Dec 13, 2022

The Senate's two immigration bills.

The Senate's two immigration bills.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) is leading the way on negotiations of an immigration bill in the Senate. Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr 

Both bills contain major concessions for each party.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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We're covering the two immigration bills that are being debate in the lame-duck session of Congress. Plus, a very big story from Talking Points Memo and some important quick hits involving stories we've covered this month.

Quick hits.

  1. Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced founder and former CEO of the crypto exchange FTX, was arrested by police in the Bahamas and will be extradited to the U.S. He was charged with wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy, securities fraud, securities fraud conspiracy, and money laundering. (The charges)
  2. Scott Ziegler, the former superintendent of Loudoun County (Va.) Public Schools, was indicted on three misdemeanor charges over his response to two sexual assaults committed by a student at his school last year. The story played a critical role in the election of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. (The indictment)
  3. Iran executed a second person amid mass protests across the country. Majidreza Rahnavard was publicly hanged on accusations of fatally stabbing two security force members. (The hanging)
  4. A federal judge dismissed former President Donald Trump's lawsuit seeking a special master review of classified documents seized at Mar-a-Lago. (The ruling)
  5. The Supreme Court agreed to hear a second challenge to President Biden's student loan forgiveness program in February. (The challenge)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Today's topic.

The Senate's immigration bills. Over the last few weeks, a handful of Republican and Democratic senators have been working together to push through an immigration bill before Republicans take control of the House.

Together, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) have outlined a deal that would provide a path to citizenship for two million recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the illegal immigrants who were brought here as children and are also known as "dreamers." In exchange for a pathway to citizenship, at least $25 billion of increased funding for Border Patrol and border security would be included.

The deal would also extend Title 42 for at least a year. Title 42 is a public health order that was used by the Trump and Biden administrations to quickly expel migrants who came to the U.S. over the southern border, citing health concerns. It has been used to expel 2.5 million migrants who arrived on the southern border since 2020.

The Sinema-Tillis bill would exceed the $25 billion of security and detainment funds sought by former President Donald Trump in 2018, hiring more officers and giving pay raises to Border Patrol agents. Some Senate negotiators have said the bill could include as much as $40 billion of border security funding.

The measure may also reform the asylum process, building out more regional processing centers, hiring more immigration judges, and allowing migrants to be kept in custody until their asylum cases are heard and adjudicated, rather than releasing them with a date for a court hearing. Republicans want the bill to speed up the adjudication of asylum claims, with some calling for creating a 72-hour process.

At the same time, Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) are working on a narrower bill to pass a House measure that would provide a pathway to citizenship for farmworkers. That bill, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, passed the House last year with the support of 30 Republicans and all but one Democrat. It provides pathways to citizenship for millions of unauthorized agricultural workers, simplifies the H-2A guest worker visa program for the agricultural sector, and makes the web-based E-Verify program that checks if an employee is eligible to work in the U.S. mandatory for all agricultural workers.

Details on the Senate versions of both agreements are still sparse, but come at a time when a record number of migrants are crossing the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum or work authorization. That wave of migration is also happening while the U.S. is facing a labor shortage, with over 10 million job openings. The labor shortage has been particularly acute in the farming industry, where farm operators have said a lack of labor is contributing to higher costs of food production.

A deal on immigration is considered a longshot, especially in a lame-duck session, as members of Congress are in active negotiations to prevent a government shutdown and pass a defense spending bill, too. Last year, the Senate declined to take up either of the bipartisan bills that would have protected DACA recipients or farmworkers from deportation.

Today, we’re going to take a look at some arguments from the left and right, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right is divided on the bills, though most oppose the Sinema-Tillis framework and argue against amnesty for illegal immigrants.
  • Some say the bill won't solve the border crisis and would amount to a betrayal of Republican voters.
  • Others argue we should grant legal status to the dreamers in exchange for a stronger border.

The National Review editors said the Tillis-Sinema deal won't solve the border crisis.

"First of all, there’s the question of why Republicans would want a deal in a lame-duck session. While the GOP cavalry did not arrive in the numbers many had hoped for last month, the party did retake the House. Congressional Republicans will be running the lower chamber in less than a month; it makes no sense to negotiate now, when they have less power and leverage, rather than later... Then, there’s the substance of what Tillis and Sinema are talking about," the editors said. "Put aside for the moment that a rational government shouldn’t need to rely on a CDC edict and the falsehood that the coronavirus is still a major public-health emergency to exclude illegal migrants from its borders. Of course, history says that deals like Tillis-Sinema — trading some form of amnesty for the promise of more enforcement and border security — don’t work as advertised.

