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US Senate Releases Draft Bill To Toughen Border Measures While Securing Aid To Ukraine And Israel

US senators on Sunday evening released the details of a highly anticipated $118bn package that pairs federal enforcement policy on the US-Mexico border with wartime aid for Ukraine, Israel and others, launching a long-shot effort to push the bill past sceptical, hard right House Republicans – whom Democrats accuse of politicizing immigration while being in thrall to Donald Trump.

The proposal is the best chance for Joe Biden to bolster dwindling US wartime aid for Ukraine – a major foreign policy goal that is shared by both the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, and top Republican, Mitch McConnell. The Senate was expected this week to hold a key test vote on the legislation, but it faces a wall of opposition from conservatives.

Joe Biden urged the US Congress to pass the legislation, for the sake of immigration reform and aid for US allies.

The bill “includes the toughest and fairest set of border reforms in decades,” he said in a statement issued by the White House.

He added: “Now, House Republicans have to decide. Do they want to solve the problem? Or do they want to keep playing politics with the border? I’ve made my decision. I’m ready to solve the problem.”

Crucially, with Congress stalled on approving $60bn in Ukraine aid, the US has halted shipments of ammunition and missiles to Kyiv, leaving Ukrainian soldiers outgunned as they try to come out on top of a grinding stalemate with Russian troops.

“The United States and our allies are facing multiple, complex and, in places, coordinated challenges from adversaries who seek to disrupt democracy and expand authoritarian influence around the globe,” Schumer said in a statement.

In a bid to overcome opposition from House Republicans, McConnell had insisted last year that border policy changes be included in the national security funding package.

The bill would overhaul the asylum system at the border with faster and tougher enforcement, as well as give presidents new powers to immediately expel migrants if authorities deemed themselves overwhelmed with the number of undocumented people requesting asylum at the international boundary.

The tough new measures discussed among select senators for months include a new federal requirement to “shut down” the US-Mexico border if more than 5,000 undocumented people cross into the US daily and plans to swiftly throw out economic migrants.

Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who broke from the Democratic party in 2022 to become an independent, told CBS’s Face the Nation earlier on Sunday some of what she and other Senate negotiators have been working on.

When the number of migrants crossing without an appointment with the US authorities approaches 4,000 people a day, the US government would be granted the power to voluntarily turn away all people presenting at border stations, to give time for the asylum application processing to catch up, she said.

At other times, migrants would be taken into short-term detention as their claims for asylum were rapidly assessed. Anyone failing to meet the standards for a claim would be “swiftly returned to their home country”, Sinema said.

“We believe that by quickly implementing this system, individuals who come for economic reasons will learn very quickly that this is not a path to enter our country and will not take the sometimes dangerous or treacherous trek to our border,” she told the Sunday morning TV show.

Alongside the faster deportation provisions, the draft bill would also speed up the time needed to process successful asylum applications. “Folks who do qualify for asylum will be on a rapid path, six months or less, to start a new life in America,” Sinema said.

The draft Senate bill meets several of the demands that have been raised by Republicans who have accused the Biden administration of failing to secure the US border. In particular, it proposes an end to the system of allowing people to remain in the US while their asylum applications are processed – a procedure Republicans dismissively call “catch and release”.

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As many as 10,000 migrants a day have been encountered crossing the US-Mexico border without necessary immigration papers or an appointment with the US authorities.

But the Senate bill is likely to be blocked by Republican leaders in the US House who are following Donald Trump’s lead and opposing the deal. The former president, who is running for re-election, has made it clear that he does not want to see Biden presented with a legislative win on the border crisis.

Mike Johnson, the Republican House speaker, has said the Senate bill would be “dead on arrival” were it to reach his chamber. On Saturday he also made a pre-emptive move that could further imperil the chances of the Senate bill ever becoming law by announcing that he would bring to a vote on the House floor a separate $17.6bn military aid package for Israel.

Johnson was asked by NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday whether his aid for Israel plan was a ruse to kill the Senate compromise deal on the border. He was also asked whether he was merely doing Trump’s bidding, with Trump “calling the shots”.

“Of course not,” the speaker said. “He’s not calling the shots, I am calling the shots for the House – that’s our responsibility.”

Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic minority leader in the House, derided House Republicans, in interview on the ABC US network’s This Week Sunday show, as “wholly owned subsidiaries of Donald Trump”.

With the numbers of migrants turning up at the border remaining high, and with the presidential election year getting under way, immigration is set to continue to cause ructions on both sides of the political aisle.

On Sunday Nikki Haley, Trump’s only remaining rival in the race to secure the Republican nomination, accused Trump in a CNN interview of “playing politics” with the border with his attempt to scupper the Senate deal.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed reporting

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