DEL RIO, Texas—The first of a planned list of border security-related proposals that Republicans hope to bring to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives this year is largely a Title 42-esque action.
It’s also part of the assurance that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) gave to several Republican holdouts when vying for the speaker position several weeks ago. He won the gavel on the 15th vote.
“We did make one of our kind of requests that we advance effectively the Texas border plan this year,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) told The Epoch Times, regarding the speaker negotiations. “And that we get votes on the Texas border plan.”
Roy is the sponsor of H.R. 29, also known as the Border Safety and Security Act of 2023. He has secured 58 co-sponsors as of Jan. 25 and is optimistic that more members will sign on, especially those who support the Title 42 public health order that’s allowing Border Patrol to quickly expel some illegal aliens.
It’s a simple bill, which Roy said was purposeful: “You’re either for it or you’re against it.”
The gist of the bill states: “This bill requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to suspend the entry of any non-U.S. nationals (aliens under federal law) without valid entry documents during any period when DHS cannot detain such an individual or return the individual to a foreign country contiguous to the United States. A state may sue DHS to enforce this requirement.”
It’s already enshrined in decades-old immigration law that illegal and inadmissible aliens be detained for the pendency of their case. However, the Biden administration has moved away from that by decreasing available detention space and gutting the “Remain in Mexico” program, which required aliens to stay in Mexico until their cases were adjudicated. The result is a “catch-and-release” system in which illegal aliens are given a trackable phone and a court date and then released into the United States with a court date that is often years down the road.
When the Remain in Mexico program was operating during the Trump era, illegal immigration dropped by about 75 percent, since it put a halt to catch-and-release. The Biden administration is intent on scrapping Remain in Mexico, despite being ordered by the Supreme Court to resume it. No illegal aliens have been placed in the program since August 2022, according to CBP statistics.
“Our laws, the default position, is you’ve got to have operational control of the border, and you secure the border, and people don’t get to just come in without papers,” Roy said.
Roy’s border bill has encountered fierce opposition from a plethora of immigration advocacy groups.
A group of 253 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) penned a joint letter to members of Congress, urging members to vote against H.R. 29, saying that it would, “as a practical matter, shut our border to all asylum-seekers, no matter how strong their cases might be.”
The letter goes on to say that the bill would “return refugees of all nationalities and ages, including children, directly to harm and death.”
The organizations state that the bill’s conditions are “operationally impossible” and “a recipe for a human rights catastrophe.”
Roy disputes the interpretation.
“It absolutely does not ban asylum. That’s a lie. It’s a purposeful lie by people to misrepresent what the bill does.”
He said the letter’s argument that he and the bill are “un-Christian” is unfounded.
“It’s really offensive. I don’t know how it’s un-Christian to try to prevent the cartels from raping more girls in stash houses and killing Americans with fentanyl because we refuse to do what we need to do to get control of our border,” Roy said.
Congress defined “operational control” of U.S. borders in the Secure Fence Act of 2006 as “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.”
The NGO letter states that “operational control” at the U.S. border is “incompatible with liberal democracy.”
It quotes a 2011 Migration Policy Institute report:
“Of course, achieving absolute border control, whereby no single individual crosses into a state without that state’s authorization, is impossible and the only nations that have come close to such control were totalitarian, with leaders who had no qualms about imposing border control with shoot-to-kill orders.”
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has maintained that the border is secure and that his agency has operational control.
Since President Joe Biden took office two years ago, Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 4.2 million illegal border-crossers, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
The NGO groups write off H.R. 29 as a tool of “fear and hate.”
“[It has] nothing to do with safety or any kind of effort to address the real and complicated challenges posed by the worldwide increase in migration, and everything to do with an alarming uptick in hateful rhetoric and violence targeting asylum seekers and immigrants in the United States,” the letter reads.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the bill clearly doesn’t end or restrict access to asylum.
“If anything, this bill would improve access to asylum, because it would go a long way toward preventing the current abuse of the asylum process by opportunistic illegal migrants,” Vaughan told The Epoch Times on Jan. 24.
“The critics of this bill are equating crossing illegally to ask for asylum with actually qualifying for asylum. Those are two very different things.”
To qualify for asylum relief, according to U.S. law, an asylum-seeker must prove that they’ve been persecuted or fear that they’ll be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion.
Data show that about 90 percent of asylum claims from Central Americans are ultimately ruled as unqualified by immigration judges. The majority of illegal border crossers who are released into the United States don’t end up applying for asylum, although they have a year to do so upon entry. Many abscond from their court hearings and are untrackable.
“And that is one of the biggest problems right now and why we have this crisis at the border is because the Biden administration has been allowing anyone who crosses the border to enter on the pretext of wanting to apply for asylum,” Vaughan said.
Although current law stipulates that illegal aliens should be detained pending the outcome of their case, she said that “the law does not give many remedies for when a president simply refuses to secure the border.”
Roy’s bill would “clarify what Congress expects an administration to do. It’s essentially a referendum on catch-and-release,” according to Vaughan.
If the bill does pass, it would create “a huge incentive” for the executive branch to set up a better system for adjudicating asylum claims more quickly, she said.
Roy said he became less optimistic about the bill’s passage after Senate Republicans voted late last year to approve the omnibus spending bill, essentially giving up the Republican lawmakers’ main tool of political leverage.
McCarthy didn’t respond to The Epoch Times for a request for comment about when H.R. 29 might be placed on the calendar or if he supports the measure.
“You would think that Speaker McCarthy would recognize the importance of this bill, for showing that he’s going to deliver the agenda that the members of his caucus want pushed,” Vaughan said.
None of the five U.S. House members from Texas whose districts include a portion of the southern border—Reps. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), Monica De La Cruz (R-Texas), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Vicente Gonzales (D-Texas), and Veronica Escobar (D-Texas)—responded to a request for comment regarding H.R. 29 or if they support it. None are currently listed as co-sponsors.