Legislation to End ‘Catch and Release’ and Mandate Overloaded Border Closures
The immigration bill few have seen but many sharply oppose got its fullest explanation Sunday on Face the Nation. Arizona Independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who led a four-month bipartisan negotiation, said its major change would be to end the controversial policy of “catch and release”.
Sinema’s comments are the first specific descriptions of what’s in – and not in – the Senate immigration compromise. Actual bill language was released Sunday night for a $118 billion security package that included immigration reform plus aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.
Blaming drug cartels for exploiting a loophole in U.S. immigration law, Sinema said, “We are going to end catch and release and require folks who claim asylum to actually have their asylum claims determined quickly and fairly. And that will provide a disincentive for individuals to come to this country, really sacrificing so much in their lives for a path that no longer can be exploited.” She noted many asylum claims aren’t adjudicated for as long as a decade.
Asked about opposition to the measure by former President Trump, Sinema said, “You know, I think everyone has an opportunity to be persuaded. And by persuaded I simply mean, read the legislation, understand how it works. These are powerful new tools that allow any administration, this one and future administrations, to actually gain control of the border by changing the asylum system so that cartels can no longer exploit it.”
Previous news reports indicate the text of the compromise has been circulating among senators. Sinema added that Senate appropriators are determining how much additional spending will be required to implement these new immigration policies if adopted. President Biden requested $14 billion for border security in his supplemental spending request, which also includes aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.
Sinema expressed support for including immigration policy changes and funding with a broader security package. “For five months, my Republican colleagues had demanded, and I think rightfully so, that we address this border crisis as part of a national security package. I agree,” Sinema said. “The crisis on our border is a national security threat. And this week, the Senate will begin to take action on a large national security package that includes a realistic, pragmatic and the strongest solution to our border crisis in my lifetime.”
The release of the full bill Sunday night provided additional details about the immigration section. The proposal includes Democratic priorities, such as adding thousands more family-based and employment-based visas, allowing work authorization for spouses of U.S. citizens awaiting immigrant visas and guaranteeing access to counsel for child migrants in removal proceedings. The legislation also allows for work visas for those who do qualify for asylum and makes provisions for Afghan refugees.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated a national security package could reach the Senate floor this week, with a procedural vote set for Wednesday. Biden has signaled support for such a package, saying if he was given the authority to shut down the U.S.-Mexican border to immigrants, he would do so.
“The border crisis is a national security threat. The Senate will take action on a realistic, pragmatic and strongest border crisis solution in my lifetime.”
House Speaker Mike Johnson, responding to opposition by Trump, has said the Senate package would be dead on arrival in the House. “Now is not the time for comprehensive immigration reform,” He said over the weekend. Instead, Johnson plans to bring a stand-alone Israeli aid bill to the floor this week.
When asked about Johnson’s position, Sinema said, “ I know how important [immigration] is to securing our national security. So I feel confident that when our bill passes through the Senate and gets to the House, members of the House, including Speaker Johnson, will have had ample opportunity to read, understand the bill and ask questions and watch our debate in the Senate. And then they get to make a choice. Do you want to secure the border?”
Senator James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, appeared on Face the Nation a week ago to discuss the immigration compromise that he, Sinema and Senator Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, have negotiated for months. Lankford’s interview focused on a provision that would allow the President to close the border when immigration reached a certain threshold.
While focusing instead on the end of catch and release, Sinema expanded on Lankford’s explanation. “So much has been talked about with the, as you know, the number of 5,000 people a day, right, we’ve all heard misinformation, and frankly, just kind of rumors, saying, well, the administration doesn’t have to shut down the border until you get to 5,000 crossers a day. Well, that’s not true.”
“First of all, our law is catch and release. But when too many people approach the border seeking asylum, we’re now mandating that the government actually shut down the border if those numbers get to 5,000 a day. But we’re permitting the government to actually shut down the border when it only gets to 4,000 approaches a day,” Sinema said. “And the reason we’re doing that is because we want to be able to shut down the system when it gets overloaded.”
She added, “By giving a powerful new tool to the government, that requires them to shut down the border during times of high traffic when too many people are asking to come into the country to seek asylum, we are giving tools to this administration and future administrations to actually gain control of the border.”
Sinema, a former social worker, is a freshman senator who has yet to declare for re-election this year. Elected as a Democrat, Sinema has often sided with Senator Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, in blocking legislative provisions sought by Biden and more liberal Senate Democrats. She became an independent in December 2022, joining Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine.
To get on the 2024 Arizona ballot as an independent, Sinema will need 42,000 valid voter signatures. Sources say there is no indication her campaign has started collecting signatures, which must be submitted in April. Sinema has more than $10 million in her campaign piggybank. Her strategy may be to use a major legislative victory on immigration as a slingshot to seek re-election.
Noting she grew up in Arizona near the border and deflecting a question from hist Margaret Brennan about her future political plans, Sinema said, “My job was to lead the negotiations for the border policy changes that we so desperately need. And that’s why I’ve worked with Senator Lankford and Senator Murphy over the last four months to create workable policy that makes dramatic but needed changes to both our asylum system and border policy.”
As for a timeline on the compromise and her political decision, she said, “I don’t control the timeline. That’s a question for the leadership in the Senate. What I can control is what I’ve done over the last four months, which is work in good faith with Senators Lankford and Senators Murphy, to craft a real solution to the border, the first one in my lifetime.
The result, Sinema emphasized, “is an incredibly powerful tool. And I believe that when folks have the opportunity to read the legislation, and hear from groups like Border Patrol agents, ICE agents throughout the country, they will see how important this tool is for our administration to have.”