Lawmakers say fixing border crisis is Biden's job

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill say Congress has little role to play in fixing the border crisis, arguing the responsibility falls largely on President BidenJoe BidenUS lawmakers arrive in Taiwan to meet with local officials Biden meets with Coast Guard on Thanksgiving Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE and federal agencies.

While most members say they’ll provide more resources if the president asks, they also point out that there’s not much they can do on the legislative front.

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterFive Senate Democrats reportedly opposed to Biden banking nominee Dark money group spent 0M on voter turnout in 2020 Biden to speak on economy Tuesday, with Fed pick imminent MORE (Mont.), a moderate Democrat, says he doesn’t know what Congress can do immediately to address the surge of migrants at the border, many of them unaccompanied children.

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“I don’t know you need legislation. I think what we need is to make sure we get the people and the technology down there to stop it,” he said.

“We also need to work with the other countries to make sure that they’re not sending folks up,” he said. “That’s how I would approach it.”

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseThe Hill's Morning Report - Ins and outs: Powell renominated at Fed, Parnell drops Senate bid On The Money — Biden sticks with Powell despite pressure Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “Most of what’s going on there is within the purview of the executive branch.”

“If they feel they need additional resources, obviously we’re here to help,” he said.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinFive reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season White House looks to rein in gas prices ahead of busy travel season Bernie Sanders' ex-spokesperson apprehensive over effectiveness of SALT deductions MORE (W.Va.), often an outlier in the Democratic caucus, said after visiting the U.S.-Mexico border last week that it’s “past time” for Congress to take up immigration reform to address the growing crisis. 

But most Democrats aren’t eager to dive into a divisive and politically dangerous debate over immigration when it’s unlikely they’ll be able to get the 10 Republican votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster and pass legislation in the Senate.

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Democratic senators say they see little real desire from Republicans to work with them on bipartisan immigration legislation and seem more interested in seizing on the border crisis to score political points.

A delegation of 19 Senate Republicans traveled to the southern border last week to call public attention to the growing problem. They said migrant children are being kept in cramped conditions and criticized the Biden administration for not allowing media to access the facilities.

Republicans want to keep the focus on Biden’s policies instead of highlighting their own opposition to various Democratic ideas to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.

Some of the president’s senior advisers are discussing potential reforms to the nation’s asylum system to address a backlog of more than 1 million cases clogging up the courts. One approach under discussion would authorize the Department of Homeland Security to process more cases.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThis Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Biden move to tap oil reserves draws GOP pushback Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama MORE (R-S.C.), who played a key role in crafting comprehensive immigration reform that the Senate passed in 2013 before failing in the GOP-led House, said there “could be” a role for Congress to play now.

But he argued the problem would be addressed more quickly if Biden returned to the Trump-era policies he rescinded. 

“They need to go back to the policies that were working,” Graham said.

In a departure from former President TrumpDonald TrumpFive reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season Giving thanks for Thanksgiving itself Immigration provision in Democrats' reconciliation bill makes no sense MORE’s immigration agenda, the Biden administration is allowing migrant children or teenagers to enter the country.

The Department of Homeland Security has also reversed Trump’s policy of requiring immigrants seeking asylum to wait in Mexico while their cases are processed in U.S. immigration courts.

Data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection for February separately showed that fewer than half of the families apprehended at the southern border have been sent back to Mexico or their home countries under a federal statute that allows for closing the border to nonessential travel based on public health concerns. The Trump administration made wide use of the statute after the coronavirus pandemic took hold. 

Additionally, Biden ordered a halt to the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a signature policy of the Trump administration that sparked debate over its efficacy.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSpending bill faces Senate scramble Republicans raise concerns over Biden's nominee for ambassador to Germany Biden sets off high-stakes scramble over spending framework MORE (D-N.J.), a proponent of comprehensive immigration reform and a co-sponsor of the 2013 Senate immigration reform bill, said Congress can provide more resources and oversight but that the White House needs to approach lawmakers with a formal request.

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“There’s resources. There’s the question of standing up the places in Central America where people can apply [for asylum] directly,” he said of things Congress can do. 

“If the administration says that’s what they need, then they should come to Congress,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSchumer mourns death of 'amazing' father Feehery: The honest contrarian Biden administration to release oil from strategic reserve: reports MORE (D-N.Y.) made only a passing mention of immigration reform in the “Dear Colleague” letter he circulated before the April recess when he laid out the agenda for when lawmakers return on April 12.

“In the coming weeks and months, the Senate will consider legislation to rebuild our infrastructure and fight climate change, boost R&D and domestic manufacturing, reform our broken immigration system, and grow the power of American workers,” Schumer wrote on March 25.

Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick Durbin91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill Bipartisan senators press FBI, inspector general for changes following Nassar case Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama MORE (D-Ill.) told reporters last month that the prospects of passing a comprehensive immigration bill aren’t good, citing the challenges facing Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFive reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season Bipartisan success in the Senate signals room for more compromise The GOP's post-1/6 playbook is clear — and it's dangerous MORE (D-Calif.).

"I think Speaker Pelosi has discovered that she doesn't have support for the comprehensive bill in the House," Durbin told reporters. "And it indicates where it is in the Senate as well."

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Some Democrats argue that the current border surge began before Biden took office and that Republicans are exaggerating the situation on the ground for political purposes.

Biden asserted at a press conference last month that there’s nothing unusual about the flow of migrants from Central America, many of whom are fleeing violence in their home countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

“The truth of the matter is nothing has changed,” Biden said. “It happens every single solitary year.”

The number of migrants apprehended at the border reached a 15-year high in March, with more than 170,000 crossings, up from 78,000 in January, according to preliminary Customs and Border Protection data obtained by The Washington Post and The New York Times on Friday.