Bidding to salvage a border deal in Congress that also would unlock money for Ukraine, President Joe Biden offered fresh assurances Saturday night that he would be willing to close the U.S.-Mexico border if lawmakers would only send him a bill to sign.
President Biden — also eager to disarm GOP criticism of his handling of migration at the border — said at a political event in South Carolina that he would shut down the border "right now" if Congress passed the proposed deal. The framework hasn't been formally agreed to by Senate Democrats and Republicans, and would face an uncertain future in the GOP-controlled House.
"A bipartisan bill would be good for America and help fix our broken immigration system and allow speedy access for those who deserve to be here, and Congress needs to get it done," President Biden said. "It'll also give me as president, the emergency authority to shut down the border until it could get back under control. If that bill were the law today, I'd shut down the border right now and fix it quickly."
The deal being negotiated in Congress would require the U.S. to shutter the border if roughly 5,000 migrants cross illegally on any given day. Some one-day totals last year exceeded 10,000.
Former President Donald Trump has been pressuring Republicans for weeks to kill the negotiations. He's loath to give a win to President Biden on an issue that animated the Republican's successful 2016 campaign and that he wants to use as he seeks to return to the White House. Negotiators had appeared to be closing in on a deal, but it started to fray after Trump's admonitions to conservative lawmakers grew stronger.
In a written statement on Friday evening, the president said the deal would allow him "a new emergency authority" to close the border. He added that "if given that authority" he would "use it the day" the bill is signed.
It was a stark claim from a Democratic president that was met with astonishment and shock from immigrant advocates who have said his policies do not reflect the progressive approach they had expected.
"Voters want to see our elected leaders do the hard work to fix our frayed immigration system," said Deirdre Schifeling, chief political and advocacy officer at the American Civil Liberties Union. "President Biden and Congress must abandon these proposals and heed voters' demands for fair and effective immigration policies that manage the border and treat people seeking safety with dignity."
But, President Biden is struggling across multiple fronts, dealing with an influx of asylum seekers even as he cracks down on those who cross into the U.S. illegally. Democrats are increasingly frustrated because asylum seekers are streaming into cities that lack the resources to care for them.
In a letter Saturday responding to the president's comments, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., insisted that President Biden doesn't need congressional action to close the border and called on him to "take executive action immediately to reverse the catastrophe he has created."
Immigration remains a major concern for voters in the 2024 election. An AP-NORC poll earlier this month found that those voicing concerns about immigration climbed to 35% from 27% last year. Most Republicans, 55%, say the government needs to focus on immigration in 2024, while 22% of Democrats listed immigration as a priority. That's up from 45% and 14%, respectively, in December 2022.
Arrests for illegal border crossings from Mexico reached an all-time high in December since monthly numbers have been released.
The Border Patrol tallied 249,785 arrests on the Mexican border in December, up 31% from 191,112 in November and up 13% from 222,018 in December 2022, the previous all-time high.
Mexicans accounted for 56,236 arrests in December, while Venezuelans were second with 46,937, erasing much of the decline that followed the start of deportation flights to Venezuela in October. Arrests of Guatemalans surged, with Hondurans and Colombians rounding out the top five nationalities.
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