"The Reagan-era Immigration Reform and Control Act, for example, 'conferred amnesty upon some 3 million illegals in exchange for promises of stepped-up enforcement at the border and in the back office,' as we wrote in 2012. The amnesty side of that equation went off without a hitch, while the enhanced enforcement never arrived... Yes, we need more resources at the border, and Congress should address the morass that has been created by the perverse effects of past legislation and court settlements, but that’s not fundamentally the issue at the moment. If Tillis and Sinema could promise an end to Biden administration lawlessness — driven by its apparent belief that any bogus asylum-seeker should be permitted into the country and never deported — their handiwork might be worth considering; since they can’t, it deserves to be ripped up and thrown away forthwith."

In The Federalist, Shawn Fleetwood asked if this would be Senate Republicans’ next act of betrayal.

"Among its massive concessions, the legislation would establish a so-called 'pathway to citizenship' — which usually denotes bypassing the pathway that already exists — for 2 million illegal immigrants brought to the United States as minors. These immigrants refer to the recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA was illegally established by former President Barack Obama, who admitted on multiple occasions throughout his presidency that he was 'not king' and couldn’t 'just bypass Congress and change the (immigration) law [himself].'...Back in June, a representative from [Thom Tillis’s] office told Fox News there was 'not much to negotiate' on immigration until President Joe Biden 'enforce[s] immigration laws' and takes action 'to end the crisis at the [U.S. southern] border.'

"Judging by the number of illegal border crossings since that statement, however, it’s pretty evident that hasn’t happened," Fleetwood said. "In October alone, Customs and Border Protection apprehended more than 230,000 illegals, marking a 1.3 percent increase from September and a new record high. Those figures don’t even include the estimated 64,000 'gotaways' that evaded apprehension by border patrol officials... While the move to hand out amnesty like candy on Halloween is absurd, it should come as no surprise to conservative voters. Over the past year, Tillis and several of his Republican colleagues have worked overtime to sell out their base on a whole host of issues."

In The Washington Post, George Will said the Tillis-Sinema bill would "right two glaring wrongs."

"They are the insecure southern border. And the decades-long callousness toward those called 'dreamers.' The 2 million of them were under age 16 when brought here by parents who were not lawfully here. They have lived under threat of deportation from the only country they have known, their insecurity underscored by their exclusion from federal and state privileges to which they would have access if, having been born here, they were citizens," he said. "Two impediments to enacting the Tillis-Sinema bill are: those who, ignoring the axiom that the perfect is the enemy of the good, will settle for nothing less than a 'comprehensive' solution to all immigration complexities... For many impeders, one word, 'amnesty' — less a thought than an evasion of thinking — suffices to paralyze immigration policy.

"Incessantly shrieked, this word sends legislators stampeding away from providing to America’s very approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants (almost as numerous as Ohioans) something that is in the national interest: a path to citizenship. About two-thirds of them have been here for more than a decade; more than a fifth for at least 20 years. They are not going home; they are home. Besides, America’s reservoir of decency is too deep to tolerate the police measures that would be necessary to rip these people — in many cases, these neighbors — from the social fabric," Will wrote. "Today, large majorities endorse two propositions: Secure borders, a core component of national sovereignty, require a substantial and immediate infusion of resources. And the treatment of the dreamers has been unworthy of the nation that is already benefiting from their unreciprocated loyalty. So, regarding the Tillis-Sinema measure, Congress should say: 'Damn right!'"

What the left is saying.

  • The left is also divided on the bill, with some saying it’s a worthy compromise and others criticizing the asylum process reforms.
  • Some argue that the bill will be tough to swallow but Democrats should take the deal, and Republicans should be happy with its compromise offers.
  • Others say the bill will be dead on arrival because it has too many poison pills for both sides.

The News & Observer editorial board said Thom Tillis drafted a flawed but worthy immigration compromise.

"A compromise like this is a long shot. It’s also likely the only shot either party has of passing meaningful immigration reform in the next two years," they wrote. "It’s possible that Tillis is seeing the writing on the wall with immigration. Republicans haven’t been getting far politically by scaring Americans on immigration and border security — at least not in recent elections. It’s also possible that Tillis sees a chance to win moderate voters, including Latino voters, a group that has contributed to Republican Party wins in recent years... Regardless of his motive, the framework could accomplish something immigration advocates have long called for — keeping DACA recipients from falling through the cracks in our broken immigration system.

"That overdue achievement would come with a bitter pill in the continuation of Title 42, which forces asylum seekers at the southern border to be expelled back to Mexico while they wait on the bureaucratic process," they added. "While Tillis and Sinema’s proposal apparently extends the policy for just another year, that additional 365 days would be another year of violating the international right that immigrants have to seek asylum. Still, time is again running out on reform, and a last-ditch effort in a lame duck session is better than another year of DACA recipients waiting to see if the only home they’ve known will let them stay.”

