Illegal Alien Work Permits, Sanctuary City Bailouts, $60B for Ukraine: What’s Really in Senate’s 370-Page ‘Border Bill’

Breaking News

The Senate released the text of a 370-page spending bill Sunday that includes about $20 billion for border-related provisions and $60 billion for Ukraine. 

The bill was originally intended to be a bipartisan compromise giving Democrats the Ukraine funding they have advocated for, and Republicans the border-security measure they have called for.

But border policy experts say the bill does nothing to stop the flow of illegal immigration

Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for the Immigration Accountability Project, and Mike Howell, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project, join “The Daily Signal Podcast” to explain what is, and is not, in the Senate’s bill. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)

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Read a portion of the lightly edited transcript below or listen to the podcast:

Virginia Allen: This Senate bill has been touted as bipartisan. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., spearheaded it on the Republican front. It was introduced late Sunday night. The bill provides about $20 billion for border-related issues. In your assessment, what’s the end goal of this bill?

Rosemary Jenks: I have a hard time answering that. I’m at a loss for words because I don’t really understand the end goal of this bill.

This was supposed to be a negotiation where the Democrats said, “We want Ukraine funding,” and the Republicans said, “OK, we’ll give you Ukraine funding if you give us border security.” But what happened instead is that the Republicans went in and said, “Well, we all want Ukraine funding, so now let’s talk about what you’ll accept on border security.”

That meant that, essentially, Sen. Lankford was negotiating with the Biden administration, with [Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro] Mayorkas, with Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat—or Independent, I guess—from Arizona, and with Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut. He was completely outnumbered and played on this.

We ended up with a whole lot of Ukraine funding and a basically useless border-security package that will not secure the border, will not end catch-and-release, hands out billions of dollars to [nongovernmental organizations] and sanctuary cities to continue to fund the transportation of illegal aliens across the country. It doesn’t actually solve anything.

Allen: Mike, what does this bill do in terms of detaining illegal aliens? If it’s not ending catch-and-release, does it address that at all?

Mike Howell: We got to stop calling this thing a “border bill.” It is not a border-security bill. It’s chock-full of giveaways, codifying basically amnesty practices into law, visa giveaways, money to sanctuary cities, far-left, dark money nonprofits, etc.

But on the catch-and-release point, if you look up Sen. Lankford’s press release, he calls this detain-and-deport. On the Fox News’ Sunday shows he was saying this ends catch-and-release. Same thing goes for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

That is absolutely not true. It is a misinformation of the highest order. What this text actually does is codifies an industrial-scale mass release program. They’re really “transgendering” the term catch-and-release.

What it does is, [an] illegal comes in, OK, they’re released, keyword “released” with monitoring. They’re going to slap ankle monitors on this flood of illegal aliens. Well, what happens after that? We’ve shut down ICE under the Biden administration, so there’s no removal mechanism. We know that illegal aliens don’t show up to their court hearing. What good is an ankle monitor?

That certainly doesn’t count as detention. They’re going to try to confuse people into thinking that an alternate to detention is detention. It’s really Orwellian, but they recognize the bill’s fatal flaws. That’s why they’re with this misinformation point, pushing the ending [of] catch-and-release, which is absolutely not true.

Allen: OK, let’s talk numbers for a second. We’ve heard a lot about how many illegal aliens under this bill are permitted into the United States. The number 5,000 has been thrown around a lot. Sen. Lankford came out and said, “No, no, no, this isn’t actually designed to allow 5,000 illegal aliens into the U.S. daily.”

What is the truth here? What are the facts? How many illegal aliens are permitted into the United States daily under this bill?

Jenks: I would at this point say that 5,000 is a minimum number of illegal aliens who will be allowed into the United States under this bill. Essentially, what it does is, it says that it supposedly creates a border-shutdown mechanism so that if there are 5,000 illegal [alien] encounters per day over a seven-day period, the Department of Homeland Security mandatorily must “shut down” the government.

