Jan 31, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Sinema fires back at House GOP on border plan: "A deal's a deal"

en Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) speaks to reporters during a vote in the Senate Chambers

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) speaks to reporters. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) heatedly defended the bipartisan border deal on Wednesday, calling a key criticism from conservatives "factually false."

Why it matters: The Senate deal has been in hot water for days, with no final text and predetermined opposition from many conservatives egged on by former President Trump. "A deal's a deal," Sinema told reporters Wednesday. "We have a border deal."

  • "We expect that our bill will be public very soon. And I expect that we will have a vote on it," Sinema said, though she declined to provide any kind of firm deadline.
  • Sinema has been one of the key negotiators on the deal with Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) — and the only one representing a border state.
  • The proposed deal will require significant resources and investment in border personnel, planes for deportation and asylum judges.

Between the lines: Sinema ardently pushed back on criticism by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and other conservatives that the plan would allow 5,000 migrants and asylum seekers to enter per day before harsh restrictions locked into place.

  • "The rumors that are swirling about what this does and doesn't do are wrong," Sinema said. "Our bill ends catch and release."

Zoom in: Sinema clarified some of the strictest elements of the deal.

  • Asylum: Even before the 5,000 encounters per day trigger, anyone who crosses the southern border claiming to seek asylum will have 90 days to pass an initial asylum screening, which will require more proof than the current "credible fear" standard.
  • Detention: During that time, migrants who enter at legal ports of entry will be placed in non-detention monitoring programs. Those who cross illegally will be held in detention until that first screening. Those who fail that screening will be deported and those who pass will be given a final asylum decision within 90 days.
  • Parole: The deal would end Border Patrol's use of a mechanism known as parole and "notice to appear" documents to quickly release people from custody when they are overwhelmed. The Biden administration's more formal parole processes for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans will remain in place.

What to watch: All of this will be in effect before the emergency measure could be used — once crossings reach a weekly average of 4,000-5,000 a day.

  • At that point, the federal government would be able to automatically reject migrants and asylum seekers crossing illegally without a guaranteed chance at seeking asylum.

The bottom line: Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters Tuesday that based on what he's seen the deal is the kind of strong, conservative border policy "we would never get in a Republican Senate — even with a Republican president."

  • But border politics in a critical election year is likely to doom the deal anyway.
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