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Moderate Republicans oppose a new border bill.
Moderate Republicans oppose a new border bill. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

House Republicans grapple with intra-party fighting on border bill

The House GOP planned to pass the Border Safety and Security Act within the first two weeks of the new year, but now face internal opposition.

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In late December 2022, House Minority Whip and Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise introduced a slate of 12 resolutions and bills to be passed in the first two weeks of the congressional session in 2023 regarding abortion, crime, immigration, IRS funding, and energy production. 

As the incoming House Majority Leader at that time, he sent the group of bills and resolutions straight to the House floor while committees were still being organized to ensure it gets passed without issue. 

One of the bills in the stack was the Border Safety and Security Act of 2023. 

Sponsored by Texas Rep. Chip Roy, it would allow the Homeland Security Secretary — Alejandro Mayorkas — to reject migrants and have “operational control” at the border. 

Republicans historically had called out Mayorkas for not meeting the legal standard of “operational control” at the border by failing to prevent unlawful entries and contraband. 

Operational control is defined as it was back in the 2006 Secure Fence Act, 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.”

Doris Meissner, the head of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute, called the wording “aspirational.” 

“I mean, it’s unrealistic,” said Meissner, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner under former President Bill Clinton. 

The bill is currently one of five bills and resolutions from the list of 12 that are encountering roadblocks. 

As Republicans attempt to get it passed through their narrowly-held majority in the House, it’s come to a halt due to intra-party opposition from GOP moderates, highlighting the challenge for House GOP leaders trying to pass bills with a slim majority even when the bills address issues that drive the party’s top messages. 

A slim majority for Republicans means any bill not supported by Democrats can be shut down as long as five members oppose it. In the scenario that it makes it through the House, it would fall apart in the Democrat-controlled Senate. 

One of the Republican Congressman opposing the bill is Texas Rep. Tony Gonzales, whose district lies on the U.S.-Mexico border. He forewarned that it could prevent legal asylum claims and limitations on asylum altogether. 

“One thing that is certain, H.R. 29, the Border Safety and Security Act, is not securing the border, and that is dead on arrival,” Gonzales told What America’s Thinking. 

“That bill is not going to go anywhere for a wide variety of reasons. And I will do everything in my power to prevent anti-immigrant legislation from getting over the finish line,” added Gonzales, a co-chairman of the 18-member Congressional Hispanic Conference, a Republican caucus.

Roy, the bill’s sponsor, responded to Gonzales and clarified the “misinformation” regarding the legislations specifics.  

“Let me set the record straight. This legislation does one thing: enforce current law to say that we have to detain for the entirety of the adjudication of a claim, an asylum claim. Or, turn away, like we do under current Title 42 law during a pandemic,” he said on PBS earlier this month.

Roy told The Hill this week that the bill currently has 64 co-sponsors and near unanimous approval in the House GOP conference. 

Same-party opponents like Gonzales will at the very least, want Roy to negotiate the specifics of any asylum or border security bills, saying he would “absolutely push back.” 

“There’s many of us in the House — and not just Hispanic members — that will push back against anti-immigrant legislation like the Border Safety and Security Act, that has a great name but fails to meet the mark,” Gonzales said.

GOP leadership is also working with House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees on a broader border package to be released later this year with Roy’s bill currently on hold. 

Fellow Republican and Florida representative Mario Díaz-Balart was optimistic about the bill’s prospects and reiterated that the party’s overall commitment to securing the border is stronger than any disagreement. 

“There is a consensus, clearly, among Republicans that before we do anything else, we need to secure the border. And that’s something that we’re working on,” said Diaz-Balart, also co-chairman of the Hispanic Conference. 

“So I feel very optimistic that we’re going to be able to reach a consensus on that issue.” 

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