House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) vowed the day before the midterm elections to make ending the record-high number of immigrants coming across the U.S.-Mexico border the first order of business come January, but the party is gridlocked on its proposal.
House GOP leadership had attempted to use a House Freedom Caucus member’s Border Safety and Security Act of 2023 as the vehicle to tackle the border. H.R. 29 was reintroduced this session by immigration stalwart Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, the Freedom Caucus’s policy chairman.
The bill would give the Department of Homeland Security the authority to bar the admission and release of non-U.S. citizens into the country at any time that the department cannot detain individuals through the duration of court proceedings or return them to their country of origin. If the secretary of DHS does not follow suit, state attorneys general could sue.
Nearly 60 House Republicans have signed on to Roy’s plan. One centrist Republican has refused to get in line with a House Freedom Caucus-backed solution to the border crisis.
“H.R. 29 is all hat and no cattle,” Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX) said in a statement to the Washington Examiner this week. “It would essentially prevent legal asylum claims such as migrants fleeing religious or political persecution from a safe haven in the United States. Not only is this radical position un-American; it would worsen our border crisis and incentivize human smugglers to continue sneaking people into our country illegally.”
In a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Accountability Tuesday, a senior Border Patrol official agreed with Gonzales’s stance that barring all asylum-seekers would not make the border any more secure.
“I don’t know that banning any asylum claims would make the border any more secure,” Tucson Chief John Modlin said.
With a tiny threshold in the lower chamber, Republicans have a four-vote difference over Democrats if all Republicans vote in line. With the absence of Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) due to an injury, the GOP can only afford three defectors.
Although Gonzales’s opposition to the bill could be overlooked if virtually every other Republican conference-wide is on board, before the border bill can make it to the Senate for evaluation and a vote Texas lawmakers want to get their own delegation on board in the House.
“Every Texas delegation member except one signed on to the Texas Border plan — which includes language requiring the Secretary detain or turn away rather than encounter and release — because they know that continuing the policy of release is a continuation of cartel empowerment, migrant abuse, and endangerment of Texans,” Roy said in a statement to the Washington Examiner Monday afternoon.
One co-sponsor, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), told the Washington Examiner he expects Gonzales will come around in discussions with other party members.
“I doubt it’s that hard to work out,” Crenshaw said.
A White House official noted that while Republicans have been willing to hold hearings in Congress and analyze the state of the border, they have ignored President Joe Biden’s olive branch to work on immigration reform and border matters together.
“It is clear that House Republicans are more interested in staging political stunts than on rolling up their sleeves to work with President Biden and Democrats in Congress on legislation to strengthen border security and fix our immigration system that has needed repair for decades,” said White House oversight spokesman and special assistant to the president Ian Sams in a letter released Thursday.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who is on a short list to succeed Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as the upper chamber’s top Republican, has sought to lead bipartisan immigration reform attempts in the upper chamber.
Cornyn has indicated that he will not move until the House has passed a bill for the Senate to go to conference over.
“I think the most logical and realistic sequence of events would be for the House to pass a bill first, and then we can put pressure on Sen. [Chuck] Schumer here in the Senate to take it up,” Cornyn told the Houston Chronicle in late January.
But Cornyn may not see a bill any time soon.
McCarthy had promised Freedom Caucus members to fast-track the bill during his negotiation for their support last month, according to a Washington Post report. However, the speaker’s aides disclosed that that will not be the case and the bill must clear the House Homeland Security Committee before getting a floor vote, setting it up for changes.