Washington D.C. – A $118 billion bipartisan border bill unveiled by the U.S. Senate on Sunday has immediately run into opposition from the House of Representatives, foreshadowing a contentious fight in Congress over immigration and foreign aid.
The wide-ranging legislation proposed bolstering security along the southern border, while also providing support for Ukraine, Israel and other allies. President Joe Biden praised the bipartisan agreement, but House Speaker Mike Johnson dismissed it as “dead on arrival.”
The bill represents the most significant potential changes to U.S. immigration and border policy in decades. It aims to crack down on illegal crossings by expanding detention capacity and speeding up asylum decisions.
“This bill is even worse than we expected, and won’t come close to ending the border catastrophe the president has created,” Johnson said in a statement on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
The lead Democratic and Republican Senate negotiators vowed to forge ahead with an initial vote planned for Wednesday, despite the opposition.
“The priorities in this bill are too important to ignore and too vital to allow politics to get in the way,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a statement.
In addition to the $20.23 billion allocated for border security, the legislation includes $60.06 billion in military assistance for Ukraine, $14.1 billion for Israel, and billions more for other defense priorities, according to Senator Patty Murray, chair of the Appropriations Committee.
Some Democrats have criticized the lack of provisions to provide citizenship pathways for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., including “Dreamers” who arrived as children.
Independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema, one of the negotiators, said the bill would allow the Department of Homeland Security to temporarily “shut down” the southern frontier if migrant crossing attempts average over 5,000 per day for a week.
Republican Senator James Lankford estimated this could keep the border closed for a minimum of three weeks as arrival numbers drop. The aim is to end the controversial “catch-and-release” system blamed for encouraging illegal immigration.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has backed the bipartisan proposal, arguing it is the best deal possible with Democrats controlling Congress and the White House.
But House Republicans remain divided on immigration and skeptical of the Senate compromise. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise blasted it as unacceptable and warned it would continue high levels of illegal immigration.
With conservatives opposed, Speaker Johnson now plans to hold a vote on providing $17.6 billion in military aid to Israel alone, stripping out border security and Ukraine assistance.
Immigration ranks among the top issues for voters, especially Republicans, ahead of the 2024 elections. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported a total of more than 2.4 million encounters at the Southwest border in fiscal year 2023, which includes a combination of apprehensions and individuals deemed inadmissible at ports of entry.
Despite the roadblocks, negotiators like Lankford say they will keep engaging with House Republicans to build more support. Schumer called it one of the closest bipartisan efforts of his long Senate career.
For Biden and Democrats, failure to pass meaningful immigration reforms risks further political damage on an issue that helped Republicans make major gains in the 2022 midterms.