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Senate Immigration Bill has Promise, but Change will Take Time and Cooperation

Washington, DC – The following is a statement from Theresa Cardinal Brown, senior advisor for immigration and border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, on the bipartisan Senate immigration bill:

The Senators who have worked tirelessly to craft this compromise immigration bill should be commended–getting a deal was certainly no easy task. While immigration is a complex issue and there are many paths to address the current influx of migrants, it’s cause for hope to see thoughtful, bipartisan policy solutions proposed.  

It’s important to remember that U.S. immigration law can only control how we process migrants when they arrive in our country, whether to the southern border or another point of entry. There is no authority Congress could pass that would lead to a “complete and total shutdown” of the border. Once they arrive, we have to deal with them. We cannot control how many people arrive to the U.S. nor can we send people back to Mexico or their home countries unilaterally. To really stem the flow of migrants, we need to start working long before people get to the U.S. border through entities like Safe Mobility Offices in Latin America that could be an important resource, giving migrants accurate information about paths to legal migration or their chances of getting asylum.   

That said, the Senate bill is a step forward. It would put the asylum system in the hands of experts– asylum officers–and let Border Patrol get back to its law enforcement duties. It would allow asylum applicants to receive a decision on their case within months, not years, and weed out weak cases earlier. It creates an immigration authority that would restrict asylum at the border to prevent the new system from being overwhelmed by too many arrivals at one time. It would require everyone at the border to be subject to expedited removal and not paroled unless they meet limited exceptions. These are provisions that would work together to get the border back under control, while still protecting asylum for those who truly need it. 

This is important because there is no “quick fix” for the border. It will take a comprehensive set of solutions and time to make changes. It will take months or years to see the full impact on migration were this bill to become law. Just standing up the new processes and agencies will take months, so policymakers and the public will need to have some patience before judging the outcomes. However, doing nothing is not an option. Arguments over who is responsible for dealing with the problem are not solving the problem. Punting the issue until some future set of elections will allow for a “perfect” bill is only relegating the country to more border dysfunction.

Only Congress and the administration working together can deal with this. And now is the time to do so.  

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