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WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Greg Casar of Austin helped lead a group of progressive Democrats in issuing a stern rebuke against President Joe Biden for extending border provisions inherited from the Trump administration, highlighting the wide ideological gulf in Congress as lawmakers hope to find a bipartisan path forward on border security.
In a letter to the White House, Casar and other progressives took issue with the administration’s plan to continue Title 42, a provision that expels asylum-seekers under the pretext of stopping the spread of COVID-19.
“Last year, we welcomed your administration’s announcement that it would move to end Title 42, and we continue to support your efforts in the courts to ensure a timely end to the policy,” the members wrote. “We are therefore distressed by the deeply inconsistent choice to expand restrictions on asylum seekers after your administration determined it was no longer necessary for public health.”
Biden, earlier this month, extended Title 42, pairing it with a set of new pathways for legal immigration for select countries as a temporary measure to address surging crossings at the border with Mexico. The progressives called the plan a betrayal of Biden’s campaign promise to end Trump’s border policies.
The letter is the latest in a series of proposals and demands made by members of Congress as lawmakers once again try to pass comprehensive immigration legislation.
[Here’s what you need to know about Title 42, the pandemic-era policy that quickly sends migrants to Mexico]
And the question of Title 42 demonstrates how far apart ideologically Congress remains on border security and immigration. Many Republicans, including Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, are demanding some kind of provision either expelling or detaining asylum-seekers. Democrats, meanwhile, want to focus on providing more legal pathways to immigrate to the U.S. while also pursuing diplomacy in the migrants’ home countries.
More than 70 members of both the House and Senate signed the letter urging Biden to nix Title 42, including Reps. Sylvia R. Garcia, D-Houston, and Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio.
Comprehensive legislation on the border and immigration has evaded Congress for decades. Both Casar and New York’s Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who co-wrote the letter, mentioned Thursday that they were not even alive the last time there was a major immigration bill passed through Congress.
A bipartisan group of Senate negotiators led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Arizona, and Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, kicked off negotiations last December that would shore up border security funding while providing some legal protections for migrants who arrived as children.
The Senate negotiations included an extension for Title 42. But though protections for childhood arrivals is a key priority for Democrats, Casar was adamant in his opposition to the pandemic provision during a news conference in front of the Capitol on Thursday. Still, his spokesperson kept the door open to hear out proposals.
“We know that this expansion of Title 42 is ultimately in response to political attacks and lies and cynicism from far-right wing Republicans who don’t actually want to solve this challenge,” Casar said.
Casar stressed instead the need to invest in stabilizing asylum-seekers’ home countries and opening more legal pathways for entry to the United States. While he praised the Biden administration for including the new options as part of its border announcement earlier this month, he criticized entry requirements that could make the new pathways financially prohibitive for some of the most vulnerable migrants. Under the scheme, citizens of Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba and Nicaragua can request special visas in their home countries if they have a sponsor in the United States.
On the opposite side of the political spectrum, several deeply conservative Republicans led by Roy are continuing to push through their own border security bill, which would allow the Homeland Security secretary to block all new entries until the administration is able to detain asylum-seekers and all who cross the border illegally. Once detention capacity is reached, migrants would be turned away at the border.
The wide range of ideas could throw cold water on hope that this will be a breakthrough Congress that manages to crack the immigration riddle. Sen. John Cornyn and Sinema led a bipartisan group of senators to the border earlier this month in order to reignite discussions in earnest to find a good-faith agreement on the issue. Cornyn expressed optimism that the bipartisan momentum from last Congress’ landmark bills on gun control and competitiveness with China could carry over to passing a border and immigration bill.
But during a call with reporters Thursday, Cornyn acknowledged that could have been “a triumph of hope over experience.”
“We’ve never failed to fail, in my view, when it comes to border security and immigration,” Cornyn said. “I am an optimist by nature. I look at the glass being half full rather than half empty.”