February 7, 2024

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The Senate will hold a procedural vote at 1:00pm today on whether to proceed with debate on a $118 billion spending bill, which includes—in response to Republican demands—negotiated compromise language that would reduce migrants’ ability to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. The vote is expected to fail, falling well short of the 60-vote threshold that it needs, as conservative Republicans have lined up against the compromise language, arguing that it doesn’t go far enough. Some Democrats, concerned by the harm to migrants, will also vote “no.”

“We have no real chance here to make a law,” said Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).

This concludes a two-and-a-half-month negotiation process. Media coverage is broadly portraying this as a Republican flip-flop and last-minute caving in to pressure from Donald Trump, with Democrats “setting a trap” for Republicans by calling their bluff and making concessions on tough border measures.

Some coverage portrays the fiasco as a setback for less Trump-aligned conservatives like McConnell, who supported the compromise. Asked whether he felt like he’d been thrown under the bus, the Republicans’ chief negotiator on the deal, Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), said “and backed up.”

In a mid-day address from the White House, President Joe Biden voiced strong support for the bill, despite some very conservative limits on asylum and migration that contradict his earlier policy positions. He blamed Donald Trump, and Republicans’ failure to stand up to him, for the bill’s likely failure, calling on GOP members to “show some spine.”

Once today’s vote fails as expected, Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) is likely to seek a procedural vote on a version of the spending bill—which includes aid to Ukraine and Israel, and $20 billion for numerous border and migration items—with the border compromise language removed. This “cleaner” bill may have more Republican support. The Senate departs after this week for a two-week recess.

Republicans’ bad day on Capitol Hill was punctuated in the House of Representatives by a stunning 214-216 rejection of articles of impeachment against Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Surprisingly, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) went ahead with the vote even though all Democrats were opposed and House Republican leaders did not have certainty over their side’s vote count.

The Secretary, whom House Republicans claim has mismanaged the border to the extent that it constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors,” will keep his job for now thanks to the votes of three Republican members: Reps. Ken Buck (R-eastern Colorado), Tom McClintock (R-San Joaquín Valley, California), and Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay, Wisconsin). A fourth Republican, Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah), changed his vote to “no” for procedural reasons, allowing a motion to reconsider.

House Republican leaders vow to bring the impeachment up again when one more member of their caucus is present: Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana), who is receiving treatments for blood cancer. Scalise is not expected to return to the House today.

Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens tweeted that the agency has apprehended “+160 undocumented subjects with gang affiliations” during the first four months of fiscal year 2024. If sustained all year, this rate—about 40 allegedly gang-tied migrants per month—would be the fewest since fiscal 2021 and the 3rd-fewest in the 8 years since fiscal year 2017.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operated 130 removal flights in January, up a bit from 128 in December and down from 140 in November, according to Tom Cartwright’s latest monthly report for Witness at the Border. Top destinations were Guatemala (53 flights), Honduras (37), El Salvador (11), Colombia (6), Ecuador (5), and Venezuela (4). One flight each went to Mauritania, India, and Romania.

Border Report went to Jacume, Mexico, just south of Jacumba Springs, California, where Mexico’s National Guard has set up a camp in an effort to block migrants at a point where asylum seekers have been arriving for months seeking to turn themselves in to U.S. authorities.

Analyses and Feature Stories

At the New York Times, Cesar Cuauhtémoc Garcia Hernandez of Ohio State University recalled that the Title 42 expulsion authority did not deter migration, and it would be wrong to expect the expulsion authority in the failing Senate bill to do so.

At the New Republic, James North pushed back against the fiction that migrants are introducing fentanyl across the border into the United States.

In an interview at the Border Chronicle, WOLA’s Adam Isacson (this post’s author) walked through some of the current migration trends and data at the border and along the migration route right now.

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