House Judiciary Committee members accused each other of partisan posturing and political theater in an hourslong meeting Wednesday on a Republican border security proposal that would impose sweeping restrictions on asylum access at the border.
The committee debated a 137-page bill unveiled by House Republicans this week that would restrict asylum eligibility, increase penalties for immigration violations, heighten employment verification requirements and expand migrant family detention.
The House Homeland Security Committee also plans to release a counterpart proposal that focuses on border infrastructure, which is expected to be considered by that committee next week.
Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California, who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, said the committee’s package is a combination of bills from eight different lawmakers. He called the legislation “essential” in his opening remarks.
But Democrats launched criticisms early and often. Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, slammed the legislative proposal as “nothing more than pure political theater.”
“This bill has no chance of being enacted into law, and most of its provisions cannot even pass on the House floor because of opposition from Republicans,” Nadler said. “That’s right: these Republican bills are so extreme that they’re opposed by many of their own members.”
Nadler asked Republicans to “go back to the drawing board,” and he said “Democrats stand ready to work with you.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the top Democrat on the committee’s immigration panel, said Republicans’ bill “is not a serious proposal.”
Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California said that if Republicans were “sincere and interested in solving this problem,” they would have worked with Democrats “instead of taking up a bill which, if it can even muster up the support of their own party to pass the House, will surely go no farther than that.”
Even Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, after saying he did “not have high expectations for today,” called on his colleagues to engage in bipartisan immigration discussions.
“If we’re going to have the kind of markup today that I suspect we’re going to have, let us at least meet afterwards and have the discussion about the fact that America does want and need to be welcoming,” Issa said.
Back and forth
Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy, one of the most vocal lawmakers on border security, said criticisms of the bill “make for nice splashy soundbites on Twitter or show for the television to get out and send out as clips.”
Roy pointed to New York Times articles that reported the Department of Homeland Security lost contact with migrant children, and some of them worked jobs, and called the administration’s current approach a “lawless morass.”
“Yes, we are putting forward measures today to ensure our system works, because a system that works begins with the rule of law and ensuring that people are protected,” Roy said.
The bill would ensure that the administration can no longer use asylum as parole “to end run the rule of law to release people in the United States in ways that causes 85,000 children to get lost,” Roy said.
“Children in these articles getting sold into the human trafficking business, the sex trafficking business, all while my colleagues on the other side of the aisle like to tout how compassionate they are,” Roy said. “Well go campaign on that.”
During the markup, which was ongoing as of 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday evening, Democrats proposed amendments such as one that would strike a provision that would require businesses to electronically verify that their employees have authorization to work in the U.S.
Another amendment sought to exempt migrants fleeing communism or totalitarian regimes from the proposed asylum restrictions. Both amendments were rejected.
The border security legislative proposal, released publicly on Monday, has faced early opposition from other House Republicans. Texas Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales has raised concerns that an earlier version went too far to restrict asylum.
Gonzales, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, told reporters that he continues to have “a lot” of problems with the Judiciary Committee’s border package.
“And it’s not just me. I think there’s a lot of members that have a lot of issues with what they saw yesterday. 137 pages of a lot of issues,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales has also threatened to vote against raising the debt ceiling if a border bill stripping away legal migration pathways goes to the House floor.
Still, House Republicans leading the efforts maintained their bill will pass on the House floor, despite Republicans’ narrow majority in the chamber.
McClintock and Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, another Judiciary Committee member, predicted this week in interviews that the border bill would advance out of committee.
Rep. Mark E. Green, the Homeland Security Committee chairman, said he believed the Judiciary and Homeland Security committee bills would be combined on the floor and would pass in the House.
Green also pointed to Senate Democrats’ recent decision to join Republicans in voting to overturn a Washington, D.C., crime bill as evidence that his bill could even have legs in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
“We’ll pass it on the floor of the House, but the Senate, I don’t… but hey who knows? They said they were not gonna vote for the D.C. crime bill and they did it,” Green said Tuesday. “I’m not ruling it out.”