In MSNBC, Hayes Brown said the Sinema-Tillis bill is dead on arrival for progressives because of how it handles asylum issues.

"Given that this summer there were over 400,000 pending asylum cases, in theory expediting those cases with expanded facilities and more resources sounds great," Hayes wrote. "But 'expedite' here doesn’t just mean clearing the backlog; it also most likely means condensing the application process. According to Vox, after Sinema offered a related proposal last year, immigration advocates warned that 'trying to speed up asylum processing to a 72-hour turnaround timeframe would infringe on the due process rights of asylum seekers, forcing snap decisions with potential life-or-death consequences.'

"In exchange for those changes, Title 42 — the pandemic rule that allows asylum-seekers to be turned away at the border instantly — would remain in place for ‘at least a year,’ according to NBC News. That alone is a non-starter for many Democrats who have chafed at the policy since the Trump administration put it into place,” Hayes said. “House Democrats just last week sent a letter warning Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that the Biden administration can’t just replace Title 42 with more 'punitive and failed deterrence' measures... I get that anything might seem better than the current stalemate over immigration... But when what progress being made further damages an already weakened system to support asylum-seekers specifically and facilitate immigration more broadly, then that’s incrementalism in name only."

In The Los Angeles Times, DW Gibson argues that the Farm Workforce Modernization Act gives Democrats and Republicans what they want.

"The legislation underscores that certified agricultural workers remain ineligible for many forms of federally funded public benefits, such as healthcare subsidies, while at the same time, bringing many more agricultural workers into the tax-paying world, increasing revenue for states as well as the federal government," Gibson wrote. "Longtime, law-abiding undocumented agricultural workers will be able to apply for certified agricultural worker status, which means they could come out of the shadows and work legally. [Certified Agricultural Worker] candidates would not be subject to deportation while their applications are considered and employers would not be sanctioned for having previously hired them. Certification would grant 5½ years of legal residency (including for workers’ dependents), with the possibility of an extension.

"Republicans often emphasize that immigrants should have to 'get in line and wait their turn.' The Farm Workforce Modernization Act honors that idea but also acknowledges the crucial undocumented workforce that is already here. Through the proposed [Certified Agricultural Worker] program and changes in H-2A visa rules, the legislation establishes serious residency and work requirements before immigrants can gain a safe and stable place in society," he said. "This legislation is an opportunity to address an important piece of our broken immigration system, to fill farm labor gaps and meet priorities for both parties. Because the bill has already passed the House, it creates a special opportunity during the lame-duck session for the Senate. If the upper house does not act, the opportunity dies when the session ends."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. It is meant to be one perspective amid many others. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, you can reply to this email and write in. If you're a subscriber, you can also leave a comment.

  • Either of these bills would improve the current situation we're in, and Congress should understand that.
  • The requirements for immigration reform are not going to change anytime soon, which is another reason to act on it — otherwise nothing will change.
  • Unfortunately, the most likely outcome is no legislation and more finger-pointing.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but... I would take either of these bills in a heartbeat. Not because they’re flawless pieces of legislation, but because either one would be a huge improvement over what we have right now.

Let's start with the Tillis-Sinema bill. Allowing for the obvious, which is that the bill has little more than a framework and the devil is always in the details, I can confidently proclaim that it's a good framework. It's a framework for a deal whose straightforwardness and logic hasn't changed for several years and probably won't change for many decades into the future, which is precisely why we should act on it now.

Democrats are not going to allow "dreamers" to be deported.

Republicans are not going to allow such amnesty (or any amnesty) without more border security and serious reforms to our asylum system.

These two things are true and have been for a while, and they will continue to be true for many years into the future. Negotiators on both sides have to accept this as an obvious part of the game, and negotiators on both sides should also accept the validity of these positions. I agree, actually, that we should not deport millions of people who were brought here as children by their parents. Yes, they are here illegally. Yes, this country is also their home. Yes, it would be extraordinarily cruel and stupid to deport them en masse, especially given the context that they live in: They didn’t choose to come here as innocent kids, and they make tremendous contributions to American society.

At the same time, the system we have now is broken in meaningful ways. The border is a mess. Democrats can deny the significance of this all they want, but we are seeing record levels of border encounters — hundreds of thousands a month — with no end in sight. Our asylum system is completely overrun. Our ability to house, process and track these migrants is strained and near collapse. Granting legal status, even to dreamers, will undoubtedly motivate more migrants to try to come here. We have to be prepared for that. This is the reality of the position we're in.

