Taza Khabre

Biden promises to close the border, pressuring Congress to pass an immigration deal

President Biden fought Friday to save a bipartisan immigration deal from collapsing in Congress, vowing to close the border if the plan becomes law, even though the Republican president declared it dead on arrival in the House.

In a written statement that came as Senate negotiators struggled to finalize a deal that former President Donald J. Trump is pressuring Republicans to oppose, Mr. Biden used his toughest language yet on the border, calling it “broken” and in “crisis ” and promising to stop migration immediately if Congress sends him a proposal.

“What was negotiated would — if passed into law — be the toughest and most equitable set of border security reforms we’ve ever had in our country,” he said. “It would give me, as president, new emergency authority to close the border when it becomes overburdened. And if I were given that authority, I would exercise it the day I sign the bill.”

A pending compromise wouldn’t give him much of a choice. Under the new agreement, the administration would have to close the border to migrants trying to enter without prior approval if the number of encounters rises above 5,000 each day – a threshold that has been routinely exceeded in recent months.

Mr. Biden’s fresh efforts to save the deal came hours after President Mike Johnson tried to snuff out the last remaining glimmers of hope that it could survive, reiterating that the deal would almost certainly be stalled in the Republican-led House.

“If the rumors about the content of the draft proposal are true, it would be dead on arrival in the House anyway,” Mr. Johnson wrote in a letter to House GOP lawmakers.

It was the latest grim prediction for the proposed border deal after the top Senate Republican admitted this week that Mr. Trump’s opposition had made the plan politically difficult for the party to accept, all but killing its chances.

Mr. Biden’s statement Friday night was a counterpunch to Trump’s efforts to torpedo the deal, pitting current and former commanders in chief against each other in a high-stakes battle over what will be a central issue in the presidential campaign.

As the immigration plan floats on Capitol Hill, the fate of additional aid to Ukraine also hangs in the balance, with hard-line right-wing House Republicans threatening to oust Mr. Johnson if he tries to push it over their objections.

In his letter, Mr. Johnson said the House would move forward next week with its effort to impeach Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the Homeland Security Secretary, and redoubled his demands that Congress pass either the immigration crackdown the House passed last year or an equally severe measure.

“Since the day I became president, I have assured our colleagues in the Senate that the House will not accept any counterproposal unless it actually solves the problems created by this administration’s subversive policies,” he wrote.

Mr. Biden’s words are unlikely to move a growing number of skeptical Republicans who argue that the president already has the tools and executive power he needs to dramatically limit migration into the country — and refuses to use them.

“Many of our constituents have asked an important question: ‘What is the point of negotiating new laws with an administration that will not enforce the laws already on the books?'” Mr. Johnson wrote in his letter. “If President Biden wants us to believe he is serious about protecting our national sovereignty, he must demonstrate his good faith by taking immediate action to secure it.”

The letter reflected a position that Mr. Johnson and other hard-right House Republicans have maintained for months, repeatedly dismissing border enforcement measures being debated in the Senate as insufficient. It came as Republican proponents of the deal in the Senate scrambled to build the necessary GOP support to push it forward. That task became much more difficult as Mr. Trump gained ground in his quest for the party’s presidential nomination.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, told fellow Republicans behind closed doors this week that Trump’s hostility to the plan and his growing dominance in the primaries had them in a “trap.”

Mr. McConnell, the main Republican proponent of sending more aid to Ukraine, has been vocal in his support for the border deal that members of his own party have insisted on as the price of their support for continued aid to Kiev.

A bipartisan team of senators who have worked for months to find a compromise to curb widespread migration and drug trafficking across the southern border with Mexico have reached agreement in recent days on a series of policy changes. They include measures that will make it more difficult to secure asylum and increase detention capacity.

The deal would also increase the number of visas available by 50,000, including many that would qualify for a green card, and set a goal of processing asylum cases within 90 days.

The group has not yet agreed on how much money to invest in the effort.

Many Republicans are upset that the deal does not include a specific cap on parole, the administration’s authority to allow migrants who are not otherwise legally allowed to enter the country to live and work in the United States on a temporary basis. In his letter on Friday, Mr. Johnson reiterated his call for more restrictive changes, such as placing strict limits on parole and reviving the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy that forced migrants who could not be held in detention facilities to wait before the United States until their court date.

And some Republican opponents of the border compromise have questioned the wisdom of considering it in the Senate if their colleagues in the House are determined to block or kill it.

“If you’re going to vote hard, you want it to accomplish something,” said Sen. JD Vance, Republican of Ohio. “If it’s not going to pass in the House, then there’s not much point in forcing a vote on your membership that won’t accomplish anything from a policy perspective, and that’s going to cause a lot of political problems.”

There were political risks for Mr. Biden and the Democrats in embracing tough border measures that have enraged progressives.

Immigration advocates saw Mr. Biden’s statement as a betrayal of a president who campaigned on a humane approach to the border. Some cautioned him against entering a race with Republicans over who could override a border crackdown that advocates said would lead to chaos and suffering.

“What does President Biden want his legacy to be?” said Heidi Altman, policy director of the National Center for Immigrant Justice. “The president is asking to trade the lives and rights of people seeking safety for a failed political strategy, and that’s shameful.”

Michael D. Shear, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Hamed Aleaziz contributed to the reporting.

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