Why Is Senator Lankford Frustrated With Border Deal 'Misinformation'?

Oklahoma Senator James Lankford leads border reform bill negotiations, frustrated by misinformation in the legislation.

Thursday, February 1st 2024, 8:33 pm

By: News 9, Alex Cameron


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Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, the lead Republican negotiator on the controversial border reform bill, is not only one of the busiest members of Congress right now, but also one of the most frustrated — over what he says is ‘ridiculous’ misinformation about what's in the bill.

For the last nearly four months, Senator Lankford (R-OK), Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Senator Krysten Sinema (I-AZ) have been meeting almost every day — even over the holidays — to find common ground on changes in policy and practice at the southern border.

The rare bipartisan push comes as record numbers of migrants unlawfully crossing the border since President Biden took office have overwhelmed the asylum system and burdened communities in border states and beyond. 

The President’s request last fall for national security supplemental funding included aid for Ukraine — Biden’s top priority — but also funding for the border. Lankford and Senate Republicans made clear they would only support sending more money to help Ukraine protect its border if the U.S. border security aspect of the package involved actual policy reform. It took some time, but eventually, Biden agreed, and the White House has been fully involved in writing the legislation since Thanksgiving.

 "We’re very close to finalizing text and giving people the opportunity to read it for themselves,” said Lankford in an interview Thursday. Lankford knows he sounds like a broken record, but he tells reporters that a bill this complex, this important, has to be done right.

“The language is incredibly technical and we’ve got all the appropriations dealing with Ukraine, dealing with Israel, as well as all that we’re doing on border security,” Lankford explained. “These aren’t simple things to pull together, when you deal with a bill this complicated that actually dramatically changes the direction of where we’re going in border security for decades into the future.”

Both Lankford and Murphy expressed hope this past weekend that the bill text would be ready for members to see this week, but it now looks like it will be next week when that happens. "It constantly bogs down with one more check, one more review,” said Lankford, “but we’ve literally had staff working 16 hours a day now."

 At the same time, Lankford says, he's trying to respond to what he calls internet rumors that are causing an increasing number of Republicans, even some of his own Oklahoma colleagues, to criticize, or at least question, the agreement. "From what I have gleaned,” said Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-OK2) in an interview Tuesday, “I am greatly concerned about what has come out, absent text, that we’d be normalizing high numbers of illegal immigration."

What Brecheen and others are referring to is an unsubstantiated report that the agreement would give the president the authority to shut down the border if daily migrant encounters between ports of entry reach 5,000 over a week’s time.

"To say that we can have up to 5,000, or when it averages 5,000, that we’re going to shut down the border,” started a skeptical Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK1) this week, suggesting the Mexican drug cartels could easily manipulate crossings so that the daily average would be just below 5,000 and our border authorities would still be overwhelmed.

Lankford shakes his head in disbelief. "This perception that this bill allows 5,000 people a day to be able to come in unchecked is not only absurd, but it’s clearly not within the text."

Lankford says other aspects of the deal -- adding detention beds, more asylum officers, more border control agents -- will make it possible to process far more asylum-seekers than the 500 or so that can be handled now. The so-called ‘break glass’ authority would kick in, he says, if there were a surge beyond the new processing capacity. “Right now, the default of the Biden administration is, when you get a big caravan of people in, you let everybody in because we don’t have room (to hold them in detention centers),” said Lankford. “This flips the script on that — when there’s a big surge of people, everybody gets deported, [and] that’s exactly the opposite of what’s being said on the Internet.”

Lankford believes the text will be out in time for members to read and begin debating the bill next week. "And we can talk about the parts they like and they don’t like,” said Lankford. “It’s a bill coming out of the Senate; that means it has to have Republican and Democratic support. That’s how you make law in the United States Congress."

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