Opinion

This Immigration Bill Was Never Going to Fix the Border

On Sunday, lawmakers in Washington released the first major bipartisan bill to reform immigration policy in a decade. The Senate may vote on the proposal, a $118 billion plan that includes $20 billion aimed at bolstering immigration enforcement, as early as Wednesday, but the likelihood that it reaches the president’s desk is slim. The House speaker, Mike Johnson, described it as “dead on arrival” in his chamber.

The nation already spends more money on border policing than at any other point in its history. In the last two decades, Customs and Border Protection’s budget has almost tripled and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s budget has doubled. Today, the Department of Homeland Security pays for over 19,000 Border Patrol agents, a similar number of ICE officers and expensive contracts with private companies that quickly sift through enormous amounts of data. And yet, border encounters in December set record highs.

These measures, if enacted, will do little to improve how the United States manages migration, nor will it stop migrants from coming. If more money could keep people from crossing our borders, we would have paid for the solution years ago.

The bill, which President Biden supports, would set aside nearly $4 billion for Customs and Border Protection, the Homeland Security division that includes Border Patrol, to prepare for a “migration surge” by hiring new staff members, reimbursing the Defense Department for its help and paying for Border Patrol agents’ overtime.

In addition, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which runs the government’s network of immigration prisons, would get over $7 billion to increase the number of people it can detain and deport, hire more staff members and track more migrants through electronic monitoring systems.

Democrats, who have consistently pushed for more options for migrants to enter the United States legally, can point to expanded opportunities that the legislation would provide: 32,000 green cards for people with close relatives who are already here legally and 18,000 more work visas for people with high-demand skills during each of the next five years. The bill wouldn’t touch the federal government’s parole authority, a flexible legal power that goes back decades. Unhappy with the Biden administration’s use of parole, Republicans had hoped to limit the discretion immigration officials have to use it.

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