Republicans have come forward with a solution: Enhance funding on the border beyond the levels requested by Trump, increase Border Patrol agents' pay, increase the number of asylum judges and lawyers, try to expedite the process of resolving asylum cases, and continue expelling migrants for another year under Title 42 until the infrastructure is in place to handle the influx we are seeing. This is a logical and calculated proposal. It will result in a lot of pain and horror for the families who are trying to cross into the U.S., especially in the next year. But if it's a means to an end of a more organized and humane system, one that has been nearly non-functional for over 20 years, it will be worth it.

Here in Tangle, I have been hammering the viewpoint that our No. 1 priority should be funding more immigration judges, lawyers and asylum officials at the border. We need to process asylum seekers and either approve their claims or deport them in a much more timely and organized fashion. This framework makes it a priority to do exactly that, while also increasing our capacity to house migrants at the border. Meanwhile, granting citizenship for millions of DACA recipients is the obvious, moral thing to do and will benefit our country as a whole. 74% of Americans agree.

At some point, Republicans have to accept that Democrats are not going to budge on immigration reforms without protecting dreamers. At some point, Democrats have to accept that Republicans are not going to accept any immigration reforms that don’t involve increased border security and a more stringent asylum process. Why can't both sides accept these realities together, right now, in this brief flurry of bipartisan activity?

I have a similar reaction to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. It does not have the reforms of the asylum process that I've long called for, which is a shame. If it did, it would be a better immigration bill than anything I've seen in a long time.

But the upside of this legislation is twofold: 1) It has more Republican support in the House, which means it is more likely to actually pass if the Senate works hard on marking it up. 2) It addresses something we desperately need: Agriculture labor. The bill wouldn't just bring millions of undocumented workers out of the shadows and get them into our system legally, it would lower the cost of food by reducing the cost of food production. The Cato Institute estimates it could reduce agricultural labor costs by $1 billion in the first year.

On top of that, it would boost federal and state tax revenue (especially in red states) by making these workers legal. It would introduce a stricter verification process to employ these workers and allow employers who have been employing them illegally a grace period to bring them into the system officially. The only way to ever transition out of the situation we're in now, where millions of workers are illegally employed, is to give those employers a grace period from legal repercussions. This is a great opportunity and we should take it.

The worst case scenario, unfortunately, is also the most likely: Neither of these bills becomes law. In that scenario, DACA recipients remain unprotected, hundreds of thousands of migrants continue to overwhelm our border every month, our agriculture industry remains understaffed, our food prices continue to skyrocket, millions of unauthorized workers stay in the shadows, and Republicans and Democrats get to continue pointing at each other screaming "it's their fault!" while doing absolutely nothing to address these issues.

It's long past time for concessions. The Senate has an opportunity, with two bills that would demonstrably improve our immigration process. They should take it.

Your questions, answered.

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Under the radar.

Hunter Walker, a reporter for Talking Points Memo, has obtained 2,319 text messages turned over to Congress by Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff under Donald Trump. Walker calls the texts a "real-time record of a plot to overturn an American election," and has published them in TPM. The vast majority of the texts are being made public for the very first time. Meadows turned the messages over during a brief period of cooperation with Congress before filing a lawsuit in December of 2021 arguing the subpoenas were overly broad. Meadows did not respond to Walker's request for comment.

Editor's note: TPM is an overtly left-leaning news source, but these text messages are authentic and jarring. While I wish this report had been published somewhere else, major kudos to Walker for obtaining them. It's a big scoop and well worth reading.


  • 13. The number of House Republicans who co-sponsored the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
  • 3.1%. The rate of unemployment in the agriculture industry last summer.
  • 594,120. The number of active DACA recipients, as of June 2022.
  • 427,000. The estimated number of undocumented students who are enrolled in postsecondary education.
  • One million. The number of asylum seekers who have been allowed into the United States temporarily under President Biden, as of September.
  • 150. The number of countries those one million asylum seekers hail from.

Have a nice day.

A chef in Dallas, Texas, has gone above and beyond to make patrons feel welcome. After learning that a deaf couple had a reservation for dinner at his famed Tasu Dallas restaurant, chef Tatsuya Sekiguchi decided to learn American Sign Language to communicate with them. Melissa Keomoungkhoun and her husband Victor Montiel had given the restaurant a heads up that they were deaf when they booked their reservation, and inquired about how they might be accommodated. But they were stunned to arrive to a greeting from the head chef in American Sign Language, who then went on to sign the entire menu for the couple. "We all are celebrating something every day," chef Sekiguchi said. "If I can help make it more special, I am very grateful." TODAY has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.