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House deliberates on controversial GOP border security bill

Some congressional Republicans have threatened to break with the party over the legislation aimed at tightening immigration restrictions and rules for asylum-seekers.

WASHINGTON (CN) — In a marathon session Wednesday, House Republicans got to work on their latest attempt to ram a bill through Congress designed as a check on what supporters say is the Biden administration’s misguided immigration policy.

Just months after Republicans wrested control of the House following November’s midterm elections, the GOP is angling to use its majority to make good on promises to bolster U.S. immigration restrictions. That effort has begun in earnest in the House Judiciary Committee, which as of Wednesday afternoon was still debating amendments offered to the sweeping border security bill.

The measure, which collates several similar pieces of Republican immigration legislation, would resuscitate some border security policies proposed under the Trump administration. If enacted, the bill would allow the Department of Homeland Security to shut U.S. ports of entry to migrants if it determines that those facilities are overwhelmed.

The legislation would also raise new roadblocks to migrants seeking refuge from political persecution or other forms of discrimination, forcing asylum-seekers to apply at ports of entry and requiring those traveling to the U.S. for such protections to first apply in countries they pass through on the way. Republican lawmakers have said this provision is aimed at stopping fraudulent asylum claims.

At Wednesday’s judiciary panel markup, supporters of the bill framed it as an effort to return U.S. border policy to what they saw as the buttoned-up policies of the Trump administration.

“On Inauguration Day, our border was secure,” said bill sponsor Tom McClintock. “The Trump policies had slowed illegal immigration to a trickle, and it was no coincidence that working Americans saw their wages grow faster than any time in the last 40 years.”

The California Republican blamed the Biden administration for overwhelming the U.S. border by rolling back the previous administration’s border policies. “To bring order to the border and to resurrect respect for U.S. immigration law, the Border Security and Enforcement Act of 2023 is essential,” McClintock argued.

Some Republican lawmakers who visited the southern U.S. border related desperate scenes of migrants traveling in dangerous conditions, seeking to paint the Biden administration’s border policies as catalysts for a humanitarian crisis.

“This bill goes a long way to restoring humanity,” said Arizona Congressman Andy Biggs, who visited the border in April 2022.

Although it has yet to be reported out of committee, the border security legislation has already spurred some intra-party squabbling among House Republicans. Texas Congressman Tony Gonzales, whose district includes a large portion of the U.S. border with Mexico, has been particularly vocal in criticizing the bill, knocking its restrictive approach to asylum-seekers and arguing that Washington needs to incentivize legal immigration.

Uncertainty surrounding Gonzales’s and other GOP lawmakers’ support for the border security package throws its future into the balance in the House, where Republicans hold a slim majority. House Democrats capitalized on that dynamic Wednesday, poking holes in the GOP coalition.

“After three and a half months of Republican infighting and chaos, the Judiciary Committee is finally holding its first markup of legislation this congress,” the panel's ranking member Jerry Nadler said in an opening statement.

The New York Democrat blasted what he said was the GOP’s “enforcement-only” approach to the complex issue of border security.

“Once again, my Republican colleagues show us they are not interested in finding real solutions to tough issues,” Nadler said. “This bill attempts to combine eight different bills, each one more cruel and heartless than the next, into one contradictory and overlapping mess.”

House Democrats also derided the GOP for putting forth legislation that has no chance of being made law — the bill would be effectively dead on arrival in the Senate, where Democrats hold a one-seat majority.

Meanwhile, the House’s judiciary panel spent the day closely litigating the measure’s border security provisions and debating amendments. The committee recessed in late afternoon without undertaking a final vote on whether to favorably report the legislation to the full House.

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