Speaker Johnson Says Securing Border ‘Can Wait No Longer,’ Urges Biden to Act

Speaker Johnson Says Securing Border ‘Can Wait No Longer,’ Urges Biden to Act

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The House speaker said President Biden is directly to blame for the border crisis, pressing him to take immediate action to address the problem.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is urging President Joe Biden to take immediate executive action to stem the surge of illegal immigrants at the U.S.–Mexico border, where he said U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is “at breaking point.”

“The crisis at our southern border has deteriorated to such an extent that significant action can wait no longer. It must start now, and it must start with you,” the speaker wrote in a Dec. 21 letter (pdf) to the president.

Remedial actions Mr. Johnson requested included an end to the administration’s controversial “catch-and-release” policy, an expansion of expedited removals, renewed construction of the border wall, stricter application of parole authority, and the reinstatement of the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

He also encouraged President Biden to invoke the Immigration and Nationality Act to suspend the entry of all or certain groups of illegal immigrants to “regain operational control of the border.”

“The wide-open border has caused unspeakable human tragedy for migrants and certainly for our own citizens,” he noted, citing skyrocketing illegal border crossings, a troubling increase in fentanyl overdoses, and the heightened threat of terrorism on U.S. soil.

CBP data shows that agents encountered a record-setting 2.48 million illegal immigrants at the southern border in fiscal year 2023. The spike marks a continuation of a trend that began after President Biden took office in 2021—a fact the speaker candidly pointed out.

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“All of this is the direct result of your administration’s policies,” he charged. “You have clearly undermined America’s sovereignty and security by ending the Remain in Mexico policy, reinstating catch-and-release, suspending asylum cooperative agreements with other nations, ignoring existing restraints on the abuse of parole, and halting border wall construction.

“You also undermined Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) core mission, and even used a smartphone app to facilitate the release of border crossers into the United States,” he said.

With Congress unable to find a workable solution, Mr. Johnson urged the president to take the recommended actions immediately.

Impasse

House Republicans passed H.R. 2—dubbed the “Secure the Border Act”—in June amid the expiration of Title 42 to address the growing crisis at the border.

The bill, which has yet to be taken up in the Senate, would require minimum staffing levels for U.S. Border Patrol, the resumption of the construction of the border wall, and a plan to enhance border security.

The measure passed the House along party lines but was dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled Senate. The White House has also assured that, even if the bill reaches the president’s desk, it will be vetoed.

“H.R. 2 does nothing to address the root causes of migration, reduces humanitarian protections, and restricts lawful pathways, which are critical alternatives to unlawful entry,” the Office of Management and Budget said on May 8 in a statement of administration policy (pdf).

“While we welcome Congress’ engagement on meaningful steps to address immigration and the challenges at the border, this bill would make things worse, not better. Because this bill does very little to actually increase border security while doing a great deal to trample on the Nation’s core values and international obligations, it should be rejected.”

Meanwhile, negotiations in the Senate to find a compromise have slowed to a crawl as the chamber adjourned for the holidays on Dec. 20.

Although Senate and administration negotiators intend to continue their talks over the break, any deal would have to wait until both chambers have reconvened for a vote. The House adjourned last week.

Democrats are looking to secure an additional $61 billion in aid for Ukraine, while Republicans say that any additional funding would need to be tied to border security measures.

In a joint statement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said their colleagues were making “encouraging progress” toward finding a solution.

“Challenging issues remain, but we are committed to addressing needs at the southern border and to helping allies and partners confront serious threats in Israel, Ukraine, and the Indo-Pacific. The Senate will not let these national security challenges go unanswered,” the lawmakers said.

“As negotiators work through remaining issues, it is our hope that their efforts will allow the Senate to take swift action on the national security supplemental early in the new year. In the time remaining this year, Senate and Administration negotiators will continue to work in good faith toward finalizing their agreement.”

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.

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