Apr 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Bipartisan Senate group bids to block lifting Title 42

 Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, speaks to Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahom)

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema speaks to Sen. James Lankford. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Five Democratic and six Republican senators will introduce a new bill on Thursday that would prevent the Biden administration from lifting Title 42 without a detailed plan in place to stop an expected surge of migrants at the border.

Why it matters: The administration's plans to end the Trump-era COVID-19 immigration ban by May 23 were immediately met with scathing criticism from lawmakers in both parties. They fear the announcement will trigger a mass migration event.

  • Vulnerable Democrats also worry it will create a political firestorm, and provide Republicans with fresh ammunition just months before the midterms.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who drafted the proposal in conjunction with Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), told Axios she met with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last week and again on Wednesday morning.

  • "It is evident that the current preparations and plans for the end of Title 42 aren't adequate," she said.
  • "It seems highly unlikely it will be adequate by May 23, because of poor logistics," Sinema said.
  • A White House official told Axios: “On the president’s first day in office, he sent an immigration bill to Congress that invests in smart solutions, effectively manages the border and addresses the root causes of migration. Those that are concerned about [the U.S.] immigration system that [are] holding up COVID funding should pass it.”

Driving the news: The "Public Health and Border Security Act of 2022" will be introduced by Sinema and Lankford — chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate's Border Management subcommittee, respectively — on the Senate floor on Thursday.

  • Its Democratic co-sponsors: Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire — both of whom face tough re-election fights in November. Other signers include Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
  • Its Republican co-sponsors: Senate Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota and Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Rob Portman of Ohio — who's not seeking re-election.

Details: The bill urges the Biden administration to delay ending Title 42 until 60 days after the Surgeon General submits written notification to Congress formally rescinding the COVID-19 public health emergency and the national emergency.

  • The Trump-era public health restriction limited immigration based on coronavirus concerns.
  • The bill states that during that 60-day window, and no later than 30 days after the written notification is provided, the Biden administration must submit a plan to Congress addressing any possible influx of migrants.

What they're saying: "It just doesn't seem at all workable that this, that whatever plan they're working on right now can be ready to implement in a way that is both safe for our border communities and respects the humanitarian crisis that is coming," Sinema told Axios.

  • "I do think it has a chance of passing, but it's going to depend on which half of the Biden team wins out," Lankford said.
  • "Is it the open-borders part of the Biden administration ... or is it the portion of the Biden administration that says, 'This gives us a good excuse to say those crazy folks in Congress compelled us to do this ... and this becomes an excuse for them to not cause this kind of chaos in the border.'"

What's next: The bipartisan group is introducing this as a bill so lawmakers can see the text of what they're proposing, but it doesn't plan to hold a standalone vote on the legislation.

  • The plan is to include it as part of a larger amendment they will attach to the Senate's $10 billion COVID-19 funding bill, Lankford said, arguing the measure is "COVID policy."
  • "At the same time the administration is asking for $10 billion because COVID is a risk, they're saying it's not a risk on the border and we should open the border up," Lankford told Axios. "It's either a risk or it's not a risk."

Read the bill:

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with White House comment.

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