House Passes Border Security Bill Amid Fears of New Migrant Surge

The GOP-backed measure comes as COVID-19 immigration restrictions expire

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: May 12, 2023

Wyoming Rep. Harriet Hageman attacked President Joe Biden's immigration policies in a speech on the House floor Thursday, claiming he is responsible for the border "crisis." (Photo via the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth


WASHINGTON — The House passed a sweeping border security bill Thursday evening as officials throughout Washington and in immigration enforcement agencies braced for an expected surge at the border with the lifting of COVID-19 immigration restrictions.

The GOP-backed measure passed almost entirely on partisan lines, 219-213, with all Democrats and two Republicans voting against it. Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and John Duarte (R-Calif.), the Republicans who broke rank to oppose the bill, cited concerns about the measure’s more stringent requirements that employers verify their employees’ immigration status and how that might impact the agricultural sector.

Migrants talk to officials along a road near the Rio Grande after crossing the Texas-Mexico border, Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Brownsville, Texas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The Secure the Border Act of 2023 has virtually no chance of becoming law as it is currently written — the Democratically-controlled Senate shows little interest in taking it up, and  President Joe Biden has vowed to veto it. Still, it serves as a victory for GOP House leadership and Republicans more broadly, who have claimed since Biden took office that his administration’s policies have created a border crisis.

“House Republicans are taking action to address the chaos at our nation’s borders by delivering legislation that will support our Border Patrol agents, block the flow of fentanyl into our country, and put an end to the Biden Border Crisis,” top Republican leaders including Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a Thursday statement.

Democrats lambasted the measure as meanspirited and unjust, dubbing it the “Child Deportation Act.” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, described it as “cruel, inhumane and unworkable” in remarks on the House floor on Wednesday and claimed it had been “written in an extreme MAGA Republican echo chamber.”

A return to Trump-era policies

If enacted, the bill would reestablish and codify many of former President Donald Trump’s  immigration policies: the construction of a border wall, the expedited deportation of unaccompanied migrant children, the hiring of over 20,000 Border Patrol agents and the resumption of the “Remain in Mexico” policy that requires asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico until their court date—a process that can take months or even years.

Republicans timed the vote to coincide with the expiration of Title 42, the COVID-19 policy that for the past three years has enabled the government to swiftly expel migrants who crossed the border before they could apply for asylum. Though initially construed as a public health measure, the policy was used to justify over 2.8 million expulsions at the U.S.-Mexico border since March 2020, according to figures from the Washington Office on Latin America.

With the conclusion of the COVID public health emergency and subsequent expiration of Title 42, border officials were bracing for a surge in migrant crossings. Over 11,000 migrants were apprehended entering the U.S. on Tuesday, according to news reports, a record number that exceeded officials’ expectations.

Biden administration officials, meanwhile, have sought to dissuade would-be migrants from entering the country, warning of significant strain on the nation’s immigration infrastructure.

“Our borders are not open,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters at a White House briefing Thursday afternoon, promising tougher consequences for migrants crossing the border without proper documentation.

“I can’t overstate the strain on our personnel and our facilities,” Mayorkas added. “We could see very crowded Border Patrol facilities.”

Wyoming officials blast Biden, praise GOP measure

Wyoming Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) has emerged as one of the fiercest critics of the Biden administration’s border policies, and was among those most closely involved in the development of the Republican bill.

“We have a crisis at our southern border. It is a crisis that started in earnest on the day this President was sworn into office,” she said in remarks on the House floor Thursday.

In a recent interview with the Wyoming Truth, Hageman highlighted her work crafting a portion of the bill through her service on the House Judiciary Committee, describing the measure as “very comprehensive [and] very positive.” She also rebutted intra-party critiques over portions of the bill concerning strict asylum restrictions and questions about how to handle drug cartels, insisting the measure “wasn’t just cobbled together in the last 100 days.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, has similarly attacked Biden on immigration issues, most recently signing on to a letter to Mayorkas urging him to restart construction of the border wall. Barrasso described the border situation as a “dangerous and deadly national security crisis” in press conference remarks on Thursday, and criticized Biden for ending the Title 42 policy — though the administration claims it has no choice with the public health emergency ending.

“With rolling back Title 42, the president is essentially sending engraved invitations saying, ‘Come to America.’ It’s a catastrophe,” Barrasso claimed.

Biden administration officials have defended their efforts to prepare for the expected influx, dispatching 1,500 active-duty troops to the border to assist with immigration enforcement and instituting a new application system for asylum-seekers to speed up processing times.

Still, the situation has put Biden in a political squeeze from all sides — under fire from conservatives for what they describe to be an immigration agenda that is easy to abuse, and from liberals who argue the new policy makes it harder for true asylum applicants to earn freedom and safety in the U.S. Officials have mostly deflected blame to Congress for failing to act, though such efforts will become more politically tenuous with the passage of House Republicans’ bill.

“Our current situation is the outcome of Congress leaving a broken, outdated immigration system in place for over two decades, despite unanimous agreement that we desperately need legislative reform,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday.

What comes next?

With House Republicans’ bill dead in the water, any hopes for a true border fix turns to the Senate, where lawmakers are working to reach some sort of bipartisan compromise.

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) are calling on Senate leaders to take up a bill to give the president authority similar to Title 42 for two more years. Their proposal has gained support from some more moderate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, but it remains unclear whether it could clear the 60-vote threshold required for passage.

The two lawmakers are also working on a separate measure which would amount to a broader border package based on a framework they released last December.

Even if an infamous bipartisan “gang” in the Senate is able to reach a compromise, the measure would still need to clear the House, where hard-right members — Hageman among them — have shown little interest in border compromises.

“The border is not secure and hearing Biden and Secretary Mayorkas claim otherwise an insult [sic] to every American,” Hageman said in a Thursday statement after the House measure passed. “[T]hrough these failed policies, Joe Biden has created the largest drug and human trafficking operation in United States history.”

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