The House passes the Border Security Act of 2023 and now the GOP will seek bipartisan consensus in the Senate

With 219 votes in favor and 213 against, the bill survived the discussions among Republicans on the E-Verify system and will reach the Upper House as "a good starting point."

The House of Representatives approved the Border Security Act of 2023 on Thursday. Also known as H.R.2, it was one of the top priorities of House Republicans, especially when its passage coincided with the end of Title 42. It will now go to the Senate, where some lawmakers see the bill as an excellent chance to generate bipartisan agreement.

In total, 219 Republicans voted in favor, and two of them joined all the Democrats in opposing the legislation, which raised internal controversy due to one point: the E-Verify system. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and John Duarte (R-CA) were the only members of the GOP caucus to vote no.

In particular, a group of Republicans representing districts with a lot of agriculture expressed concern about the E-verify system because it could exacerbate farm labor shortages. The leaders met with them and promised them on Wednesday that the final draft would address their concerns.

In addition, they included a non-binding provision in an amendment that would force Alejandro Mayorkas,  Secretary of Homeland Security, to "ensure that any adverse impact on the nation's agricultural workforce, operations and food security is considered."

"Moments ago, House Republicans passed the strongest border security bill this country has ever seen. This bill secures the border from President's Biden record crossings, record carelessness and record chaos," celebrated Kevin McCarthy minutes after the bill passed.

The Speaker appeared before the press with a group of colleagues behind him, including Chip Roy (R-TX), Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), the original sponsor of the bill, which had 15 other co-sponsors.

"Securing the border is one of the top priorities. And it is a priority of every member of our conference. By passing H.R.2, House Republicans have shown we're focused on addressing our nation's biggest challenges. By contrast, the White House had two years to plan for the end of Title 42. We all knew the deadline. But the White House produced no plan, missed the deadline and bumbled into another crisis," the Speaker continued.

What does H.R.2 do?

The legislation that will now go to the Senate covers a wide range of reforms to the immigration system, these being the main ones:

  • It expands the types of offenses that can make a person ineligible for asylum, such as a conviction for driving while intoxicated causing serious bodily injury or death to another person.
  • Demands that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) resume activities to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • Authorizes DHS to suspend the introduction of certain non-U.S. citizens at an international border if DHS determines that the suspension is necessary to achieve operational control of that border.
  • It requires DHS to create an electronic employment eligibility confirmation system modeled on the E-Verify system. It requires all employers to use it (this point is disputed, even by some Republicans such as Thomas Massie).
  • It imposes additional penalties for overstaying a visa.
  • Limits the right of asylum to aliens arriving in the United States through a port of entry.

A bipartisan starting point in the Senate

Tom Tillis (R-NC) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) partnered in late 2022 to collaborate on a new bipartisan immigration framework. For Tillis, H.R.2 is a "good starting place" to reach 60 votes, although he said it would have to be modified to reach the desk of President Joe Biden, who has already commented that he would veto the bill if it advances as is. The latter seems somewhat complicated, given that the Democrats have a 51-49 majority in the Upper House.

The senators mentioned above had intended to pass their immigration reform in December 2022. As reported by The Washington Post at the time, the deal involved a path to citizenship for 2 million Dreamers, billions extra for border security and even an extension of Title 42. The agreement was a traditional quid pro quo, one thing in exchange for another.

"It will be absolutely an essential part of a border security strategy that would be in a bill we could get 60 votes for," the North Carolina senator reiterated.