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King introduces legislation aimed at securing border, asylum seeker support

King said the Border Management, Security, and Assistance Act is not meant to replace comprehensive immigration reform, but addresses some immediate emergencies.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Senator Angus King introduced legislation Tuesday that he said would strengthen the southern border connecting the U.S. and Mexico while also supporting asylum seekers who legally enter the country.

Senator King co-sponsored the legislation along with U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Senators Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico, Alex Padilla, D-California, Gary Peters, D-Missouri, Tom Carper D-Delaware, Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, and Jacky Rosen D-Nevada.

King said the Border Management, Security, and Assistance Act is not meant to replace comprehensive immigration reform, but addresses some of the immediate emergencies the U.S. is facing. 

The bill would fund increased capacity, personnel, and technology for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)  to strengthen security at the southern border. It includes tools to prevent drug trafficking and other criminal activity. It would create a transportation coordinator position to facilitate coordination between the federal government, and state, and local governments.

"This isn't an open border, which it never has been, by the way, but that it's going to be. You're not going to just be able to try to take advantage of the system and then pay no consequences. So I think if someone tries to slip in illegally or game the process in some way, they should pay a price for that," Senator King said.

The bill would also deter unlawful migration by enforcing consequences for unauthorized border crossings, including efficient processing and swift removal of people whose applications are denied and are otherwise prohibited from remaining in the country.

It would also add resources for immigration officers and judges to quickly screen and deny ineligible cases. The bill would also enhance penalties for human smuggling, drug trafficking, and illegal surveillance of border security personnel, and add resources for U.S. attorneys for increased law enforcement activities related to southwest border enforcement.

"They should realize that that's going to jeopardize their opportunities in the future. I think because the system has just been overwhelmed, it takes too long to process these applications. About 80 percent of the people that apply for asylum are ultimately denied. So this bill, a lot of this bill is about getting at that. The drug importation that I think is what's killing people in Maine and across the country," King said.

It also would expedite the process for vetted asylum seekers to start working to earn an income and become self-sufficient, lessening the burden on state and local governments, while providing more potential employees for struggling businesses. According to the legislation, someone who is processed by DHS, not detained, and not determined by DHS to have a frivolous asylum claim is able to receive work authorization within 30 days.

"These are people that are waiting for their asylum adjudication. And under the current law, they can't work. They can't do anything for four, six months. And of course, in Maine, we have a number of asylum seekers. They want to work. Many of them are well-trained. They're from all over the world. And we desperately need workers. So there's a mismatch," King said.

This proposal would provide local communities and nongovernmental organizations that are receiving asylum seekers—both at the border and in the interior of the U.S.—with the resources that they need and ensure that federal agencies are coordinating with such communities and organizations.

"It's to help these folks support their families. Two, it's to keep them off public support. And three, it's to assist in our desperate need for additional workers," King said.

Senator King most recently co-sponsored the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act of 2023 to shorten the waiting period before asylum seekers are allowed to receive work authorizations.

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