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Duarte votes against Republican border bill
Local farmer-turned-legislator says H.R. 2 would be ‘highly disruptive to the district’
border bill Duarte 1
Migrants reach through a border wall for clothing handed out by volunteers, as they wait between two border walls to apply for asylum on Friday in San Diego. Hundreds of migrants remain waiting between the two walls, many for days. The U.S. entered a new immigration enforcement era Friday, ending a three-year-old asylum restriction (AP Photo/Gregory Bull).

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to pass a border security and immigration bill, hours before the Trump-era Title 42 was set to expire — and Rep. John Duarte of Hughson was one of just two Republicans to vote against it.

House Resolution 2, known as the Secure the Border Act, passed by a vote of 219-213, mostly along party lines, with Duarte and Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie joining the Democrats in opposition.

“I didn’t like the ramped-up E-Verify requirements within the bill,” said Duarte, a farmer-turned-legislator who defeated Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, last fall in the race to represent the 13th district. “Everything else was completely acceptable to me.”

E-Verify is a federal, internet-based system that allows employers to check against Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration records to ensure potential-hires are eligible for employment. H.R. 2 would modify existing civil and criminal penalties for hiring people without work authorization.

“It criminalizes employers and would be highly disruptive to the district,” said Duarte.

John Duarte
Rep. John Duarte of Hughson

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, who represents District 5, which includes portions of Turlock, voted for the legislation. The veteran lawmaker said the bill is necessary since many migrants are “cutting to front of the line.”

“Asylum is not an open invitation to bum-rush our borders,” McClintock told The Hill. “Yes, we are a nation of immigrants. We are also a nation of laws.”

According to the Population Reference Bureau, about 5,000 foreigners make unauthorized entry into the U.S. each day. About 4,000 of them are apprehended just after they cross the U.S.-Mexico border. But nearly 1,000 elude detection or slip from legal to illegal status by violating the conditions of their visas.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, called the legislation the strongest border security bill to come through Congress in more than 100 years.

“I am confident that we will stop the flood of fentanyl into our country, solve the Biden border crisis, and support our border patrol agents so they can continue to keep us safe,” McCarthy said prior to the vote.

In addition to increasing penalties for individuals who overstay their visas and increasing funding for Border Patrol agents, H.R. 2 also restarts construction on the wall along the southern border. It also reinstates the “Remain in Mexico” policy that required many asylum-seekers to be sent back to Mexico while their immigration cases are pending. And, it provides the stricter requirements to the E-Verify system.

However, H.R. 2 is all but certain to die in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Even if it defies the odds, President Biden has promised to veto the bill if it lands on his desk. Duarte could’ve curried favor with GOP leadership by voting for the legislation, knowing his stance would be protected since the bill is virtually DOA in the upper chamber. Instead, he stood his ground.

“This not a bipartisan bill,” said Duarte. “It’s purely a Republican bill, messaging-wise. There’s a lot to be concerned about down at the border. But we’re not going to fix anything if we can’t cooperate with the Democrats to create a bill that can get through the Senate and onto the president’s desk to be signed and implemented.”

Title 42, which allowed authorities to swiftly expel nearly 3 million migrants at U.S. land borders in order to stop the spread of COVID-19, expired at 11:59 p.m. Thursday after months of political and legal wrangling. When it expired, immigration officials returned to processing under Title 8 guidelines.

“This extreme MAGA Republican piece of legislation will throw out your children who are fleeing, in many cases, extreme violence and persecution,” said Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. “The child deportation act is not a serious effort to deal with the issue related to our broken immigration system.”

The White House said in a statement that “the Administration strongly supports productive efforts to reform the nation's immigration system, but opposes H.R. 2, which makes elements of our immigration system worse.” The White House went on to say that the Secure the Border Act “does very little to actually increase border security, while doing a great deal to trample on the nation’s core values and international obligations.”

The vote on the proposal came after months of negotiations within the GOP to hash out policy differences. On Wednesday, House members made last-minute amendments to the 213-page bill in an effort to secure its survival. The bill marries proposals from the House Judiciary, Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security committees.

Duarte said he vociferously defended his position with individual members of the House and in one-on-one meetings with leadership. Nevertheless, he remains hopeful that a deal can get done, pointing out that 23 Democratic Senators are up for re-election in 2024, making them more likely to negotiate as they aim to bolster their list of accomplishments and impress their constituencies.

“There’s a real opportunity to get bipartisan support,” said Duarte. “It’s our duty, particularly in this district and in the Central Valley, to produce immigration reform that benefits so many of our valley residents who are living in the shadows. Living in the shadows is not good for them, it’s not good for our communities, it’s not good for our economy.

“And we still have an open border that is no better off today than it was yesterday.”