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Senators release long-awaited border and asylum bill with new 'shut down' authority

Senators, including Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, have released a long-awaited  bill that could transform border and immigration functions. 

The bill would green-light military and border security funding requests made by President Joe Biden last year. Among the bigger policy changes is something called the Border Emergency Authority. It would allow the president to close the border to asylum seekers and migrants if the number of daily average encounters exceeds 4,000 people over a week. and mandates it if that number surpasses 5,000. In December, the Border Patrol was reporting about 2,000  crossings a dayin Arizona.

When that authority is in place, border officials can turn migrants back across the border, largely without processing. Those who attempt to cross at least twice during that closure would be subject to a yearlong entry ban to the U.S. Asylum seekers who secure appointments through CBP One will still be processed — though that system is limited to 1400 daily appointments at a handful of ports.

Senators say the authority is necessary to tamp down on the number of people crossing the border and to address the growing asylum case backlog at Citizenship and Immigration Services. Rights groups argue it would upend long-held norms in asylum law. The bill also includes changes to the asylum screening standard and mandates detention or supervision for asylum seekers awaiting immigration hearings. 

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, meanwhile, has said the bill would be dead on arrival in the House.

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.