Biden and senators on verge of striking immigration deal aimed at clamping down on illegal border crossings

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Eagle Pass, Texas — A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress is on the verge of striking a deal with the Biden administration that would enact sweeping new border controls, including the authority to pause asylum processing during spikes in migrant crossings, three people familiar with the talks told CBS News. 

After weeks of closed-door negotiations, the White House and a trio of senators could unveil an agreement as early as this week, the sources said, requesting anonymity due to the private nature of the conversations. The bill is designed to reduce the unprecedented levels of illegal crossings recorded along the southern border in the past three years.

While GOP Sen. James Lankford, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy and independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema are close to finalizing the compromise with the White House, any bipartisan immigration proposal would face an uphill battle in the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson and other conservative lawmakers have pushed for even stricter changes to the asylum system.

Divisions among Republican lawmakers over whether to support a border deal with Mr. Biden have also intensified after former President Donald Trump came out against it. At a rally in Las Vegas on Saturday, Trump said he would “rather have no bill than a bad bill.”

What the immigration deal would do

If enacted into law, the emerging deal would mark the first major bipartisan overhaul of the nation’s immigration system since the 1990s. 

The agreement is expected to give the executive branch a new legal authority to effectively suspend asylum in between official ports of entry when migrant crossings surpass certain thresholds. That would affect remote areas in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas where migrants regularly cross into the U.S. illegally to surrender themselves to overtaxed federal immigration officials who often release them because they don’t have the resources to screen everyone for asylum. 

Migrants are taken into custody by officials at the U.S.-Mexico border on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas.
Migrants are taken into custody by officials at the U.S.-Mexico border on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Eric Gay / AP


The power, which Mr. Biden referred to as an authority to “shut down the border” on Friday, would be mandated after average daily migrant crossings hit 5,000 over seven days, or 8,500 in a single day. It could also be activated on a discretionary basis after average daily crossings surpass 4,000 in a week. There would also be a limit on the number of days each year the president could invoke the authority. 

When the authority is invoked, migrants who cross into the U.S. illegally would not be allowed to ask for asylum, and would face swift deportation to Mexico or their home country. Exceptions would be made for those who pass screenings for other, more difficult-to-obtain forms of humanitarian refuge, including protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

Current U.S. law allows most migrants on American soil to request asylum, even if they enter the country unlawfully.

On Friday, Mr. Biden said he would use the new powers “the day I sign the bill into law,” calling the emerging deal the “toughest and fairest set of reforms to secure the border we’ve ever had in our country.”

While the proposal negotiated by the White House and lawmakers would penalize those who enter the U.S. illegally, it would preserve asylum at official ports of entry. In fact, it would require U.S. border officials to continue processing more than 1,400 asylum-seekers daily at these official border crossings when the “shutdown” authority is invoked, sources told CBS News.

The other proposals

Other border-related proposals that will likely be in any deal include expanding the scope of the expedited removal authority; instructing immigration officials to decide asylum cases within six months, as opposed to the current years-long timeframe; and raising the standard of proof in initial asylum interviews.

Those who pass their initial humanitarian protection screenings, including when the “shutdown” authority is in place, would generally be released pending a full review of their cases with immediate eligibility to work in the U.S., a change that would likely be welcomed by Democratic officials in communities struggling to house migrants relying on local services. There’s also a proposal to provide lawyers to asylum-seekers.

One of the most contentious issues in the negotiations has been the immigration parole authority, which Mr. Biden has used on a large scale to resettle more than 1 million refugees and migrants. Negotiators have discussed limiting the use of parole at land borders, but the White House has resisted broader restrictions pushed by Republicans. The deal is not expected to shut down Biden administration parole programs that allow U.S.-based individuals to sponsor the entry of certain Latin American migrants and Ukrainians, the sources familiar with the talks said.

All the provisions being negotiated would require an enormous surge in personnel and resources, including detention facilities and deportation flights, to be implemented. The Biden administration has asked for $14 billion to fund border operations and hire additional asylum officers, border agents and immigration judges.

The compromise is also expected to include provisions related to legal immigration. Negotiators have agreed to allocate 50,000 new family and employment-based immigrant visas, offer permanent residency to tens of thousands of Afghans brought to the U.S. following the fall of Kabul in 2021 and provide immigration status to the children of H-1B visa holders, the people familiar with the talks said.

The agreement would not legalize any of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. without legal permission, including so-called “Dreamers” brought to the country as minors, a group championed by Democrats for decades.

U.S. immigration officials processed more than 302,000 migrants along the southern border in December, a record high, according to official government data published Friday. Illegal crossings there have since plummeted, a trend U.S. officials have attributed to increased Mexican immigration enforcement and a historical lull after the holiday season.



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