Opinion: Congress tries to thread the border needle

Senators left Capitol Hill this week still unsure about the fate of President Biden’s plan to send billions of dollars in military aid to Israel and Ukraine — all of it tied to talks on border security here at home.

“I’m hopeful that we can get to a constructive, bipartisan place,” said U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, who like most Senators is just waiting to see what negotiators can produce over the holiday break.

Democrats are not exactly negotiating from a position of strength, as the surge of migrants during the Biden Administration has not slowed.

Nearly 2.5 million people were stopped by border agents in Fiscal Year 2023, up a little from 2022, and well above the 977,000 stopped in the 2019 surge under Donald Trump.

“The disorder and chaos at the border is a real national security issue,” Ossoff acknowledged just off the Senate floor, bemoaning the lack of Congressional action. “For well over a decade, there has been a failure to achieve a bipartisan result.”

Nothing against Ossoff, but it hasn’t just been a decade. It has been his entire life.

The last time Congress passed ‘immigration reform’ legislation was 1986 — a year before the Georgia Senator was born.

Let’s be clear, no one is talking about ‘immigration reform’ right now. Any deal is likely to be tilted towards policies sought by Republicans and won’t include a pathway to citizenship for anyone here illegally.

How negotiators will thread the needle on a deal remains unclear. Republicans want to build more border wall and limit asylum claims. Some want to end ‘catch and release.’ Others want more immediate deportation as advocated by Trump.

What’s notable is that for all the tough talk by Trump, his record was spotty at the border, marked by a dramatic migrant increase in 2019.

Honestly, no President from either party has figured out the answer.

For example, Barack Obama is most identified with the ‘DACA’ program, which helped younger migrants known as the ‘Dreamers’ — who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents — avoid the threat of deportation.

But most voters have probably long forgotten that immigrant groups were furious with Obama, because his administration deported over 3 million noncitizens. That drew him the moniker, the ‘Deporter-in-Chief.’

George W. Bush also tried to forge an immigration reform plan, but that was torpedoed by his own party amid conservative claims of ‘amnesty.’

There is a distinct possibility that whatever Senate negotiators produce will be too much for many Democrats to swallow, and not enough for a lot of Republicans to accept.

Congress might just need a Christmas miracle.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com