A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday to address surges in migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, like the one seen in recent months.
The bill, titled The Bipartisan Border Solutions Act, is led by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), both who represent states that border Mexico.
Border officials have been overwhelmed by an influx in migration that’s larger than any in two decades. Border Patrol agents encountered more than 170,000 people in March, though the Biden administration has continued to expel the majority of migrants who cross the border under a pandemic-related health order enacted by President Trump last year.
The newly-proposed legislation would set up regional processing centers where people can make asylum claims outside the U.S. The centers would be established near areas of the border that are typically overwhelmed during a surge in migration, in an effort to relieve pressure on Border Patrol, Cornyn said.
On Thursday, he called the bipartisan push for immigration reform “unique.”
“We've been through the immigration battles here on Capitol Hill a long time, but it's not enough to criticize what other people have proposed to try to solve a problem,” Cornyn said on a call with reporters. “If you've got a better idea, come forward with one.”
The legislation will also be introduced by Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Tony Gonzales (R-TX) in the House.
“We’re trying to give folks a fair process before an immigration judge,” Cuellar said Thursday.
The proposal would also add staff to aid the asylum process, including more asylum officers and judges, plus it aims to make the application process speedier and more fair.
President Joe Biden sent a sweeping immigration proposal to Congress on his first day in office, which includes border reforms as well as a pathway to citizenship for farmworkers, DREAMers — those who came to the U.S. undocumented as children — and others living without status in the United States.
But Republicans have pointed to the overwhelming situation at the border as the country’s first priority.
“Until we get this under a little bit better control, I think it's going to be very difficult for us to move other substantive immigration legislation,” Sen. Cornyn said.
The senator did say he would support a separate bill that gives DREAMers a legal route to citizenship.
In the meantime, President Biden has tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to address the root causes of migration through diplomacy with the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Harris held a roundtable with foundation leaders on Thursday about Central American migration, and she’s expected to visit the region in June.
On Thursday, the GOP lawmakers introducing the bill noted that Harris’ role doesn’t address immediate necessities at the border.
“The bottom line is: People need help now. Like, we need relief today. And these processing centers get to the heart of that,” Rep. Gonzales said.
The members leading the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act said they were hopeful about gaining support across Congress, calling it “common sense” legislation, though they didn’t guarantee its passage or a timeline of when it could get a vote.
On Thursday, some advocates called the bipartisan proposal a sign of progress.
"This is a positive step that bodes well for the chances for immigration reforms this year,” said Ali Noorani, President of the National Immigration Forum.
"The question is, how do we build on this bipartisanship?” he added. “We need members of Congress to embrace a similar spirit as they address other reforms: for Dreamers, for farmworkers and for Temporary Protected Status recipients.”