Senate Republicans quashed the most comprehensive bipartisan border security package in years, with some arguing it failed to go far enough to address the country’s immigration crisis despite an endorsement from the National Border Patrol Council.
The Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act failed to pass a procedural step on Wednesday, 50-49, falling short of the 60 votes that would have ended debate and forced a final vote. Nearly all Senate Republicans voted to table the bill, including Utah senior Sen. Mike Lee, who led opposition to the deal.
Just four Republicans joined most Democratic senators in supporting the measure: Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and one of the bill’s authors, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.
“The border crisis demands action right now, and we had legislation that would have helped fix Biden’s immigration mess, which is why I voted to get on the bill,” Romney told the Deseret News in a statement.
Why did Republicans reject the bipartisan border bill?
The bill, negotiated over four months by Lankford, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., bundled military assistance for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan with a ceiling on migrant processing and tougher asylum standards. Though the package originated from Republican requests that foreign aid be paired with enhanced border security, the bill text had hardly been released before it was condemned by scores of GOP lawmakers.
In a series of posts on X, Lee outlined where he thought the bill fell short of what was needed and, in some cases, would make the situation at the border worse. He said the bill would codify the Biden administration’s catch-and-release policy for migrants awaiting immigration proceedings, would normalize 5,000 illegal entries a day with no requirements for deportation and would not include immediate funding for building a border wall.
However, amid the rapid rejection of the border deal by Republicans in the House and the Senate, the bill received endorsements from two key stakeholders: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Troy Miller and Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union representing nearly all of the country’s 18,000 Border Patrol agents.
“There are such huge benefits in this bill to border security that stops people from gaming the system,” Judd told the Deseret News on Wednesday.
Judd, who has endorsed former President Donald Trump and often speaks in favor of stringent immigration proposals, disagreed with some Republicans’ characterization of the bill. Many of their criticisms, he said, are intentionally misleading or false.
“They know that the vast majority of people are just going to listen to the talking points, rather than actually digging into it. And unless somebody fact-checks them on it, then their misstatements become truth. And that’s very frustrating to us because it doesn’t serve border security,” Judd said.
He said he understands the politics of rejecting a bipartisan compromise, particularly on an issue that is key to Trump’s campaign, but those factors don’t change the real, on-the-ground impact that the bill will have on improving a broken immigration process, Judd said.
Why did the Border Patrol endorse the Senate’s immigration deal?
The Senate bill would have gotten to the root of one of the core problems behind the system’s dysfunction, Judd said, by eliminating the ability of, and incentive for, anyone crossing the border to claim asylum and stay in the country with the expectation of getting lost in judicial backlog while awaiting a distant court date.
The bill would only allow asylum claims at official ports of entry and would grant Border Patrol agents new authority to conduct “credible fear” interviews at the border to determine whether someone qualifies for further legal steps. The bar for passing such interviews, and being granted entrance into the United States, would also be “raised exponentially” to levels Trump attempted to implement with his policies, according to Judd.
“So this law increases the threshold for credible fear to what President Trump wanted; that is a huge deal because that stops the gaming of this system,” Judd said. “And that’s the reason why we’re in this problem in the first place is because so many people can game the system.”
The bill would end the Biden administration’s use of prosecutorial discretion in deciding whether to apply Title 8 deportation proceedings to all those who fail to meet asylum criteria, Judd said, and would also include funding for more deportation flights.
But Judd says the provision that has sparked the most disinformation is the one that would shut down the border after a certain number of entries.
The bill’s “Border Emergency Authority” would allow agents to immediately turn around all undocumented migrants without processing them, similar to what was done under the COVID-era Title 42, if the border is overwhelmed with more than 4,000 average illegal crossings over seven days.
It would require the Border Patrol to expel all migrants back into Mexico, effectively “shutting down” the border, if that average hits 5,000 each day or there are 8,500 crossings in a single day. Meanwhile, land ports would be required every day to process 1,400 migrants entering the country illegally, even during an emergency.
While some critics have said this would “normalize” 5,000 illegal entries a day, Judd said the bill would do just the opposite.
“It is so frustrating for me to hear that because that is so far from the truth,” Judd said.
If anything, Judd said, the status quo currently “normalizes as many people as can possibly cross.”
“So to say that this incentivizes (border crossings) is completely ridiculous because our current law allows for as many people as can possibly come in,” he said. “Our current laws, there is zero cap on how many illegal entries can take place a day — zero cap — and there is zero trigger to emergency authority.”
As he has tried to do with Republican lawmakers, Judd attempted to demonstrate the immediate impact the bill would have on protecting border communities, reinstating the rule of law and disincentivizing border crossings with a practical example.
On Feb. 5, he said, Border Patrol encountered and apprehended 6,528 migrants entering the country illegally. Of those, 6,313 were released under current law and Biden administration policy, Judd said. If Congress had moved forward with the bipartisan immigration package, around 1,400 of that same group could possibly be released, though the final number could be much lower.
“That is a huge improvement,” Judd said. “And that’s a real world example of what this bill would have done. So when I look at the bill, and I see the negatives of it, but I see the huge positives, I have to look at it and say, ‘Do the negatives outweigh the positives?’”