WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate negotiators on Friday reached a deal on a proposal to overhaul the asylum system at the U.S. border with Mexico, clearing the way for Democratic and Republican Senate leaders to begin the difficult task of convincing Congress to pass a national security package that will include tens of billions of dollars for Ukraine and immigration enforcement, as well as funding for Israel and other American allies.
Sen. Chris Murphy, the lead Democratic negotiator, posted on social media Friday that a deal had been reached and that text of the bill would be released over the weekend. Senators are still working on finishing the rest of the package, which was initiated by a request from President Joe Biden for $110 billion for wartime aid for allies, domestic defense manufacturing, humanitarian assistance for conflicts around the world and managing the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Senators are preparing for a key test vote on the package next week, but it already faces a steep climb through Congress. Republicans in both chambers have balked at compromises on border security policy. Senate Republicans had initially demanded that the package include border policy changes, but Donald Trump, the GOP's likely presidential nominee, has become a vocal opponent of the legislation.
“Republicans said the border is a priority and we should craft a bipartisan bill to help control the border. We did that. We have a deal,” Murphy said on the platform X, formerly Twitter. He added: "It’s decision time."
The core group of negotiators has been laboring for months to craft a package that can win support from a bipartisan coalition of moderates in Congress. As they prepared to allow the details of the bill to be scrutinized, it remained to be seen whether they could cobble together the requisite votes from both sides of the aisle.
“The criticisms are based on rumors and misconceptions,” Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent who was central to crafting the bill, said on Thursday.
Senate Democrats, increasingly wary of the political vulnerabilities facing Biden and their party on immigration, have become more comfortable with the contours of the package, though progressive and Hispanic members of the House are still expected to oppose the border policy changes in droves if it passes the Senate.
The wartime aid for Israel could also divide Democrats. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent of Vermont, said Friday he would push to strip funding for offensive weaponry for Israel from the package while maintaining funds for defensive systems.
On the right, many conservatives oppose both continued funding for Ukraine as well as compromises on border enforcement. House Speaker Mike Johnson has repeatedly declared he won't compromise on hardline border enforcement measures, but he has said he will not pass final judgment until he is able to read the bill.
As GOP lawmakers view the political repercussions of enacting immigration laws in the midst of an election year, many Trump allies have argued that Congress does not even need to act because presidents already have enough authority on the border. And in a sign they will try to stop the bill from advancing to a final vote, some have lobbied leaders to give them weeks to make further changes through committee hearings.
“I think we’ve pretty much been held hostage by the Republican leadership. The Republican leadership pushed this on us,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a Republican of Alabama, said Thursday on Steve Bannon's “War Room” podcast. “And now if we don’t pass something, we’re going to look bad in the eyes of the American people. But I’m just telling people right now we do not need a border policy. We already have one intact."
The legislation largely focuses on a challenge that both Republican and Democratic administrations have grappled with: How to tamp down the growing number of people who come to the border seeking asylum, which offers protection from persecution for race, religion, political affiliation or membership in a discriminated group.
Asylum is a key part of international law and the U.S.'s ability to advance human rights, but the system has become overwhelmed in recent years, creating years-long waits for asylum cases to be heard, even though many migrants fail to prove their asylum case in the end.
The bill seeks to address that, according to Sinema, by making it tougher for people to enter the asylum system, dramatically speeding up the process, and denying them the ability to apply for asylum if illegal border crossings grow to become unmanageable for authorities. Most migrants who seek asylum would receive an initial interview, known as a credible fear screening, within days of arriving at the border. They would then either be expelled from the country or given a work permit during a months-long wait to have their case heard by an immigration judge.
Immigration advocates are concerned the proposal would deprive asylum seekers of the ability to make full cases, especially when they have just made arduous and often traumatic journeys to get to the U.S.
Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro contributed.