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The bill comes amid concerns about a new post-Title 42 border surge

By Adam Shaw - March 9, 2023

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, has introduced sweeping border security legislation that would extend the Title 42 public health order beyond its current May expiration amid fears of a fresh border surge -- while also continuing Trump-era border security policies and setting minimum staffing levels for key immigration agencies.

The "Solving the Border Crisis Act" would extend Title 42 until at least 120 days after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency and require a comprehensive plan be in place. The order, currently set to expire on May 11 when the public health emergency ends, allows for the rapid expulsion of migrants at the southern border due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials have predicted a massive surge of migration at the border when the order drops, and both Republicans and Democrats have previously expressed skepticism about the administration’s claim that it has a plan in place to deal with any surge.

The legislation would require DHS to immediately resume border wall construction, which largely stopped when the Biden administration took office, and bar DHS from canceling prior contracts related to the construction of the project. It would enshrine the Migrant Protection Protocols -- a Trump-era policy that kept migrants in Mexico for the duration of their hearings rather than have them released into the U.S. interior.

The bill would also require establishing minimum staffing for Border Patrol at 25,000 agents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operation (ERO) at 10,000 employees. Additionally, it would mandate sufficient ICE detention, and require DHS to determine if Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is collecting the DNA of illegal immigrants to aid in U.S. criminal investigations as required by the 2005 DNA Fingerprint Act.

The co-sponsors on the legislation are Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., Ted Budd, R-N.C., Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., Thom Tillis, R-N.C. and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

Separately, the bill would formally disapprove of a Biden administration rule that allows asylum officers to hear asylum claims instead of immigration judges, and establish a sense of Congress that President Biden should declare a national security emergency at the border. It would also require DHS submit to Congress a plan of how it will mitigate the migrant surge at the border.

"Since President Biden took office, more than 4.7 million illegal immigrants – double the population of Idaho – have been encountered at the southern border. This is a direct result from the president’s open border policies that have catalyzed a full-blown disaster," Risch said in a statement to Fox News Digital. 

"This legislation would resume construction of the border wall, extend Title 42, and improve equipment and resources for enforcement and border patrol. Strong border policies are the only solution to President Biden’s ever-growing immigration disaster," he said.

Boozman also pinned the blame on President Biden and said that the ongoing crisis at the border "will continue to rage and undermine our sovereignty until we secure and seal [the border], fix the flawed immigration process that invites this chaos and enforce existing laws already on the books" and that the bill tackles those needs. 

Hagerty called the bill a "critical step" in rejecting the policies of the Biden administration and in reinstating "the commonsense border policies of the last administration."

The bill comes amid increasing pressure from the Republicans on the Biden administration to get a firmer grip on the crisis ahead of the Title 42 expiration. Republicans in both the House and Senate have led delegations to the border, with House committees holding in-person hearings. Some in the House have raised the possibility of impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The Biden administration has pushed back, accusing Republicans of failing to provide adequate funding at the border and of failing to pass a sweeping immigration bill that the administration introduced on Day One. Republicans largely balked at that legislation due to the inclusion of a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.