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Senate Releases Bipartisan Border and Ukraine Bill

Senators released a bipartisan deal Sunday to impose new U.S. immigration restrictions and unlock billions of dollars in Ukraine aid, a crucial step even as the measure faces long odds in the House.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and his Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell both back the $118.3 billion compromise, with the Senate planning the first procedural vote on the measure on Wednesday. But GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump vehemently opposes it, as do many House conservatives.

“Senators must shut out the noise from those who want this agreement to fail for their own political agendas,” Schumer said in a Sunday statement.

The deal, which includes $60 billion for Ukraine, was negotiated over several months by Democrat Chris Murphy, Republican James Lankford and Independent Kyrsten Sinema. It also includes $20 billion for the border, $6 billion more than the Biden administration requested.

House Republicans could try to alter the deal more to their liking. Ukraine supporters like McConnell also could seek to attach aid to upcoming funding bills essential to keeping open the U.S. government, if a border policy stalemate ensues.

Read More: History’s Case for American Military Aid for Ukraine

President Joe Biden said he “strongly” supports the compromise, adding it would give him new authorities to “shut down” the border to stem migration. He also said the deal would make the asylum process “fairer and more efficient” and expedite work permits for those who qualify. 

“If you believe, as I do, that we must secure the border now, doing nothing is not an option,” Biden said in a statement.

House Speaker Mike Johnson called the 370-page bill “dead on arrival” in the House. And Majority Leader Steve Scalise, the second-ranking Republican House leader, said in a social media posting that the legislation “will NOT receive a vote in the House.”

Trump’s strongest allies swiftly dismissed the deal. House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York declared it “an absolute non-starter” that would “incentivize thousands of illegals to pour in across our borders daily.”

Under the proposal, the Department of Homeland Security would be able to turn away most asylum-seeking migrants at the border whenever encounters reach 4,000 daily for a week. At 5,000 daily average encounters in a week — or 8,500 on any single day — the administration would be required to turn away migrants. 

The threshold levels are far below current migration flows. U.S. Customs and Border Protection recorded more than 302,000 total encounters along the U.S.-Mexico border in December alone.

The bill would also make it harder to qualify for asylum in the U.S. by tightening the criteria for a successful application based on credible fear of persecution and would limit the release of migrants into the country, keeping more border-crossers in detention or on a fast track to deportation.

Read More: All American Families Have Stories of Illegal Immigration

Johnson and many other Republicans demand more restrictive U.S. immigration policies in exchange for approving the Ukraine aid. A Biden request for $14 billion to assist Israel in its war in Gaza also has been delayed by the struggle over immigration.

The Senate compromise includes funding for Israel. Johnson plans a vote this week on a $17.6 billion Israel package without Ukraine aid attached, but ultra-conservatives already oppose that measure.

Johnson, speaking earlier Sunday on Meet the Press on NBC, reiterated concerns that the Senate compromise, which he hadn’t yet read, isn’t strong enough. 

The speaker is under pressure from ultraconservatives to accept only a House-passed wish list of immigration proposals, including completion of a border wall.

Trump has urged Republicans hold out for a “perfect” deal, an aggressive stance aimed at scuttling the effort.

That would make it easier for Republicans to keep pummeling Biden on an issue that resonates with voters. 

Six in 10 swing-state voters say Biden bears responsibility for a surge in migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll. The influx is straining the resources of Democratic strongholds like New York and Chicago.

Representative Bob Good, chairman of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, made clear he won’t accept any border compromise that gives “political cover” to Biden.

Record high border crossings have dogged Biden since he took office. There have been more than 6 million migrant encounters at the southwest border since fiscal 2021, though the authorities used a temporary pandemic-era legal power to expel migrants more than 2 million times.

The House plans to vote this week to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, setting up the first such action against a Cabinet member in nearly 150 years.

Republicans accuse Mayorkas, the first immigrant and first Latino to lead the department, of failing to enforce U.S. immigration laws and breaching public trust.

The administration’s willingness to bargain with the GOP on border and asylum restrictions has infuriated progressives and immigrants’ rights advocates who accuse the president of going back on his 2020 campaign promise to make the US immigration system more fair and humane.