- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2021

House Democrats are rushing this week to approve citizenship rights for millions of illegal immigrants already in the U.S., even as the homeland security secretary warned that agents are arresting more border jumpers than they have in two decades.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has teed up votes on one bill to grant quick legal status and a path to naturalization to farmworkers and another bill to do the same for young adult “Dreamers” and other migrants in the U.S. under the Temporary Protected Status program.

About half of the country’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants might be eligible under one or the other of the bills.

The bills, though, are being introduced while an “overwhelming” surge of people are bursting through the southern border without permission.

“We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a lengthy statement Tuesday, a day before he is scheduled to testify to lawmakers.

He placed blame for the situation on Mexico’s reduced cooperation, on conditions in other countries, on pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic and on the Trump administration, but he did not mention President Biden’s rollback of Trump policies.

Many migrants cite the Biden changes as their reason for coming.

Rosemary Jenks, vice president at NumbersUSA, who has battled legalization bills for years, said approving two “amnesty” bills will only fuel these surges.

“I don’t know if it’s the progressives pressuring leadership or it’s just they are so ideologically committed to amnesty and open borders that they don’t even see the optics on this, but it’s just kind of hard to believe that they would be so out of touch,” Ms. Jenks said.

The bill legalizing Dreamers and TPS holders could apply to as many as 4.4 million people, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Many of those are in the country under a temporary deportation amnesty and are holding jobs on temporary work permits.

The other bill would legalize farmworkers, who could total another 1.2 million.

Neither bill includes new enforcement or border-security measures.

Versions of both bills passed the House in the last Congress, garnering some Republican support. But the legislation never saw action in the Senate, where Republicans were in control and said they were nonstarters for President Trump.

The bills are expected to pass in the House again this week, but the path gets tougher from there.

Even though Democrats now control the Senate, they are far from a filibuster-proof majority. Republicans who worked with Democrats on bills in the past say the border situation has changed bipartisanship.

“There’s no pathway for anything right now,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who was involved in writing a broad immigration bill in 2013, the last time the Senate tackled the issue.

Democrats are divided over whether to try a repeat of 2013, when they tackled all 11 million illegal immigrants in the same bill, or to break down the issue into different legalizations, as the House is doing this week.

Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat, told reporters at the Capitol that he wanted a broad legalization bill again.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who worked with Mr. Graham on the 2013 effort, doubted something that broad could pass in the current environment.

He said he saw more hope for the pared-down bills, but even then Democrats will have to give more of a nod to solving the problems at the border, he said.

“That has to be part of the conversation,” he said.

But Sen. Christopher Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, said the border situation shouldn’t matter.

“People’s lives are not being affected by what’s happening on the border today,” he told reporters.

Those in border communities disagree and say the rest of the country should be worried, too.

COVID-19 rates among migrants being caught and released into the U.S. run as high as 25%. Not all are being tested, and even when they are, some still get on buses immediately afterward and mix with the public as they head deeper into the country.

“Everybody’s afraid of COVID, and these people are not getting tested,” Tiffany Burrow, director of operations at the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, told The 830 Times in Del Rio.

She said that may be scaring away volunteers, who are desperately needed to help hundreds of migrants being released into communities each day and who need help making travel arrangements as they spread out into the U.S.

Ms. Jenks said the border situation will deteriorate in the coming months, making the issue even tougher for Democrats to tackle without a serious nod toward border security.

“The administration had no plans to stop it, so it’s not going to stop,” she said.

Mr. Mayorkas is likely to face questions about his plans when he testifies Wednesday to the House Homeland Security Committee.

He made a secretive visit to the border this month to try to get a handle on the situation.

Republicans have been pressing Mr. Biden to visit. The president told reporters Tuesday that he doesn’t have plans to do so.

“Not at the moment,” he said.

Bipartisan pressure is growing for changes.

Two Republicans and two Democrats in the Senate announced legislation Tuesday to force the government to take responsibility for the unaccompanied juveniles who are now setting records at the border. The children often get lost in the system and disappear from the homes where they are placed.

The legislation would also hire hundreds of additional immigration judges to speed up hearings of the children’s cases.

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