House Republicans passed a sweeping anti-immigrant “border security” package on Thursday that has already received a veto threat from the White House and is considered dead on arrival in the Senate.
The legislation would gut the right to apply for asylum in the United States and increase the detention of children and families in crowded facilities at the southern border, where large numbers of migrants are currently waiting on asylum claims. The 213-page bill passed the House along party lines, with two moderate Republicans joining all Democrats in opposing the legislation.
The bill would also fund increases in militarization of the borderlands and the construction of “the wall” on the border that became a snafu under former President Donald Trump, strategies that opponents say are far more effective at placating reactionary voters and enriching contractors than preventing border crossings or fixing the overloaded asylum system.
A handful Republicans from rural districts worried the legislation would make it more difficult for the agricultural industry to hire the low-paid, undocumented laborers that farms depend on, and the lawmakers reportedly withheld their support until leadership assured them the bill had no chance of becoming law before their concerns are addressed.
It’s all part of what critics say are legislative theatrics surrounding the May 11 expiration of Title 42, the “remain in Mexico” policy that both the Trump and Biden administrations have used to quickly expel migrants and asylum seekers under COVID-19-related public health orders.
Circulating misinformation has resulted in thousands of people lining up and camping out on both sides of the border in anticipation of the policy change, arming the right-wing lawmakers and pundits with visual fodder for propaganda about a so-called invasion of mostly non-white Spanish speakers.
The Biden administration is asking migrants to apply for asylum remotely, even rolling out a phone app that advocates say some migrants have struggled to use. Officials insists those who have not sought protection in Mexico or another country they already passed through on their way to the U.S. will be turned away.
Multiple far right House Republicans, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rep. Paul Gosar, have described the humanitarian crisis as an “invasion” or have echoed the racist “great replacement” conspiracy theory about liberals using immigration to dilute white Christian cultural and political power. Critics say using the rhetoric of war to describe what is actually a humanitarian crisis is an all-but-explicit call for violence in the wake of multiple mass shootings in Texas and beyond.
On May 6, a heavily armed gunman who reportedly espoused white nationalist views and far right ideology online was shot dead by police after storming a suburban mall in Texas and killing eight children and adults. A patch on the man’s tactical vest read “RWDS” for “Right-Wing Death Squad.”
Authorities are still investigating a possible motive, but a series of disturbing posts on a social media site showed the gunman, Mauricio Garcia, bragging about getting Nazi tattoos and ranting against woman, gay people, people of color and Jewish people. Journalists and law enforcement believe the account belonged to Garcia after finding photos of an airline ticket other documents bearing his name.
Vanessa Cárdenas, executive director the immigration reform group America’s Voice, called out House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for ignoring Republican members who are spouting dangerous rhetoric about the border that could lead to violence.
“The gavel is now in his hand, but McCarthy is damningly silent as members of his GOP conference actively incite violence and fearmonger,” Cárdenas said in a statement on Wednesday. “The list keeps on growing, Buffalo, El Paso, Pittsburgh, Charlottesville, and even after the horrific acts of violence in Texas over the weekend, Republicans at the highest levels continue to stoke division and fear and incite their followers to take action.”
The border bill would defund and shut down legal pathways to asylum that would relieve pressure at the border, Cárdenas said, adding that Republicans are more interested in scoring political points by blockading migrants than advancing policies that would improve humanitarian conditions and fix the overwhelmed system.
“H.R. 2 is not a serious legislative proposal and should not be treated as such,” Cárdenas said of the bill.
Large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers at the border with Mexico have vexed both Republican and Democratic administrations since at least 2013, when conservatives torpedoed bipartisan legislation that would have provided a path to citizenship for undocumented people and modernized the immigration system. The GOP has rejected reforms multiple times since 2013, but Democrats also struggled to build majorities around immigration.
However, McCarthy is determined to pin the issue on President Joe Biden, arguing that his administration “has been defined by a series of crisis it created.”
The Biden administration claims to be doing its best with a broken system Congress has failed to fund and properly fix. Currently, the administration is encouraging people to apply for asylum remotely instead of showing up to the border in person.
“Look, what we want to do at the border is have it work and function in the way it’s designed to work,” Biden told reporters on Wednesday. “And that requires us having more immigration officers, more asylum judges, a whole range of things. More personnel. And I’m trying to do as much of that as I can.”
Immigrant rights groups criticized Biden for militarizing immigration enforcement by sending federal troops to the border this week and argue the prolonged reliance on Title 42 to block people from entering the country created the current humanitarian crisis in the first place.
The House legislation is “cruel” and “extreme,” but ultimately designed to provide fodder for fundraising emails and interviews on Fox News rather than workable fixes to a broken immigration system, according to Douglas Rivlin, communications director at America’s Voice.
“Republicans have decided that they want to use immigration as a political issue to do fundraising off it and get themselves on Fox and Breitbart and they are not so interested in legislating actual solutions,” Rivlin said in an interview.
Meanwhile, House Democrats have introduced historic legislation that would guarantee legal representation for immigrants facing deportation, although the bill has little chance of success in such a divided Congress.
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