I would be putting “shut down” in air-quotes if you could see me. But the problem is that that 5,000 number doesn’t count unaccompanied alien children who the government is actually trafficking into the United States. It doesn’t count other victims of trafficking. It doesn’t count people who actually have a credible fear for asylum purposes. There are various other categories that it doesn’t count.

The other thing of course is that Secretary Mayorkas, who’s being impeached in the House, is the one counting. We’re relying entirely on him to tell us if there are 5,000 qualifying illegal aliens coming across the borders illegally. Essentially, even when that shutdown happens, the Customs and Border Protection is still required, mandated to process 1,400, a minimum of 1,400 illegal aliens per day, at ports of entry on the southern border. It’s a shutdown, but there’s still 1,400 minimum coming through the ports of entry illegally. It doesn’t make any sense.

Allen: Mike, How much money is this bill providing to sanctuary states and sanctuary cities that have opened the floodgates wide and said, “Illegal aliens, you can come here and stay here.”?

Howell: The exact number is a little hard to track down. We need to dive deep into the appropriations text of this, but at a high level, this is north of $10 billion total for border supplemental. Americans should ask themselves, what does money go towards, what money do you need for border security? The wall is obviously one area, but this bill doesn’t build a new wall.

The money that the federal government uses in this space and why they came to Congress to ask for more of it is two major categories. One of it is paying off the dark money, far-left groups that are nonprofits that facilitate the border crisis—the same groups that recruit people to the U.S., who lobby for open borders, who sue administrations for enforcing laws, are the same groups that get a ton of money to process illegal aliens throughout the country.

We’ve been hammering that point for a while here at Heritage. The House bill HR 2 actually defunds the entirety of that effort. Instead of defunding that effort, the Senate bill gives them a huge, huge payday. It’s well over $1 billion a year. As it exists now, this bill will supercharge that.

With regard to sanctuary cities, this is what the mayors of New York, Chicago, et cetera, were given [President Joe] Biden such a hard time about. That’s why they were at the White House, basically saying, “We need more money to deal with this crisis that you created.”

I hesitate to give you the exact figure right now, but that’s a significant pot of that $10-plus billion will go to sanctuary cities who in turn pay for the contractors they hire to deal with the migrant illegal alien crisis.

Keep in mind, though, that over less than a year ago, actually, Sen. Lankford introduced a bill to ban any and all money going to sanctuary cities. You have Sen. Lankford on the record with, I think, about 20 other Republicans saying, “Here, here’s what we want to do with sanctuary cities. We want to end all money to them.”

Then, less than a year later, he comes out with the bill to give them the biggest payday of their lives. For that reason alone, this is a flip-flop of epic proportions. I think American people don’t understand sanctuary cities are bad and will be very confused why politicians tell them when they’re campaigning for office that they’re going to end that practice and then when they get in there, give them a huge payday. It’s atrocious.

Allen: Rosemary, one of the issues that we hear Democrats talk a lot about is a need for work permits for illegal aliens. They bring that up as a solution to the issue. I know that this bill touches on that. What does it say in relation to providing illegal aliens with opportunities for work?

Jenks: In terms of work permits, this is one of the things that the Democrat mayors of sanctuary cities have been screaming about, is that it would be really great if you could just give them immediate work permits so that they’re not a drain on our tax coffers, and instead they can go find low-paying jobs and compete with poor Americans for jobs.

The negotiators of this bill listened. It actually says that rather than having to wait 180 days before they can apply for a work permit, illegal aliens, upon release from custody, will get a work permit. As soon as they say, “I have a fear of persecution” or “I’m going to be tortured if I’m sent home” or whatever the danger is, then they are given a work permit and transported by the NGOs to the sanctuary city of their choice, where they will be competing with poor Americans for jobs.

