US lawmakers grapple with border security deal details linked to foreign aid

By Ted Hesson and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. lawmakers and the White House are discussing what level of border arrests should trigger stringent new asylum rules under a possible border security deal that would also include aid for Ukraine and Israel, a Republican senator said on Wednesday.

Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican involved with bipartisan talks over a border deal, said the White House had offered a proposal that included the creation of a new migrant expulsion authority similar to the COVID-era Title 42 policy.

“The administration has set something forward,” Tillis told reporters. “It’s not a detailed proposal, but it actually does define some of the contours that I think could dramatically reduce future flows.”

A group of Senate lawmakers have been negotiating a border agreement that would be paired with the Ukraine and Israel military aid. But they face a tight timeline to pass a bill amid opposition from both liberals and conservatives. Lawmakers are scheduled to leave Washington at the end of the week for a three-week holiday break.

The White House offer raised hopes that the Senate could act before Christmas on a bill the Republican-led House of Representatives could then take up in January.

“If this is really an emergency and we can get this done in December, we should get it done in December,” Senator Chris Murphy, the lead Democrat in border talks, told reporters.

But some lawmakers warned that such a move would doom the legislation.

“It’ll be a piñata out there that people take pot shots at for the next couple of weeks,” Republican Senator John Cornyn said.

The House has pushed to pair aid for Ukraine with an enforcement-focused immigration bill known as H.R. 2., a measure Democrats have opposed.

Tillis said the details of the various policy proposals would be crucial, including what level of daily border arrests should trigger the use of the new expulsion authority.

He said the figure should be less than 3,000 per day, far below the 6,000 per day average in October.

White House spokesperson Angelo Fernandez Hernandez on Tuesday said the administration “has not signed off on any particular policy proposals or final agreements.”

At a press conference outside the Capitol on Thursday, a group of Democrats urged the Biden administration to reject proposals that would restrict access to asylum.

“Republicans continue to hold funding for American allies hostage at the expense of migrants,” said Representative Nanette Barragan, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, adding that Hispanic lawmakers should be part of negotiations.

Senator Alex Padilla said restrictions under discussion mirrored the hardline policies of Republican former President Donald Trump and would not be effective.

“Mass detention, gutting our asylum system, Title 42 on steroids. It is unconscionable,” he said. “That is not the way to fix our immigration system.”

(Reporting by Ted Hesson and David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone, Mark Porter and Grant McCool)