Border bill fails Senate test vote as Democrats seek to underscore Republican resistance

By STEPHEN GROVES and REBECCA SANTANA

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are trying for a second time to push ahead with a bill to clamp down the number of migrants allowed to claim asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sought on Thursday to underscore Republican resistance to the proposal.

The legislation, negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators, was already rejected by most Republicans in February when it was linked to a foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies. But with immigration and border security becoming one of the top issues of this year’s election, Democrats are looking for an answer to the barrage of GOP attacks, led by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, on border security.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters following a Republican strategy session, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is planning to take another vote Thursday on border security and immigration legislation that Republicans blocked in February. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) 

“Senators will face an important decision. Will both sides come together to advance a bipartisan border security bill or will partisanship get in the way once again?” Schumer, a New York Democrat, said this week.

Schumer is trying to defend a narrow Senate majority in this year’s election and sees the Republican’s rejection of the deal they negotiated as a political “gift” for Democrats.

When the proposal was brought up in February, a test vote failed 49-50 — well shy of the 60 votes needed to advance. While a majority of Democrats were expected to again support the procedural vote to begin debate on the bill, the proposal seemed to be losing traction in the Senate as not even the primary Republican author, Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, expressed support for Schumer’s move.

“This is trying to poke Republicans in the eye rather than try to say, ‘How do we solve the problem?’” Lankford told reporters.

Republican leaders spent much of the week decrying the vote as a bald-faced political maneuver and amplifying a well-worn criticism of President Joe Biden: That he bears responsibility for the historic number of migrants who have made their way to the U.S. in recent years.

“We’re nearing the end of President Biden’ s term, and the American people’s patience for his failing to secure the southern border is running thin,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday.

Earlier in the week, McConnell told reporters, “The president needs to step up to it — do everything he can do on his own because legislation is obviously not going to clear this year.”

Since the collapse of the Senate’s legislation in February, the Biden administration has been considering executive orders on border policy and immigration. It has already made some changes to the asylum system meant to speed up processing and potential removal of migrants. Yet the Senate’s test vote this week was widely seen as part of a lead-up to Biden issuing more sweeping border measures, potentially as early as June.

The Democratic president has considered using a provision in federal immigration law that gives leeway to block entry of certain immigrants into the U.S. if it would be “detrimental” to the national interest of the United States. The authority was repeatedly tapped by Trump when he was in the White House, but some of those actions faced legal challenges.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters Monday that legislation to address problems at the border — as opposed to executive actions by the president — would be more effective. The Senate legislation would provide more money for Customs and Border Protection officials, asylum officers, immigration judges and scanning technology at the border — all things that officials have said the underfunded immigration and border protection system needs.

“The legislation provides tools that executive action cannot,” Mayorkas said.

The Senate bill is aimed at gaining control of an asylum system that has sometimes been overwhelmed in the last year. It would provide faster and tougher enforcement of the asylum process, as well as give presidents new powers to immediately expel migrants if the numbers encountered by border officials exceed an average of 4,000 per day over a week.

Even before the bill was fully released earlier this year, Trump effectively killed the proposal by labeling it “meaningless” and a “gift” for Biden’s reelection chances. Top Republicans soon followed his lead and even McConnell, who had initially demanded the negotiation over the border measures, voted against moving forward.

A significant number of Democrats have also criticized the proposal, mostly because it does not include any broad relief for immigrants who have already established lives in the United States.

“It fails to address the root causes of migration or to establish more lawful pathways,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, a California Democrat.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus said in a statement this week that the Senate’s bill “fails to meet the moment by putting forth enforcement-only policies and failing to include provisions that will keep families together.” They have urged executive actions that would provide protections from deportation for immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for years or who have family ties to U.S. citizens.