Allen: Is there any argument to be made that even though this bill is very far from perfect, it’s maybe a small step in the right direction? What do you think?

Jenks: No, it is just not true to say that doing something is always better than doing nothing. In some cases, doing nothing is the better outcome.

In this case, this bill does more harm than good. This bill would tie the hands of a future administration to actually secure the border. This bill will not secure the border. What it essentially does, and Mike has been making this point beautifully, it basically gives Republicans ownership of the border crisis.

It says it confirms essentially, well, the Biden administration doesn’t have the authority that he needs to actually secure the border, which is completely untrue. President [Donald] Trump secured the border with exactly the same tools that the Biden administration has at their disposal, and yet this is Republicans in the Senate now saying, “Oh, well, he can’t do it unless we give him this legislation.”

False. It’s false, and we don’t need to fall for it.

Allen: Rosemary, what happens next? House Speaker Mike Johnson has already said this bill is “dead on arrival” [in the House]. There is actually senators, both Republican and Democrat, that have come out in opposition to this bill already.

What are we going to see play out in the coming days and weeks?

Jenks: My hope, and this is probably not what will happen, but my hope would be that [Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.] decides that there is not enough floor time in the Senate to waste on this and just pulls the bill, and they don’t even have votes on it. I don’t think there’s any chance that they can get half of the Republicans in the Senate to vote for this.

That was the line in the sand that Sen. Lankford and [Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.] drew that would supposedly pressure the House into having a vote on this. They know that it will not get a vote in the House. There’s no reason for Republicans in the Senate to attach their names to this.

The best option would be for them to just pull the bill and pretend it never happened and go on about their lives, but they probably will end up having a vote of some kind. Hopefully, it will actually fail in the Senate, because I mean, there are at least a handful of Democrats who are going to vote against this because it doesn’t include amnesty. But yeah, hopefully, this will actually die in the Senate before it ever comes out.

Allen: I want to get last thoughts from both of you. As people are having conversations with friends and around the dinner table, what are some of these big issues that should be top of mind for Americans?

Howell: This is the swamp at its worst. This is what happens when senators get in closed-door meetings with far-left actors and try to jam up the country on a border bill released late on a Sunday night. There needs to be accountability for those who put us in this situation.

I agree with what Rosemary just said about the outcomes here, but the best outcome is actually a pretty bad one. Sen. Lankford gave the Biden administration the talking point they covet so much, that it’s congressional inaction to blame, and not Biden.

I expect Sen. Lankford will be getting a fruit basket from the Biden campaign pretty soon. That’s the net effect of what happened.

With all this politics, what didn’t happen was our border being secured. There are empty tables around this country for families who have lost loved ones to the scourge of illegal immigration, whether it’s gang violence or the drugs that they bring with them, and the fentanyl crushing this country.

Instead of taking those concerns seriously, what we have is basically the effect of a political campaign gift to the Biden administration. It’s a real, real shame.

Allen: Rosemary, final thoughts?

Jenks: I would just like to bring this all back to HR 2, the bill that the House of Representatives passed in May of 2023. HR 2 was about closing loopholes in existing law. It wasn’t about giving new authorities. It was purely about forcing the administration to do under current law what it didn’t want to do by closing the loopholes. This bill in the Senate is purporting to give new authorities. It is supposedly trying to fix a problem that it doesn’t even identify, let alone fix.

Let’s go back to the basics, and let’s go back to a principled discussion of what policies would actually help in our immigration and border security system, and let’s focus on those. If Democrats don’t want to do the right thing on this issue, then let’s call them out on it. Let’s not give them room to cover up their actions and their deeds on this.

People need to be held accountable. It is really important. This is an issue that’s going to affect America for generations now. We’re going to have to deal with these millions of people who have come illegally into our country and are here. This is something, it’s not just a game. This is serious. We’ve got to figure out a way to deal with it in the next administration, for sure, if this administration is going to continue to abdicate its responsibility.

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