What's in the new $118 billion Senate immigration and foreign aid bill

The proposal faces little chance of passing the House.

February 5, 2024, 12:17 PM

A bipartisan group of senators on Sunday night released the text of an $118 billion bill that would tie significant new foreign aid to the first major overhaul of the country's immigration system in years.

The deal was reached after four months of negotiations led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., James Lankford, R-Okla., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

Their sweeping proposal appears to face little chance of becoming law, however -- drawing immediate rebuke from some conservatives that it isn't strict enough on the southern border.

In a statement on Sunday, Sinema pushed back against such skepticism.

"There is a crisis at our border, and our bipartisan border security package fixes it," she said. "Now, senators must make a decision: pass our package and solve the crisis or accept the status quo, do nothing, and keep playing politics while our system breaks and our communities continue to suffer. I choose to secure the border, protect Arizona border communities, fix our broken system, and finally solve the border crisis."

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also praised the proposal, saying in a statement that it "is tough, fair, and takes meaningful steps to address the challenges our country faces after decades of Congressional inaction."

The Senate will need 60 votes during a Wednesday procedural vote to move forward with considering the legislation.

It's not yet clear whether there will be the requisite Republican support to overcome the filibuster.

While House Speaker Mike Johnson issued a scathing reaction to the legislation -- calling it "even worse than we expected" -- and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise said it won't receive a vote in their chamber, the Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, lauded Lankford for his work "to ensure that supplemental national security legislation begins with direct and immediate solutions to the crisis at our southern border."

Former President Donald Trump, amid his 2024 campaign for the White House, weighed in as well, claiming that the proposal is "ridiculous" and "nothing more than a highly sophisticated trap for Republicans to assume the blame on ... our Border, just in time for our most important EVER Election. Don't fall for it!!!"

On Monday, less than 24 hours after the text of the deal was released publicly, the House's Republican leaders said in a joint statement that it is "DEAD on arrival" in their chamber and argued that it "fails in every policy area needed to secure our border."

What's in the immigration and foreign aid bill

The vast majority of the $118.2 billion bill would be spent on overseas aid rather than immigration.

That would include $60.6 billion to assist Ukraine in its ongoing war against Russia's invasion; $14.1 billion in funds for Israel in its war against Hamas' after Hamas' terror attack; $10 billion in humanitarian assistance to civilians both in Ukraine and in the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank; as well as $4.83 billion for some countries in the Indo-Pacific.

The Senate proposal also includes $20.23 billion for the southern border, to increase immigration restrictions and enforcement and implement new migrant policies.

The legislation crucially links the foreign money to immigration policy in a bid to ensure enough Republican support for it to pass through the divided Congress.

PHOTO: Migrants wait in line adjacent to the border fence under the watch of the Texas National Guard to enter into El Paso, Texas, May 10, 2023.
Migrants wait in line adjacent to the border fence under the watch of the Texas National Guard to enter into El Paso, Texas, May 10, 2023.
Andres Leighton/AP, FILE

The funds to assist Ukraine include $19.85 billion to replenish military weapons, $13.8 billion for Ukraine to purchase weapons and munitions from the U.S. and $14.8 billion to support Ukrainian military training.

The bill also includes $8 million for the Department of Defense's watchdog to continue to exercise oversight over U.S. assistance to Ukraine.

Funding for Israel includes $4 billion for Israeli missile defense capabilities and $1.2 billion for the procurement of the Iron Beam missile defense system. The package also provides $2.44 billion to support U.S. operations and to replace combat expenditures for weapons in the Red Sea.

In the Indo-Pacific, the deal includes a $1.9 billion investment in the U.S. industrial base to replenish weapons provided to Taiwan, the self-governing island that China regards as a breakaway province. The Senate bill further includes $542.2 million for U.S. forces and $133 million to enhance the U.S. industrial base capacity for cruise missile components.

New emergency border powers

For many lawmakers, the border provisions will be the most substantial considerations in the bill.

