House Republicans unveiled new legislation Thursday to solve the Biden border surge and stem future waves of illegal immigration, saying the key lies in going back to border wall construction and hiring more agents — both ideas from the Trump era.
The White House, searching for its own solutions, cast its eye further afield, released Vice President Kamala Harris‘ “root causes” blueprint, based on the premise that the illegal immigration crisis is a result of people wanting to leave Central America.
Dubbed the “Migration Strategy,” the Biden administration‘s blueprint vows to tackle most of the major issues in the region, from combatting corruption to whittling the dominance of violent gangs to promoting economic investments that can create more jobs and higher standards of living.
The goal is to improve conditions enough that some people want to stay rather than flee El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
But the plan also acknowledges that a large segment of each of those countries wants to come regardless of conditions at home, and seeks to create pathways for those folks to do that legally.
“We’re not seeking to end migration,” a senior administration official said in briefing reporters on the plan. “We’re seeking to change the ways in which people migrate.”
Republicans said the U.S. has already seen how to change migrants’ patterns.
Under the Trump team, illegal border crossings dropped to their lowest rate in four decades. Under President Biden, the numbers are now at a 21-year high.
Led by Rep. John Katko, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, the GOP’s bill would immediately restart construction on the border wall, overriding Mr. Biden’s pause and blocking future attempts to siphon away the money.
The bill would also mandate the Border Patrol field at least 22,478 agents, or more than 1,000 over the current funding, and about 3,000 more agents than are currently employed.
The agency has faced a major hiring problem in recent years, so the legislation gives more flexibility in issuing waivers to get new personnel signed up.
“From finishing the border wall system to modernizing technology and bolstering border staffing, this legislation tackles key shortcomings and weaknesses we’ve seen for ourselves that are fueling the border crisis,” Mr. Katko said.
The divergent paths — with the White House saying illegal immigration is a foreign-policy matter and Republicans saying it can be solved with better policies at home — signals how difficult it will be to make headway in Washington.
Ms. Harris was tapped by Mr. Biden to find ways to improve conditions in Central America.
Republicans said that made her the “border czar,” but her team has resisted that label, insisting she’s only responsible for what happens below the U.S.-Mexico boundary and shouldn’t be tied to the current crisis.
Ms. Harris made a trip to Guatemala and Mexico and made a brief foray to Texas to look at the border to gather facts, and begin to lay the groundwork for the strategy.
“President Joe Biden and I have restarted our nation’s engagement in Central America and diplomatic efforts with Central American governments. Our Root Causes Strategy is comprehensive and draws from decades of experience—and is based on four core pieces of evidence,” Ms. Harris said in an introduction to the new strategy.
Administration officials said Ms. Harris‘s plan has buy-in from other countries. They named Canada, Costa Rica and Spain as part of a coalition of the willing.
Officials also said they’re expecting reciprocity from the countries in the region on combating corruption. The officials said that was a fair ask, given the amount of U.S. taxpayer money that will be committed over the years.
The effort is the latest in a long line of attempts to boost Central America. Mr. Biden was involved in a previous attempt when he was vice president in the Obama administration.
The Biden team told reporters that part of their approach this time around was to study Mr. Biden’s efforts to see what was working and should be expanded.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who’s been involved in immigration discussions for two decades, blasted the new White House strategy and said Ms. Harris and Mr. Biden have “hidden, waffled, and done everything but tackle this crisis head on.”
“Vice President Harris and the Biden administration have yet to demonstrate they have the knowledge, experience, or will to fix the border crisis,” he said.