With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here.
Due to staff travel, WOLA will not publish a Weekly Border Update on August 12. The next update will appear on August 19.
- As the Senate nears a vote on a big “Inflation Reduction Act,” a procedural quirk may provide Republican senators with an opportunity to add amendments curtailing the right to seek asylum, building more border walls, and otherwise hardening the border.
- A month after the Supreme Court green-lighted the Biden administration’s efforts to end “Remain in Mexico,” some in the administration appear to favor keeping the program in place for now.
- Confiscation of religious headgear, falsification of migration forms, post-midnight expulsions of small children, a 33-hour detention of a 9-year-old U.S. citizen, and another fatal vehicle pursuit highlight continued concerns about human rights at CBP and Border Patrol.
“Vote-a-Rama” in U.S. Senate could include anti-migrant amendments
Before it leaves for its August recess, the U.S. Senate—which is divided evenly between 50 Democrats (including Democrat-leaning independents) and 50 Republicans—will debate and possibly approve the “Inflation Reduction Act,” a large budget bill reflecting Biden administration priorities, especially health care and climate provisions. The Senate’s complicated rules allow budget-only measures like this one to pass with a simple majority, avoiding the 60-vote “filibuster” threshold that prevents much legislation from being considered.
The resulting process, called “reconciliation,” requires that the bill be open to amendments on unrelated topics during a grueling, many-hours-long procedure that usually drags on until the pre-dawn hours of the next day. Called “vote-a-rama,” it offers an opportunity for senators from the body’s large Republican minority to introduce amendments that could restrict migration, codify obstacles to the right to seek asylum, or otherwise harden the U.S.-Mexico border.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), the principal sponsor of a bill that would keep in place Title 42, the pandemic provision that eliminates the right to seek asylum at the border, told Roll Call on August 2 “that Republicans have some immigration-related amendments ‘in the queue,’ though he declined to provide specifics.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) added that “he thought border security would come up during the vote-a-rama process.”
Amendments could seek to enshrine into permanent law the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico program, which forces asylum seekers to await their U.S. court dates inside Mexico, or Title 42, empowering U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to expel migrants indefinitely for public health reasons. Amendments could also seek to re-start construction of the Trump administration’s border wall, which Joe Biden halted when he assumed office in January 2021.
It is possible that some of these amendments to the spending bill could pass with a simple majority. They will have solid Republican support, and a small number of moderate and conservative Democrats, or Democrats facing tough re-election races in states where immigration is unpopular with swing voters, could end up voting for them as well. Several conservative or vulnerable Democrats are already co-sponsors of Lankford’s legislation that would keep Title 42 in place for months after the end of the U.S. COVID-19 emergency, which could last for years. (Currently Title 42, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had intended to lift on May 23, remains in place by order of a federal judge in Louisiana.)
Should such amendments succeed, however, the larger “Inflation Reduction Act” bill—which, if it passes, would do so with the slimmest of majorities—could be in jeopardy. The anti-migrant measures could lead progressive and pro-immigration Democratic senators to vote against the entire bill. If hardline “poison pill” border and immigration provisions added during “vote-a-rama” cause even a few of those senators to vote “no,” the bill will fail.
At the Washington Post, columnist Greg Sargent called the likelihood of Republican immigration amendments a “ticking time bomb still threatening the big climate deal.” Sargent cited an e-mailed statement from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), who warned that “Adoption of amendments that would end access to asylum or expand Trump’s border wall…will put reconciliation at risk.” This, Sargent said, “is a not-so-veiled suggestion that adoption of such poison pills might imperil the whole climate deal.” Menendez repeated this language on Twitter.
WOLA, one of many groups to issue statements opposing harmful “vote-a-rama” amendments, warned that such provisions could usher in “a harmful regime that could cause years of real human suffering.” A letter from 286 U.S. non-governmental organizations, including WOLA, urged senators to oppose any legislation that might “end asylum at the border”; “harm immigrants’ health, economic well-being, or education”; or “further bloat enforcement or militarize the border.”
As of Thursday morning (August 4), the timetable is not clear. The Senate’s Democratic leadership is awaiting word from the body’s parliamentarian on how the rules of debate will proceed, while trying to secure the support of the remaining Democratic holdout, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona). “Several Democratic senators” cited by Roll Call said they expect the “vote-a-rama” process to begin “as soon as this weekend.”
“Remain in Mexico” is not over yet
With a 5-4 decision on June 30, the Supreme Court upheld the Biden administration’s ability to cancel the “Remain in Mexico” policy, an initiative begun by the Trump administration in 2019 that sent over 70,000 asylum-seeking migrants back across the border into Mexico to await their U.S. immigration hearings. Evidence that the Biden administration is preparing to end the policy, however, is scarce.
President Joe Biden began shutting down Remain in Mexico, which he regarded as cruel and ineffective, after taking office in January 2021, but a Texas federal judge in August 2021 ordered the White House to restart it. The program re-launched in December; since then, about 5,000 more migrants have been sent back to Mexico to await their U.S. hearings. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling overruled that August 2021 decision, giving a green light to “re-terminate” Remain in Mexico.
A month later, though, Remain in Mexico continues to operate, sending dozens of migrants back to Mexico each day.