Lankford said on ABC's "This Week" in December, amid the ongoing talks, that the eventual deal had to be broad in scope.

"There's a reason that this hasn't been done in decades, because it's hard. It's very technical work, and there's a lot of challenges that are in it. And any time you deal with border security, there are a lot of complicating features in this. ... But the most important thing is to be able to get this right," he said then.

The new legislation would give the secretary of homeland security the power to declare an emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border and to remove or deny entry to any migrant within 100 miles of that border within a period of 14 days from the date of their entry.

Under this bill, the secretary could declare such a border emergency if there is an average of 4,000 or more migrants encountered each day at the southern border over the course of seven consecutive days.

Additionally, the secretary would be required to declare an emergency if there's an average of 5,000 or more migrants encountered each day for seven consecutive days or if on any one day there are more than 8,500 encounters.

There are exceptions, including for unaccompanied children and any unauthorized immigrant that Border Patrol agents believe should be excused for humanitarian or other reasons. (House Republican leaders said Monday that these proposed powers were "riddled with loopholes.")

What's more, the bill would make modifications to so-called "catch and release" by requiring detention or mandatory supervision of all migrants processed at the border, though Republican critics said it was unacceptable for some migrants to be able to leave physical custody.

Under the Senate legislation, there also remains a mandate to process some asylum claims at ports of entry.

The secretary would be required to suspend any new border emergency after migrant encounters drop to less than 75% of what they were when the emergency was triggered for seven consecutive days. The president would also have the power to immediately suspend the border emergency for no more than 45 days at any time.

But there are some restrictions on this provision: The border shutdown could only last up to 45 days at a time and couldn't be used for more than 270 days in the first year.

The bill also aims to disincentivize crossings by barring those who try to cross illegally more than twice during a declared emergency from entering the U.S. for a year.

There is significant additional funding to beef up immigration review, including $440 million to hire additional immigration judge teams and to increase the capacity of the immigration courts to expeditiously process and adjudicate cases.

The package includes millions of more dollars to combat human trafficking, enhance security at the border, assist the FBI in addressing the growing backlog of DNA samples collected from migrants and provide millions to help disrupt and dismantle cartels.

There are also changes to the asylum system to expedite consideration of asylum claims. This would be done by adjudicating asylum claims through asylum officers rather than the immigration courts, easing the backlog that causes many cases to take years to be processed.

The bill would heighten screening standards, making it harder to make an asylum claim.

The legislative package would take more steps toward addressing the flow of fentanyl by authorizing Sen. Tim Scott's entire FEND Off Fentanyl Act to impose sanctions on groups and nations that participate in the distribution of the ultra-deadly opioid.

Scott's proposal would require the president to prepare a list of possible entities to sanction but does not specify who.

Additionally, the immigration deal includes a path to permanent legal status for Afghan nationals evacuated from their country after the U.S. withdrawal in 2021.

What's next

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumr reaffirmed on a call with reporters on Sunday night that the chamber will move forward with the bill this week.

"I know the overwhelming majority of senators want to get this done, and it will take bipartisan cooperation to move quickly," he said in a statement. "Senators must shut out the noise from those who want this agreement to fail for their own political agendas."

Republicans will likely want the opportunity to offer amendments to the legislation. Though Senate aides said there's been a collaborative relationship between Schumer and McConnell regarding the immigration deal, it's not yet clear whether there will be amendments -- or, if so, how many.

Sinema, during an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday morning, said she did not know what would ultimately become of the bill once the House receives it.

"What I do know is that for for months, my Republican colleagues have demanded ... that we address this border crisis as part of a national security package. I agree," she said.

On Saturday, in anticipation of the Senate's actions, Johnson announced the House would separately act on an Israel-only aid package that did not include IRS funding offsets that had allowed Senate Democrats to easily reject previous such efforts.

ABC News' Tal Axelrod, Luke Barr, Lalee Ibssa, Soo Rin Kim and Lauren Peller contributed to this report.