Kyrsten Sinema on Tuesday forcefully defended the border agreement she’s reached with both parties, calling conservative attacks on the bill “misinformation” and explaining in detail how the deal would curb illegal crossings.
The Arizona Independent rebutted the argument by some conservative lawmakers that the Senate deal’s emergency border shutdown power — which is set to kick in automatically at an average of 5,000 border encounters a day — would green-light thousands of illegal crossings. Those new expulsion authorities would end the government’s “catch and release” operations, asylum screenings would accelerate and Congress would limit the use of parole authority for southern border crossings, she said.
“The rumors that are swirling about what this legislation does are wrong. Our bill ends catch and release. It ensures that the government both has the power and must close down the border during times when our system is overwhelmed. And it creates new structures to ensure that folks who do not qualify for asylum cannot enter the country and stay here,” Sinema told reporters.
Her rare public comments come at a critical moment for the legislation, which is under unceasing attack from the right and former President Donald Trump. Speaker Mike Johnson is telling his members that the House will not take the bill up and attacking its border shutdown power; Sinema called attacks on that shutdown trigger “the largest piece of misinformation out there.”
She then explained in great detail why the pact she’s set to release with fellow Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) would reshape the country’s handling of the southern border and push down crossings that can crest over 10,000 a day.
“The idea that people — ‘illegals’ — are coming into the country, 5,000 a day: Factually false,” she said.
Under the terms of the still-unreleased deal, if the border is shut down, asylum seekers could still make claims at ports of entry and would have 90 days in which to make an asylum interview. If those interviews are successful, asylum seekers can still be in the country until their case is decided, which would take 90 days. A failed interview would result in immediate removal, Sinema said.
Those who claim asylum at places other than ports of entry would be detained immediately under the deal, with their asylum claim decided in detention. Those individuals would be removed within 15 days if they fail their interview. Those who qualify for asylum, which would require meeting a higher standard if the legislation is enacted, would receive a work permit and potentially a path to citizenship, Sinema said.
“They are going to two places: Detention or a short term alternative to detention, which includes monitoring by the government, until their claims are adjudicated. And then they’re either removed or set on a path to to become asylees,” Sinema said of the new process.
She also said the bill text would be released “very, very soon” and that she expected to see a vote on the legislation, even as many Republicans are balking. Sinema said Johnson’s team is aware of the particulars of the bill even as he publicly attacks the legislation.
“I would like to see a vote as soon as possible. And that’s what I would urge. I don’t control the floor,” Sinema said. “But I hope that we vote as soon as this package is public — with enough time for senators to read of course.”