Biden, Senate negotiatorsshouldn’t give up on effortstoward solid security policy

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Bloomberg Opinion

The glimmer of hope that Congress might pass a bipartisan border-security bill has been extinguished, at least for now. In killing immigration reforms that their party has long supported — and that are now far less likely to become law — Republicans have demonstrated their lack of interest in governing and their unfortunate fealty to Donald Trump, who would prefer to weaponize the issue on the campaign trail.

Despite the failure of this compromise, the bipartisan group that spearheaded the bill shouldn’t give up. Nor can the White House wait for Congress to act. The problems at the border are too pressing — and, for President Joe Biden, too politically damaging to ignore.

In rejecting the bill, House Speaker Mike Johnson and other Republicans claimed that legislation was unnecessary because Biden could end the border crisis on his own. This is mostly false — the executive branch is bound by existing immigration laws and can’t appropriate additional resources on its own — but Biden can still take action in a variety of areas that the bill sought to address.

Among other things, the bill would’ve provided $440 million to hire immigration judges and personnel to speed up asylum cases, which can take more than five years to resolve. Although nothing can make up for the loss of that funding, Biden can shift resources within agencies and make operational changes that can expedite reviews and speed deportations. He should also push through changes in the standards that asylum seekers have to meet in order to request a hearing.

The bill also would’ve allowed asylum seekers who pass the screening process to be immediately eligible for work permits, a key demand of Democratic mayors and governors dealing with the costs of the recent influx. With 1.4 job openings for every unemployed American, this is common sense: Asylum seekers who are prevented from working will seek black-market jobs or government handouts, thereby costing taxpayers more. Biden has used executive action to allow some people to work as their cases are processed, and he should do what he can to allow more to do so.

That said, there is much in the legislation that Biden can’t do alone. Most notably, it would’ve authorized the government to deny asylum seekers a hearing and deport them immediately on days when the border is overwhelmed. This provision alone should’ve guaranteed Republicans’ support. Instead, they’ve decided that blocking people from entering the U.S. illegally is less important than helping Trump return to the White House.

The nation’s immigration system desperately needs overhauling. One of the reasons why so many people are arriving is that U.S. visa levels have long been too low. (The compromise bill would’ve increased the current cap on green cards by 50,000 a year, a decent start.) The failure of the bill makes Biden’s job more difficult, but it also gives him an opportunity to use the bully pulpit more aggressively, not simply to blame Republicans but to outline how only comprehensive reform will ever fix the problem.

Trump and Republicans want to perpetuate chaos and conflict at the border. Biden should deny them that wish.