Senate Dems try to resurrect border bill; Lee and Republicans say it's just playing politics

Migrants form lines outside the border fence waiting for transportation to a U.S. Border Patrol facility in El Paso, Texas, May 10, 2023. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is opposing a Senate border bill that is up for consideration this week.

Migrants form lines outside the border fence waiting for transportation to a U.S. Border Patrol facility in El Paso, Texas, May 10, 2023. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is opposing a Senate border bill that is up for consideration this week. (Andres Leighton, Associated Press)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Senate Democratic leadership is bringing back a stand-alone border policy package that was negotiated through a bipartisan effort earlier this year, but the proposal is likely dead on arrival in the face of strong opposition from many Republicans, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee.

The proposal was initially tied to foreign aid to Ukraine and Israel — which passed overwhelmingly as a stand-alone package last month — but that effort stalled after opposition from Senate Republicans and former President Donald Trump. Lee railed against the border provisions in that proposal as a "hot mess," and has come out swinging against the latest effort to revive its prospects.

"Joe Biden has the ability to enforce the border right now under existing law; he doesn't need any new bills to do it," Lee said in a video posted to X Monday evening. "A few months ago, there was a bill that was brought forward — claimed to fix the border. It didn't do that; if anything it would make it worse. It would make it easier for Joe Biden to continue to not enforce the border, so we rejected it."

"For some weird reason, Chuck Schumer is insisting on bringing that bill up today," he continued, referencing the Democrat and Senate majority leader from New York. "I've got a better idea, Chuck. Why don't we just have Joe Biden enforce the laws on the books rather than pass new laws to make it easier to allow more lawlessness?"

"I'll be voting 'heck no!'" he said in an earlier post.

The bill would make several changes to immigration policy by making it harder to gain asylum in the United States and adding detention beds, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and deportation flights, Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, said in February. Lankford led Republican negotiations on the bill.

If passed, the proposal would also effectively close the border if the average number of migrants in a given week surpassed a threshold of 5,000.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney was supportive of the initial border proposal but said on Monday the return of the bill is a "political trick" and the president should take action to stem the flow of migrants.

"I think it's better than what we have now, but we've already voted on it and so, at this stage, it's a little political game that Leader Schumer is playing. And I presume that we'll all vote no, but I haven't given it much thought," he told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Asked if Biden should take initiative on behalf of the bill, Romney said: "I think it's too late. I think if he cared about the border, he would have taken action a long time ago. The fact that we've been flooded with illegal immigrants and he's stood by watching is something that he can't get out from underneath."

Still, Romney said he was undecided as to how he would vote this time around.

"I'll hear what our colleagues have to say," he said. "I mean, I support the bill. I've supported it before. But given the fact that this is a political trick, we may just all vote no on it."

In a letter to senators Sunday, Schumer noted the proposal is backed by the National Border Patrol Council and the Chamber of Commerce.

"The Border Act overhauls our asylum laws, hires thousands of new border agents, invests in cutting edge technology to stop the flow of fentanyl and gives the president new authorities to close the border," he wrote.

Schumer blamed Trump for the collapse of earlier negotiations, saying the "former president made clear he would rather preserve the issue for his campaign than solve the issue in a bipartisan fashion. On cue, many of our Republican colleagues abruptly reversed course on their prior support, announcing their newfound opposition to the bipartisan proposal."

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, the Democratic negotiator on the bill, spoke with Schumer at a news conference last week.

"If Republicans think this situation at the border is an emergency, then let's give them another chance to do the right thing," he said, according to the New York Times.

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Bridger Beal-Cvetko covers Utah politics, Salt Lake County communities and breaking news for He is a graduate of Utah Valley University.


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