited the lack of inclusion of additional border policy changes, specifically limits on asylum and humanitarian parole, as the reason for their no votes.

The White House made its $110 billion supplemental funding request in October and included $14 billion for border security – including money for shelter and services, more hiring of officials, transportation, and resources for an expansion of expedited removal. The Democratic proposal on Wednesday included many of those measures.

MIGRANT ENCOUNTERS HIT DAILY RECORD AT SOUTHERN BORDER AS WASHINGTON STRUGGLES TO AGREE ON SOLUTIONS

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, Nov. 28, 2023. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Republicans, however, have called for sweeping changes to the border, including heightened “credible fear” standards for asylum seekers and limits on the administration’s use of parole to release migrants by the tens of thousands each month into the interior. Some conservatives have called for the inclusion of the entirety of the House GOP’s signature border legislation, which would also reinstate Remain-in-Mexico and restart the border wall, and have warned they will torpedo a spending bill if it does not include it.

A Senate working group put forward proposals largely drawn from that bill, but they were soon shot down both by the White House and Senate Democratic leadership as a “non-starter.”

Some Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have said they would only accept policy changes if accompanied by amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the U.S. – something that would almost certainly be rejected by Republicans, and would be anathema to the Republican base. 

Other Democrats are reportedly open to raising the “credible fear” standard but have ruled out changes to parole, which is being used to bring in tens of thousands of migrants each month via the CBP One app at the border, as well as by the Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan (CHNV) program. It has also been used to bring in Afghans and Ukrainians in the last year via separate parole programs. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters on Thursday that the asylum standards, specifically the “credible fear” initial screening, was key.

“You’ve got to change the asylum system,” he said, arguing that migrants were being drawn to the border by the knowledge that, in many cases, they’ll be released into the U.S. with a court date years in the future.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was clear that anything without border policy changes would not get Republican support.

REPUBLICANS CLOSE RANKS, DEMAND DEMS FACE BORDER CRISIS AS BIDEN UKRAINE PLAN HANGS IN BALANCE

“Fixing a badly broken asylum and parole system isn’t ‘hijacking’ the supplemental. It’s strengthening it,” he said on Wednesday evening. “Securing our southern border isn’t extraneous to our national security. It’s essential. I know some of our Democratic colleagues understand this.”

Meanwhile, the administration has repeatedly said it is open to negotiations and compromises but has also said there are limits to what it is willing to accept on anything that would limit asylum and parole.

President Biden on Wednesday said he was willing to make “significant compromises” on the border, including policy changes.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has long been an opponent of Russian geopolitical machinations.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said border proposals must be included. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

 “I am willing to make significant compromises on the border. We need to fix the broken border system,” he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was more cautious, suggesting officials would not agree to anything that would damage the United States’ “international obligations.”

“We’ve presented proposals that address the situation, that provide real practical solutions and also do not do violence to our fundamental values,” he said on CNN. “We are a country of refugees. We do have asylum laws. We do have refugee laws. We abide by our international obligations that are long-standing,” he said. “And so that is my response to that.” 

“Some of the [Republican] proposals are reasonable and worthy of discussion. Others are, frankly, not,” he said.

The administration has repeatedly said it is pursuing a policy of expanding “lawful pathways” while increasing “consequences” for illegal entry, but needs more funding and comprehensive immigration reform from Congress. Republicans have blamed the crisis on the policies of the administration, and say more border security, limits on releases into the interior, and a return to Trump-era policies are needed.

Meanwhile, some Democrats accused Republicans of not being flexible enough.

“They have to figure out whether they want to negotiate or whether they want to make take-it-or-leave-it demands,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said.

However, as Washington tries to find any sort of agreement, the border remains in chaos. Tuesday set a daily record for migrant encounters, exceeding 12,000 encounters. 

As of Wednesday morning, the agency has over 22,000 migrants in custody, with several major Border Patrol sectors running heavily over capacity, sources told Fox News.

Fiscal Year 23 hit a new record of 2.4 million migrant encounters, with September hitting the highest monthly total ever recorded, at over 260,000 encounters. October saw slightly fewer, with over 240,000 encounters, but that was still a record for October.

Fox News’ Bill Melugin, Griff Jenkins and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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