Updated May 5, 2023, 7:31am EDT

Congress ditches immigration reform for border crackdowns as Title 42 expires

REUTERS/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

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The News

The latest high-profile effort to marry immigration reform and border security is looking like a bust, as centrist senators pivot to an enforcement-first approach.

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz. and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who had worked on a deal to both extend the Title 42 removal program in some form and protect DREAMers, introduced legislation that would only authorize a modified version of Title 42 for two years. The border policy is set to expire on May 11 when the pandemic emergency declarations that authorized it end.

A Senate aide familiar with the immigration talks said bipartisan conversations will continue on the larger Sinema-Tillis framework proposed last year. But the news of a border-only option disheartened immigration advocates, who saw separating the issues as a capitulation to hardliners that would make it easier for Republicans to walk away from the rest of their proposal.

“They were negotiating on DREAM for months and they were close to a bill,” Kerri Talbot, deputy director of The Immigration Hub, told Semafor. “Frankly, I'm confused as to why they abandoned that approach and now we're going with such an ugly partisan approach that excludes DREAMers and that would destroy our asylum system.”

In a statement, Sinema framed the legislation, which is also backed by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas and Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., as a rescue plan ahead of what is expected to be a surge of new arrivals at the border this month.

“Despite our repeated calls, the Biden Administration failed to plan ahead and implement a realistic, workable plan,” she said. “Our legislation gives them more time to put a plan in place that will secure our border, protect Arizona communities on the frontlines of this crisis, and ensure migrants are treated fairly and humanely.”

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Know More

Meanwhile, on the House side, Republicans released H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act of 2023, and the Rules Committee is expected to debate the legislation next Tuesday.

Look out for Republican infighting related to E-Verify and a measure to consider designating Mexican drug cartels as Foreign Terrorists Organizations, which have loomed for weeks as issues that could derail a bill. Lawmakers and policy experts expect a compromise to be hashed out before it comes to the floor, but it’s an open question what it might look like.

Ryan Walker of Heritage Action told Semafor reducing illegal border crossings might help resolve E-Verify concerns by freeing up resources to fix backlogs that make it harder to hire seasonal workers.

“I think that’s where Republicans would focus their efforts on solving that issue rather than…carve outs for a certain set of workers versus another,” he said.

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  • The Agenda, Semafor’s deep-dive video series, talked to lawmakers in both parties trying to put together a modest immigration reform deal after decades of struggles to craft more ambitious legislation. “Don't throw out the good in search of the perfect,” Sinema told Semafor.

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