Biden administration threatens veto on GOP border security bill

House poised for vote this week as pandemic-era asylum restrictions end

President Joe Biden speaks with the media at the White House last month.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
President Joe Biden speaks with the media at the White House last month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 8, 2023 at 1:24pm

The White House announced President Joe Biden would veto a Republican-led border security package if it passed Congress, ahead of a planned House vote this week on the sprawling legislation to restart border wall construction and restrict asylum access.

The House Republican majority has made border security a top priority, and debate on the bill will likely highlight political divides that have driven decades of congressional inaction on the issue.

In an official policy statement Monday, the Biden administration said that the border bill “would cut off nearly all access to humanitarian protections in ways that are inconsistent with our Nation’s values and international obligations.”

It would also make border processing “less efficient” and strip away the government’s authority to allow some migrants into the country legally, the administration said. That authority, known as parole, has provided the basis for programs protecting Afghan evacuees and Ukrainians who fled Russia’s invasion.

“Because this bill does very little to actually increase border security while doing a great deal to trample on the Nation’s core values and international obligations, it should be rejected,” the statement says.

The White House statement also explicitly says that Biden would veto the bill if it made its way to his desk.

House Republicans are set to vote Thursday on the border security legislation, according to a leadership source, the same day that pandemic-era asylum restrictions known as Title 42 are set to terminate.

The end of these border restrictions, which have allowed border agents to turn away asylum-seekers without a hearing for more than three years, is widely expected to prompt a spike in migration levels at the southwest border.

Several Texas border cities have declared states of emergency, and nonprofits have warned they have limited resources to handle a potential influx.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Sunday on CBS’s "Face the Nation" that “we are prepared” for the end of the Title 42 policy and reiterated a call for congressional action.

“Everything that the Department of Homeland Security is doing, everything that our partners across the federal government are doing, is within a broken immigration system,” Mayorkas said.

The Rules Committee has scheduled a meeting Tuesday on the bill, a necessary step for it to progress to the House floor.

The legislation — given the bill title H.R. 2 to signify its priority for the Republican conference — combines three separate bills from the House Judiciary, Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs committees.

The bill would require the Biden administration to resume construction of a border wall, boost personnel and technology at the border, impose sweeping asylum restrictions on migrants journeying to the southwest border and reinstate migrant family detention.

The package also includes provisions to heighten penalties for immigration violations and require employers to electronically verify that their employees have authorization to work in the U.S.

E-Verify concerns

The bill could face opposition from some House Republicans, particularly related to its provisions mandating electronic verification of work authorization through a system called E-Verify.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who voted against part of the bill at the Judiciary Committee, has continued to raise concerns about the E-Verify provisions. On Sunday, Massie tweeted that “Republicans are about to make a huge mistake” and compared the provisions to vaccine mandates.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, a vocal advocate for an earlier legislative proposal that would have mandated E-Verify while revising farmworker visas and allowing certain longtime farmworkers to apply for legal status, also has raised concerns about the provisions. But he stopped short of saying if he would vote for them.

“While it’s clear that the House needs to act to get Biden’s border crisis under control, I have concerns with it coming at the expense of American agriculture,” Simpson said through a spokesperson.

Still, a potential sharp increase in border crossings once the Title 42 policy lifts may be enough to sway House Republicans not to vote against a package that aims to bolster border security.

Farm groups have warned that mandating E-Verify, while failing to pass legislation providing a path to legal status for undocumented farmworkers or revising the agricultural visa system, would cause major workforce shortages in the agricultural industry. According to the Department of Agriculture, more than 40 percent of hired crop farmworkers do not have legal immigration status.

John Walt Boatright, director of government affairs for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said through a spokesperson on Monday that workforce shortages “have been one of the greatest limiting factors for growth in U.S. agriculture.”

“Congress must find a solution that addresses both our current agricultural workforce and modernizes our guest worker program to meet future needs. Only then can we support the implementation of a mandatory E-Verify policy,” Boatright said.

In April, the Farm Bureau and a dozen other agricultural industry groups warned in a letter to Judiciary Committee leaders that mandating E-Verify would “be crushing to an already struggling and vulnerable industry.”

Senate chances

Even if the bill does pass the House this week, it is unlikely to gain significant traction in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where bills require at least 60 votes to advance.

Some Republican senators, however, expressed interest in using a House-passed border bill as a building block for a broader immigration compromise.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said he was “anxious” for Republicans to pass the bill “so we can then take it up here and try to figure out what it takes to get to 60 [votes].”

Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina who has been a key player in bipartisan immigration discussions, called the Republican border bill a “good starting point for discussions.”

Asked if the House bill would be dead on arrival in the Senate, Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, offered an equivocal, “Heavens, no.”

“We definitely need to work on it,” Lankford said.