To aid Ukraine and Israel, US Senate unveils $118 billion bill on border security

Flags for Ukraine and Israel
Flags for Ukraine and Israel

United States: A bipartisan $118 billion border security bill that would also provide aid to Ukraine and Israel was unveiled by the US Senate, but it was met with fiery opposition from the House of Representatives a day later.

House Speaker Dismisses Bill

“I urge Congress to come together and swiftly pass this bipartisan agreement,” President Joe Biden said, also praising the migration measures in the bill, which took months to negotiate.

However, House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson declared it “dead on arrival” if it reached his chamber.

House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson | Credits: AP

“This bill is even worse than we expected and won’t come close to ending the border catastrophe the president has created,” he said in a statement on X, formerly called Twitter.

Senate Supporters Vow to Continue

The Democratic and Republican Senate supporters of the sprawling US border security and foreign military aid bill vowed to continue even without Donald Trump’s support.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that he would take action to set up a preliminary vote on the bill.

Some progressive democrats, however, feel angry that the measure does nothing to give an opportunity for citizenship to the eleven million undocumented people who have lived in the US for dozens of years, including the “dreamers” immigrants brought into the Country in childhood.

Border Security Measures and Foreign Aid Allocations

Senator Kyrsten Sinema, an independent, said that the legislation would keep the US southern border safe by directing the Department of Homeland Security to temporarily halt along the border to most migrants if there is an average of more than 5,000 attempts per day over seven days.

Republican senator James Lankford, one of the negotiators on the bill, estimated that the border would be closed for three weeks, with the number of immigrants entering the country dropping sharply.

Along with the border security, the bill allocated $60.06 billion to support Ukraine in the war with Russia, $14.1 billion in security assistance for Israel, $2.44 billion to US Central Command and the conflict in the Red Sea, and $4.83 billion to support US partners in the Indo-Pacific facing.

Humanitarian Assistance Amid Controversy Over UNRWA Funding

The bill also allocates an additional $10 billion in humanitarian assistance to civilians in conflict zones, such as in Ukraine, Gaza, and the West Bank, in spite of the fact that the bill includes an amendment that prohibits the use of its funds for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). The United States, under President Joe Biden, and other countries have frozen funding to the agency amid allegations that some of its employees were involved in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks in southern Israel.

“The priorities in this bill are too important to ignore and too vital to allow politics to get in the way,” Schumer said in a statement. “The United States and our allies are facing multiple, complex and, in places, coordinated challenges from adversaries who seek to disrupt democracy and expand authoritarian influence around the globe.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer | Credits: AP

The major overseas security elements of the new bill align closely with what Biden sought from Congress in October when he asked for a top-up allocation for aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.

It has been stalled by House Republicans’ insistence that the package be attached to some change in immigration policy.

Johnson on Saturday announced plans for a vote on a new bill that will provide $17.6 billion worth of military assistance to Israel this week as House Republicans were divided over solutions for the massive wave of immigrant arrivals and whether to provide Ukraine any more aid. That bill does not provide new funding for Ukraine or for US border security.

In the meantime, Lankford indicated that he would negotiate with Johnson to seek more significant support in the House of the Senate bill.

Schumer said that the deal would increase the number of frontline personnel and asylum officers and provide for faster and fairer immigration decisions. At a news conference, Lankford said the plan would provide $2 billion annually for the next decade and that it would cover as many as 50,000 beds for the detention of immigrants, up from the current 34,000-bed capacity.

According to the backers of the bill, this legislation would abolish the practice of “catch-and-release” that critics claimed contributed to the high level of illegal immigrants arriving at the southern border. It would do so by expediting the adjudication of asylum cases rather than the speedy release of apprehended migrants and then letting them stay in the United States for years pending their court hearings.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, has openly encouraged the negotiations, stating that a better offer would not likely be struck with a Republican in the White House.

“The Senate must carefully consider the opportunity in front of us and prepare to act,” McConnell said.

Schumer later said during a news conference that he had never collaborated so much with long-term permanent partner McConnell as he did with the bill.

“On many occasions, we thought the negotiations had fallen apart,” Schumer said.

Right-Wing Opposition

“Here’s what the people pushing this ‘deal’ aren’t telling you: It accepts 5,000 illegal immigrants a day and gives automatic work permits to asylum recipients — a magnet for more illegal immigration,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise said on X.

Other congressional Republicans have suggested that Biden can implement many of the desired changes in the immigration policy via executive action despite their earlier demands for legislative action.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Wednesday indicates that immigration is the second-most concern among Americans, especially Republicans. 

Trump, the candidate for the Republican nomination to face off against Biden in the November election, has stuck to his campaign of being against immigrants. House Republicans are also continuing a campaign to impeach Mayorkas, Biden’s chief border official and Homeland Security secretary.