A Republican senator working to hammer out an agreement on an immigration bill said the measure is aimed at securing the border and granting citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants.
“We want to seal the border. We want to prevent 2 million crossings every year—with Title 42 going away, potentially many more than that. We want to protect our Border Patrol agents,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said on Fox News on Dec. 8.
Title 42 is a pandemic-era health order that enables border agents to quickly expel some illegal immigrants over fears they are infected with COVID-19. A judge recently stuck down the order, but delayed implementation of his ruling until Dec. 21 to give officials time to prepare for the program’s end. The government is appealing the ruling.
The bill would reportedly include a provision keeping Title 42 in place.
Tillis also confirmed that the bill would provide citizenship to a group of illegal immigrants who came to the United States when they were children.
“Here is what they have to do. They have to be in school. They have to be gainfully employed. They can be in the military. They can’t have a criminal record and never have been on any sort of federal assistance,” Tillis said. “These are people that came to this country as minors who are now doctors, scientists, teachers, hundreds serving in the military.”
The Republican suggested that the path to citizenship would be part of the agreement to gain Democrat support for border security improvements.
“I think the American people understand this is very different than this concept of amnesty. This will give them a path, and it is not automatic. They will have to work and maintain those high standards,” Tillis said. “And for that, we get a closed border, and we shut down the cartels. That seems to me like something worth working on.”
Tillis is working with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who was a Democrat but just announced a switch to being an independent, on the proposal, the text of which has not been released.
On his website, Tillis is described as “a national leader pushing for secure borders and a merit-based immigration system” who has been “working to break decades of gridlock and inaction from Republicans and Democrats.”
Tillis wants to reduce illegal immigration and human and drug trafficking while “resolving the legal uncertainty surrounding DACA by proposing a commonsense, merit-based pathway to legal status for Dreamers,” the site says.
DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was an executive order from then-President Barack Obama in 2012 that enabled illegal immigrants who came to the country when young to be immune from deportation for a period of time and to be eligible for a work permit. The Trump administration tried to end the program, but was blocked by courts. President Joe Biden reinstated it in January 2021. Several courts since then have ruled the program was illegal, but have allowed it to remain in place pending resolution of the case.
Approximately 643,500 illegal immigrants were protected by DACA as of 2020. Hundreds of thousands of others could be granted amnesty if it is enacted.
The proposal faces an uncertain fate in both chambers.
Even if all 50 Senate Democrats or nominal independents who caucus with the Democrats approve the measure, it would need the support of nine Republicans in addition to Tillis.
In the Democrat-controlled House, some members are already saying they oppose the proposal.
Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Jesus Garcia (D-Ill.), and Jose Correa (D-Calif.) said that they appreciated the amnesty component but that the deal would “further militarize the border and lacks necessary accountability measures that comprehensive immigration reform would have delivered.”
“We cannot at this time, in good conscience, support the current framework,” they said.
Sinema, who announced Friday she was becoming an independent, said in an op-ed detailing her decision that securing the border is one of her top focuses.
“For those who support my work to secure the southern border, ensure fair and humane treatment for migrants and permanently protect ‘Dreamers’ who are Americans in all but name, those will remain my priorities,” Sinema wrote.
Sinema has been one of the few Democrats to call for Biden to step up immigration enforcement as record numbers of illegal aliens cross into America from Mexico.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a top Republican negotiator on immigration proposals, panned the Tillis–Sinema measure in several interviews.
“I have said to them that I don’t think there’s any way we can pass immigration legislation without addressing the crisis at the border,” Cornyn told the Washington Post.
“I think until the Biden administration owns up to its responsibilities on the border it’s not possible to pass an immigration bill,” he added to Bloomberg.
Other critics include Stephen Miller, who advised Trump on immigration.
“We are currently in the middle of the largest ongoing epidemic of minor smuggling in history. There is nothing more reckless, dangerous or destructive you could do at this moment than amnesty illegals who arrived as minors,” Miller said in a statement.
Proponents include Kristie De Peña, vice president of policy and director of the Niskanen Center’s immigration department, who said the framework “strengthens border security, offers 2.3 million Dreamers citizenship, and modernizes the immigration system to address our current challenges.”