The details of a border security bill tied to a foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel were released by several Senate negotiators on Sunday, and is expected to face an uphill battle as it met with immediate backlash from Republican leaders.
The deal comes as the product of months-long bipartisan negotiations between Sens. James Lankford (R-Olka.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) to package together border security funding and immigration reform with foreign aid to Ukraine and Israel.
The $118.3 billion legislative package includes roughly $60 billion in foreign aid to Ukraine, $14.1 billion in security assistance to Israel, $4.8 billion for U.S. partners in the Indo-Pacific, and $20.23 billion for additional personnel and operational costs at the border.
President Joe Biden, for whom the issue of the unsecure U.S-Mexico border has become a liability going into the 2024 election season, said Sunday that he “strongly supports” the deal, calling it the “toughest and fairest set of border reforms in decades.”
A key measure of the compromise Senate bill would grant the president emergency authority to expel migrants who cross the border seeking asylum unlawfully if daily average migrant encounters reach 4,000 over the course of a week.
When average daily encounters exceed the threshold of 5,000 over a week, or 8,500 total encounters are exceeded on a given day, the same authority to restrict crossing would be automatically triggered, allowing the Homeland Security secretary to bar migrants who cross the border illegally from seeking asylum.
Congressional Republican leadership has criticized the measures as too weak and argued that the legislation would not close the border.
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Sunday called the deal “even worse than expected,” and that its provisions “won’t come close to ending the border catastrophe the President has created.”
Johnson said that if the Senate passed the bill and it goes to the Hose, the legislation will be “dead on arrival.”
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) made similar remarks Sunday, saying that the Senate deal “will NOT receive a vote in the House.”
“Here’s what the people pushing this ‘deal’ aren’t telling you: It accepts 5,000 illegal immigrants a day and gives automatic work permits to asylum recipients—a magnet for more illegal immigration,” Scalise wrote on X Sunday.
Other provisions included in the bill are aimed at reforming the asylum system by raising the legal standard of proof for “credible fear” asylum claims, expediting the asylum process and removing it from the immigration court system, and granting work authorization to asylum-seeking migrants upon their release from custody.
U.S. Senator from Maine Susan Collins (R) wrote in a statement regarding the deal Sunday that she requested that the negotiators include in the legislation the provision to grant work authorizations to asylum seekers.
Sen. Collins, Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Subcommittee on Defense, said that the legislation is “comprised of four pillars: securing our border, helping Ukraine counter Russian aggression, assisting Israel in its fight against terrorism, and deterring a rising China.”
“I appreciate the efforts of Senators Lankford, Murphy, and Sinema who authored the Border Act, which includes provisions I requested that will speed up access to work authorizations for asylum seekers,” Collins stated.
Former President Donald Trump wrote a scathing statement on the bill on his Truth Social platform Monday, calling it a “Death Wish” for the GOP.
“Only a fool, or a Radical Left Democrat, would vote for this horrendous Border Bill, which only gives Shutdown Authority after 5000 Encounters a day, when we already have the right to CLOSE THE BORDER NOW, which must be done,” Trump wrote.
“This Bill is a great gift to the Democrats, and a Death Wish for The Republican Party. It takes the HORRIBLE JOB the Democrats have done on Immigration and the Border, absolves them, and puts it all squarely on the shoulders of Republicans,” Trump added. “Don’t be STUPID!!! We need a separate Border and Immigration bill. It should not be tied to foreign aid in any way, shape or form!”
In a statement released last week, just as details of the Senate border deal were being released, Democratic Congressman Jared Golden (ME-02) criticized Trump and the GOP leaders for using the border crisis as a “campaign tool.”
“Unfortunately, Donald Trump and other GOP leaders have made clear they would rather continue to see an overrun border, illegal immigration, and drug trafficking than address the border crisis,” Golden said.
“They’re saying the quiet part out loud: They think border chaos is a good campaign tool against the Democrats, and they’re so determined to do nothing that they’re wasting time with a pointless, unfounded impeachment inquiry against Secretary Mayorkas instead of working on a bipartisan border deal,” Golden continued.
The moderate “Blue Dog” Democrat said that the deal, which was then not yet public, “may not be perfect” but “would go a long way toward securing the border and slowing the flow of migrants, while ensuring our strategic allies in Israel and Ukraine have the tools they need to fend off Hamas and Putin.”
Maine Sen. Angus King gave impassioned remarks on the Senate floor last week during negotiations on the bill, urging his colleagues to provide billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.
In his remarks, Sen. King argued that to “leave the Ukrainians without the resources to defend themselves” would be “one of the greatest geopolitical mistakes of the 21st century.”
King also attempted to allay concerns over corruption and scandals regarding the embezzlement of foreign aid sent to Ukraine, saying that he had spent an “entire day in Kyiv” to look into how serious the corruption is.
“I’m satisfied that it’s one of the best and strongest and most closely accounted for provisions of aid ever,” King said. “Does that mean it’s perfect or there might not be a scandal here or there? I don’t think there will be, but nothing is ever perfect.”
“But I looked President Zelenskyy in the eye. My question was, if you have a scandal, Mr. President, it’s going to kill us,” he continued. “We can’t support you. And I was — I didn’t know what he was going to say, but his answer was, ‘I know.’ And they are working on that.”
Just days ago five employees of a Ukrainian arms firm were arrested and charged with embezzling nearly $40 million earmarked for mortal shells.
On the issue of the portion of the deal regarding the U.S. border, Sen. King said “I’m told by those who know that it’s the strongest border security legislation in something like 40 years.”
“You want to secure our border before we do Ukraine? Hey, we can do both in this bill,” King said.
Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (ME-01) has not issued a public statement on the Senate legislative package and did not respond to a request for comment from the Maine Wire.
Pingree has previously voiced her support for legislation aimed at removing or reducing the wait period for work authorization for asylum seekers, and has been a supporter of U.S. aid to Ukraine for their war against Russia.
The migrant crisis has had a profound impact on Maine, with cities like Portland and Sanford becoming quickly overwhelmed by the influx of asylum seekers — stretching municipal General Assistance and social services to their breaking point.
Since January 2020, the City of Portland has resettled an approximately 4,200 asylum-seeking migrants, and is currently looking for ways to keep their resettlement program operational amid sunsetting federal funds and a steep budget shortfall.
Additionally, the deadly opioid fentanyl is in large part trafficked into the U.S. over the southern border.
Maine has experienced a years-long upward trend in overdose deaths, a majority of which are attributable to fentanyl, according to reports from the Maine Attorney General’s Office.
The most recent state data reported a total of 9,135 overdoses in 2023 as of November — 559 of which were fatal, and roughly 80 percent of which were due to fentanyl.