A bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled legislation on Thursday to address the recent influx of migration to the U.S.-Mexico border by ramping up staffing at immigration agencies and streamlining immigration court proceedings.
The measure was put forth in the Senate by John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and in the House by Texas Reps. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, and Tony Gonzales, a Republican, R-Texas, marking a rare bipartisan effort on immigration, an area that has typically fueled political division in Congress.
“We know that this crisis at the border is not a Democratic or Republican problem,” Sinema said in a call with reporters. “And as Sen. Cornyn and I both know firsthand, it’s not a new problem, it’s an American problem. And it’s one that we’ve been dealing with in our border states for decades.”
Cornyn described the proposed legislation as the first bipartisan, bicameral bill to address the recent increase in migrants coming to the U.S. Nearly 19,000 unaccompanied migrant children traveled to the U.S. border last month, the highest number in years.
“It is the beginning of our work on immigration issues. But this is, we think, the most urgent need, so that’s why we’re starting with this bill,” Cornyn said.
“If anybody has a better idea, we’re certainly open to that,” he added.
“But the problem is, we’re not seeing a lot of people raise their hands,” he said.
The bill would establish at least four regional processing centers along the border to speed up the government’s ability to process migrants arriving in the U.S. to seek protection.
It would also call for migrants’ asylum cases to be prioritized in the current 1.3 million case-long backlog during “an irregular migration influx event.” The measure would ramp up protections for unaccompanied minors who are placed with sponsors, and increase staffing at the border, including 150 new immigration judges and related staffers and 300 additional asylum officers.
Sinema, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s border management panel, called the bill a “first step” and said sponsors look forward to working with the Biden administration and others “on how to improve this proposal.”
“We are looking forward to working with our colleagues, with the administration and outside stakeholders,” she said.
Both senators said they would be open to passing the bill either as a standalone bill, or combined with other immigration measures.
While not included in their bill, they also both called for a permanent solution for unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. They indicated a willingness to pass those protections separately from a border security measure.
“I would like to find a permanent solution for the DACA young people,” Cornyn said. “I’m no longer comfortable using them to leverage other immigration provisions.”
Sinema said she spoke Thursday morning with Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., who also chairs the Judiciary Committee that has jurisdiction over immigration bills. She and Cornyn plan to meet with Durbin next week to discuss their legislation further.
Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that the proposal’s provisions “are not only necessary to confront the ongoing crisis on our southern border, but they also need to be considered by Congress as they debate other immigration issues where reform is desperately needed.”