Biden says he’ll shut down the border if deal gives him authority

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President Joe Biden on Friday urged Congress to pass a bipartisan bill to address the immigration crisis at the nation's southern border, saying he would shut down the border the day the bill became law.

“What’s been negotiated would — if passed into law — be the toughest and fairest set of reforms to secure the border we’ve ever had in our country,” Biden said in a statement. “It would give me, as President, a new emergency authority to shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed. And if given that authority, I would use it the day I sign the bill into law.”

Biden’s Friday evening statement resembles a ramping up in rhetoric for the administration, placing the president philosophically in the camp arguing that the border may hit a point where closure is needed. The White House’s decision to have Biden weigh in also speaks to the delicate nature of the dealmaking, and the urgency facing his administration to take action on the border — particularly during an election year, when Republicans have used the issue to rally their base.

The president is also daring Republicans to reject the deal as it faces a make-or-break moment amid GOP fissures.

It comes after a hectic week on the Hill, as Senate negotiators try to salvage monthslong talks to reach a border deal and unlock aid for Ukraine. The White House has continued to engage in talks and has publicly signaled optimism that a deal can be struck, even as some House Republicans say any bill is dead on arrival in the lower chamber. Donald Trump has also tried to scuttle the talks, adding another layer to complicated negotiations.

The contours of the deal are still subject to negotiation. But the negotiators have long discussed setting triggers for daily border crossings after which the Biden administration could shut down the border between ports of entry. Under the current proposal, asylum seekers would still be authorized to present claims at authorized ports of entry, although they would face a much higher standard for being granted the opportunity to apply for asylum.

Republicans who support a deal say the authority would both force Biden’s hand and strengthen that of his potential successor.

“This is an opportunity to put laws on the books that someone who is genuinely interested in securing the border will be able to use,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said as the Senate adjourned Thursday. “President Donald J. Trump in 2017 asked for laws like this. We're going to deliver it and if he becomes president, he'll be glad that we did.”

The terms of the deal under discussion, which is largely agreed to but not yet final, would also give DHS expulsion authority if border encounters hit an average of 4,000-a-day over the course of a week, a metric that includes asylum appointments. That authority would become mandatory if daily crossings average more than 5,000 people for a week or crest over 8,500 a day, according to two people briefed on the emerging agreement and who were granted anonymity to discuss the details.

“This is the critical tool that allows us to reassert control of the border on day one of the law being signed, while all other provisions streamlining asylum and surging resources can be implemented,” one of the people said, adding that anyone who tries to cross twice during the shutdown would then be barred from reentering the country for a year.

Senate negotiators are also moving to limit some of the ability for the president to use parole authority. Republicans have been pressing Democrats to curb that executive authority, but Democrats are reluctant to go too far.

Conservatives argue that the deal's potential triggers are too lenient, essentially blessing daily crossings up to an unreasonably high level even though it would amount to a significant cut over current numbers.

“It looks like a bill ... that generally baselines this level so much higher than even the Obama administration,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “To me, that looks like a Democratic victory. And I think that's where most of the Republican Party is, I think that's where Trump is and I think that’s where the House is.”

The deal also raises the credible fear standard, which would make it more difficult for migrants to apply for asylum. It also includes the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would provide a pathway to legal status to Afghans who evacuated with the U.S. in 2021. It also would deliver 50,000 visas a year — a mix of family and employment visas, according to the two people briefed on the deal.

The border has long been a vexing issue for the Biden White House. The president has seen record levels of migrant crossings since taking office in 2021, further inundating a border already heavily strained by irregular migration and an overwhelmed asylum processing system. Border Patrol agents reported a record 302,034 encounters with migrants over the southern border last month, according to figures released Friday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Of those encounters, 249,785 were recorded between ports of entry.

The president on Friday also asked Congress to provide the border funding he requested in October, which would provide money for an additional 1,300 border patrol agents, 375 immigration judges, 1,600 asylum officers and improved technology to detect fentanyl.

“Securing the border through these negotiations is a win for America,” Biden said. “For everyone who is demanding tougher border control, this is the way to do it. If you’re serious about the border crisis, pass a bipartisan bill and I will sign it.”

White House officials are desperate to cut a deal with the Senate, which they believe will demonstrate Biden’s ability to reach bipartisan agreement and his eagerness to address the border problem. After that, the president’s team plans to cast the blame on House Republicans.

Speaker Mike Johnson earlier Friday sent his colleagues a letter saying the deal being brokered in the Senate would be “dead on arrival in the House.”