Now the Republicans have a chance to do something new. Rather than treating the southern border as a blank screen on which to project their storehouse of demagogy, they can support an emergent compromise with a real chance of achieving a more orderly border.
The senses. Thom Tillis (RN.C.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) have reached agreement on a draft compromise framework on immigration reform, sources familiar with the matter tell me. They concern issues such as the fate of “dreamers” brought here as children and the treatment of asylum seekers at the southern border. Will the 10 Republican senators needed to defeat a buccaneer go ahead?
A white paper laying out this Tillis-Sinema plan is circulating on Capitol Hill, congressional aides and lawyers connected to the talks tell me. Although the details are constantly evolving, here is a partial list of the main elements it contains:
- A form of journey towards citizenship for 2 million dreamers.
- A large increase in resources to speed up the processing of asylum seekers, including new processing centers and more asylum officers and judges.
- More resources to speed up the removal of migrants who do not meet the conditions to apply for asylum.
- A continuation of the Title 42 health restriction on asylum-seeking migrants, until the new processing centers are operational, with the goal of a one-year delay.
- More funding for border agents.
The idea behind this compromise is this: It gives Democrats protection for 2 million dreamers and strengthens due process defenses for some migrants. It gives Republicans faster removal from the country of migrants who do not qualify for asylum, a continued restriction on applications for next year and greater border security.
The increased resources would hopefully reduce pressure at the border by moving migrants through the asylum process more quickly. Processing facilities would be temporary detention centers, but additional lawyers would be present, allowing for stronger representation.
On the other hand, if migrants fail the initial interview to determine if they have a “credible fear” of persecution if returned to their country of origin, they will be deported much more quickly. A “Title 42” sanitary logic, indefensible as a border management tool, would ostensibly be maintained to control flows during the implementation of reforms. The General Accounting Office would have the power to terminate it after one year if the processing centers are operational.
It’s hard to say whether 10 Republican senators would back such a deal to push it past a GOP filibuster. It will become more difficult when former President Donald Trump and adviser Stephen Miller cry out that this represents massive betrayal by the “elites”, as they no doubt will, and right-wing media propagandists such as Tucker Carlson amplify this. toxic message to enrage the base.
If 10 GOP senators could support that, they would be drawn from those retiring (Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania) or those willing to challenge the Trump wing of the party (Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska).
A big question is whether these Republicans will see any benefit in genuinely trying to resolve border issues. They might decide that the GOP won’t get any credit even if the effort succeeds — that credit might go to President Biden — and that the ongoing “border crisis” is best left as an issue.
But this is the last chance for these GOP senators to try to reach a bipartisan compromise. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who hopes to be the next speaker, has vowed not to pass immigration reform legislation until he judges the secure border, which will never happen. By supporting this, incumbent GOP senators could plausibly claim that they helped the party leave Trump and add to their legacy of bipartisan reform on a brutal national issue.
On the other side, however, it is unclear whether 50 Democratic senators would support such a compromise. The prosecution of Title 42, which has been a human rights disaster, and the enhanced removal process could make it a failure among progressives in both houses.
“The devil is in the details,” Robyn Barnard, a lawyer with Human Rights First, told me. “We believe Congress should protect dreamers,” she said, but noted it was “unconscionable” to “trade the lives of one immigrant group for another.”
Still, the appeal for Democrats to reach a bipartisan deal could be strong. “There are bitter pills in this compromise,” Frank Sharry, a longtime immigration advocate, told me. “But the status quo is clearly unacceptable. If they get the details right, it would be a bipartisan breakthrough.
Time and time again over the years, the most carefully crafted compromises in immigration reform have imploded. If 10 GOP senators seem open to reforms that would make life more humane for more than 2 million immigrants and show Republicans that a compromise on immigration is possible without the political sky collapsing, progressives might have a hard time saying no.