News & Commentary

Advocate raises questions about a border proposal becoming an election issue

Orlando, a migrant from Ecuador, carries four-year-old Peter as they wade through the Rio Grande from Mexico into Eagle Pass, Texas, Oct. 6, 2023. (OSV News photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — A leading Catholic immigration advocate has raised questions about whether restrictions in a bipartisan border proposal now before Congress will help the situation or make it worse for migrants trying to enter the U.S.

“Everyone would agree that the situation at the border is unsustainable,” J. Kevin Appleby, senior fellow for policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York and the former director of migration policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told OSV News.

“The question is whether a package of restrictive policies will address the issue or exacerbate it by driving desperate people to take more dangerous routes to remote parts of the border,” Appleby said. “The forces that drive them are stronger than the policies that try to deter them. This does not even take into account the amount of human suffering that would accompany these policy changes.”

Although Senate negotiations are ongoing, the bill’s proponents say it would give the president emergency power to shut down the border if crossings reached a certain threshold.

Congressional talks on the bipartisan border deal have been stymied — following months of high-level negotiations — after former President Donald Trump urged Republicans not to pass the bill.

Republican lawmakers had previously sought to tie strict new policies for the Southern border to an emergency spending bill to provide billions of dollars in security assistance to Ukraine and Israel amid their respective conflicts, as well as to Taiwan.

President Joe Biden has offered some of his strongest rhetoric yet on the U.S.-Mexico border, vowing to sign the legislation to implement stricter border control if it reaches his desk, as Trump, the frontrunner for his party’s nomination to the White House, urged congressional Republicans not to work with Biden, despite his own hardline stance on immigration.

Trump, in the midst of his third bid for the White House and facing a potential rematch election with Biden in November, said in a statement, “A Border Deal now would be another Gift to the Radical Left Democrats.”

“A lot of the senators are trying to say, respectfully, they’re blaming it on me. I say, that’s OK,” Trump said at a Jan. 27 rally in Nevada. “Please blame it on me. Please.”

In a Jan. 26 statement, Biden said, “Let’s be clear. What’s been negotiated would — if passed into law — be the toughest and fairest set of reforms to secure the border we’ve ever had in our country.”

“It would give me, as President, a new emergency authority to shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed,” Biden said. “And if given that authority, I would use it the day I sign the bill into law.”

Biden argued that Congress also should provide funding he requested in October “to secure the border.”

“This includes an additional 1,300 border patrol agents, 375 immigration judges, 1,600 asylum officers, and over 100 cutting-edge inspection machines to help detect and stop fentanyl at our southwest border,” Biden said. “Securing the border through these negotiations is a win for America. For everyone who is demanding tougher border control, this is the way to do it. If you’re serious about the border crisis, pass a bipartisan bill and I will sign it.”

But House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., wrote in a letter to his colleagues Jan. 26 that the Senate proposal “would have been dead on arrival in the House.”

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., one of the negotiators on the bill, said in a Jan. 28 interview on Fox News Sunday the “presidential election year” had to do with some Republicans changing their tune on the bill.

“Republicans four months ago would not give funding for Ukraine, for Israel and for our Southern border because we demanded changes in policy,” Lankford said. “So we actually locked arms together and said, ‘We’re not going to give you money for this. We want a change in law.’ And now it’s interesting, a few months later, when we’re finally going to the end, they’re like, ‘Oh, just kidding. I actually don’t want a change in law.’ We all have an oath to the Constitution, and we have a commitment to say we’re going to do whatever we can to be able to secure the border.”

Appleby told OSV News that “as the church has consistently advocated, the most humane and effective way to regulate border entries is to reform the entire broken immigration system, including the creation of legal avenues to facilitate safe and orderly migration.”

“It is ironic that immigration opponents who have agitated for these policies for years could wind up killing it,” he added.

By Kate Scanlon | OSV News

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