Republican senators on Friday indicated that discussion of possible immigration deals to give illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship would be off the table until the crisis at the southern border is ended.
“How can you pass an immigration bill when you have an open border?” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said at a press conference at the border. “If they want to accomplish anything on immigration and I want to help them, it would be securing the border.”
“You’ve got to stop the bleeding before you can take care of the problem,” he said.
Grassley was one of a group of Senate Republicans making the trip to the south Texas border and expressed horror at the mounting crisis — viewing packed border facilities and speaking to overwhelmed border agents.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encountered more than 100,000 migrants in February and those numbers are expected to increase dramatically in the Spring and Summer months. Meanwhile, the administration is scrambling to open new facilities to house a spike in child migrants — while calling for federal employees to volunteer to help what the administration concedes are “overwhelming” numbers.
Republicans have blamed the Biden administration for reversing Trump-era policies such as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) and reviving the policy of releasing migrant families into the U.S. interior.
Biden and Senate Democrats have also been proposing an eight-year pathway to citizenship for all illegal immigrants in the country as part of a broad immigration proposal. Currently, any such proposal would need the support of 10 Republicans to pass the Senate.
So far, Republicans have balked at the package — introduced in the Senate as the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 — but some have expressed openness to negotiation. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has introduced a bill alongside Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to give permanent legal status to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Graham has said he does not believe it would pass as a stand-alone measure but could be a starting point for negotiations.
But with the spiraling crisis, even those Republicans like Graham who are among the most open to immigration reform packages, are pouring cold water on its chances while the migrant numbers are still surging at the border
“I’ve voted for every comprehensive immigration bill that ever came out of the U.S. Senate,” Graham said on Friday. “It is impossible for me to sit down with Dick Durbin and negotiate any solution to people already here, because if you legalize one person until you’ve fixed this problem, you’re going to have a human tsunami.”
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. agreed with Graham’s assessment.
“If you want to talk about immigration reform, we’re prepared to, we have a crisis at the border. We have to understand, again, listening to what the folks on the ground are telling us and making sure that we have policies to secure this border,” he said. “You cannot possibly have a credible immigration reform proposal in Congress until you fix this crisis down here.”
However, Democrats appear to be on track to push ahead with two smaller immigration bills. Bills to grant DACA recipients and illegal immigrant farmworkers pathways to citizenship recently passed the House. Neither bill would seem likely to pass the Senate with the crisis ongoing.