‘Significant Flaws’: Senate Rejects Border Bill
The U.S. Senate voted down a bill combining massive amounts of foreign aid to Ukraine and Israel with measures to enhance the processing and release of illegal immigrants at the U.S. border — a bill one constitutional Republican critic said contains at least a dozen misguided and counterproductive provisions further opening our uncontrolled southern border.
The Ukraine/border bill negotiated by Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) failed a procedural vote to advance on Wednesday by a 49-50 vote. The setback sank President Joe Biden’s hopes of adding a legislative victory on immigration in an election year. The bill provided $60 billion to Ukraine, $14.1 billion to Israel, $10 billion in “humanitarian aid” to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and $4.8 billion to Taiwan and allies in the Pacific region.
The most controversial features of the bill revolved around the $20 billion to accelerate the processing and release of illegal immigrants into the United States. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) detailed the “Dirty Dozen” provisions of the bill on border security, saying the deal:
- Codifies “Catch and Release”;
- Allows up to 1.8 million illegal aliens into the United States before temporarily closing parts of the border, with substantial loopholes;
- Spends $3.7 billion to resettle illegal aliens around the country;
- Provides free legal counsel to unaccompanied alien children and illegal aliens deemed mentally incompetent;
- Expands parole any time the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security declares an “urgent humanitarian reason”;
- Increases green cards by 50,000 a year for five years: 32,000 family-based green cards and 18,000 employment-based green cards;
- Grants work permits to an estimated 250,000 adult children of H-1B nonimmigrant visa holders;
- Immediately grants asylum applicants a work visa, rather than waiting six months;
- Does nothing to require the deportation of illegal immigrants;
- Creates a pathway to citizenship for 60,000 immigrants from Afghanistan, whom Lee calls “poorly vetted”;
- Weakens asylum screening, assuring higher approval rates; and
- Contains no funding for a border wall.
Immigration experts echoed and expanded on the senator’s concerns. “The bill fails at every level and is a massive giveaway to illegal aliens, which was completely predictable given that they negotiated with the Secretary who willfully and knowingly created this border crisis,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). “The Working Group plan would actually codify the acceptance of staggering levels of illegal immigration that exceed the number of legal immigrants we admit each year. DHS’s authority to expel people entering the country illegally, which was touted as revolutionary, is actually discretionary and sunsets after three years.”
“We found some pretty significant flaws with it,” said Senator Lee on “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” Tuesday. The bill “would tend to encourage more illegal immigration” and “would send the wrong signal,” that the law “doesn’t allow the border to be secured,” said Lee. “President Trump secured the border under the same set of statutes that President Biden has. It’s just that President Biden [has] willfully chosen not to enforce the border.”
Illegal crossings of the southern border have broken historic records every year of the Biden administration. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials reported more than 2.45 million illegal border crossings during the 2023 fiscal year, compared to 521,090 in 2018 under President Trump.
“I have great respect and admiration for my friend James Lankford, and I think he was put in a very difficult, near-impossible position,” Lee told Perkins. “As far as I can tell,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “precluded him from negotiating into this bill a lot of the features that were important to a lot of Senate Republicans — features that would have, for example, conditioned the release of any Ukraine funds on the achievement of certain border security metrics.”
“He was directed by Mitch McConnell not to even bring that up in the negotiations,” said Senator Lee. “He was also directed not to disclose any of the contents, any of the work product, as he was negotiating.” As a result, senators had roughly three days to read and analyze the ponderous bill before voting.
Others said McConnell had a far greater hand in the bill than publicly acknowledged. “He didn’t just bless the deal. He wrote the deal,” Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told NBC News. For his part, McConnell blamed the bill on conservative Republicans demanding border security. “The reason we’ve been talking about the border is because they wanted to,” McConnell told Politico.
The greatest lesson is that “we’ve got to be very careful about questioning the character of people that we disagree with, especially brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Perkins.
Lee has indicated he would have opposed sending additional U.S. aid to Ukraine, as the amount of taxpayer funding sent to the notoriously corrupt regime in Kyiv already comes to “an extraordinary sum … equivalent to something like 20 or 25 times Ukraine’s average annual military spending and roughly double Russia’s average annual military spending.”
“We have no business spending this much more money,” said Lee, a constitutionalist and budget hawk.
The bill’s failure came as House Republicans failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas 214-216, when three Republicans defected: Reps. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Ken Buck (R-Colo.), and Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.). Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah) changed his vote to “nay,” which allows the chamber to bring the articles of impeachment up again.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) declared the bill “dead on arrival,” vowing to write stand-alone bills for each of the topics considered in the larger Senate bill.
Most border security advocates praised the bill’s bogging down in the Senate. The Biden administration and Senate Democrats “are using his horrific Senate Bill as a way of being able to put the BORDER DISASTER onto the shoulders of the Republicans,” wrote President Donald Trump on the social media platform Truth Social. “The Democrats BROKE THE BORDER, they should fix it.”
“Congress should go back to the drawing board and figure out how it can force DHS to comply with the border mandates it currently has — to deter aliens from entering illegally, and to detain the ones who do,” wrote Andrew Arthur of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). “Until that’s figured out, nothing will make the crisis at the border any better.”
Former Congressman Justin Amash (I-Mich.), who is considering a bid for Michigan’s U.S. Senate seat, noted that the blame for the failure lies with the bill, not Speaker Johnson. “When Congress doesn’t have the votes to pass an atrocious bill written in a back room and rushed to the floor by leadership, that’s a good thing. It’s not congressional dysfunction; it’s a rare moment of function,” wrote Amash.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.