8:03 P.M. EST
MODERATOR: Good evening, everyone. Thank you for joining tonight’s press call on the bipartisan national security agreement. As a reminder, the contents of this call will be embargoed until its conclusion.
This call will be on background and attributable to “senior administration officials.” For your knowledge and not for attribution, today you will be hearing from [senior administration official], [senior administration official], and [senior administration official].
With that, [senior administration official], I will turn it over to you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. Thanks for joining, everybody. Obviously, we’re grateful to have this opportunity to talk about the — this movement forward on these critical national security supplemental requests that the President put forward and the terrific work, really, truly in a bipartisan way to come together to get this arrangement.
I just want to hit a couple of the top points of why we think what — what we’ve — what we’ve been able — what Senate negotiators have been able to achieve here is so important.
Number one, it helps provide now critically needed military assistance to help the people of Ukraine defend themselves. I don’t need to tell you all that Russia continues to launch aerial assaults on Ukrainian cities as well as Ukrainian defense industrial base sites and Ukrainian units as — as the winter months there now progress.
This — this — this deal will also help us invest in our own defense industrial base, supporting American jobs across the country and to help — help our ability to produce weapons and equipment that the United States can send to Ukraine, again, to help them continue to battle back against Russian aggression.
And then, not unimportantly when it comes to Ukraine, this arrangement will help us make sure that the United States can continue to send economic assistance to Ukraine. Putin has made destroying Ukraine’s economy a central aim of his war strategy. And being able to boost Ukraine’s economy is, quite frankly, essential to their survival.
If Ukraine’s economy collapses, they will not be able to keep on fighting, and this assistance will help Ukraine pay its first responders — medical and — and fire and police — as well as be able to import basic goods and provide essential services to its population.
Now, on Israel. This also will help authorize the United States to provide additional military assistance to help Israel defend itself against Hamas, which I want to remind everybody has still made su- — made it clear that they are committed to conducting the attacks on the Israeli people and Israeli sovereignty, like — like on October 7th, again and again and again. They truly have a genocidal intent when it comes to Israel.
The aid in this agreement will help, also, Israel replenish its air defenses and to ensure that it’s prepared for any future contingencies.
Again, I don’t think it needs reminding that Hamas launched this — this conflict and continues to launch air assaults on the — Israel sites, Israel cities, Isr- — the Israeli people. So, air defense is a ke- — a key part of this. And we’re glad to see that we’re going to be able to help support Israel and their air defense capabilities.
It’s also going to include some money — extra money, almost to the tune of $2 and a half billion for Central Command — U.S. Central Command — as they continue to help defend our troops and our facilities in Iraq and Syria and help defend international shipping throughout the Red Sea, a critical international waterway. So, we’re grateful for that.
On humanitarian assistance. It includes important humanitarian aid funding to help civilians that are in need all around the world, whether it’s in Ukraine — clearly there’s a humanitarian assistance concern there and true humanitarian needs — but also in — to help Palestinians in Gaza, where we are actively working to increase the flow of aid for Palestinian civilians who — who have nothing to do with Hamas and shouldn’t be held accountable for what Hamas chose to do on the 7th of October.
And lastly, if I could, just quickly on the Indo-Pacific. This deal will provide resources to help our allies and partners in the region as they need to build the capabilities necessary to address threats from an increasingly assertive PRC, as well as an increasingly assertive North Korea, and to meet emerging challenges. It’s critically important that we maintain our focus on the Indo-Pacific and to be able to preserve peace and stability there.
This arrangement helps us. It gives us those extra funds that we need to focus on the Indo-Pacific, even as we are engaged elsewhere in Europe and in the Middle East.
And with that, I’ll turn it over.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, [senior administration official]. Our immigration system is broken and has been for years. And as you have heard from President Biden, that’s why a few months ago, he instructed his and te- — his team to work to address it.
Now, after negotiating around the clock and through holidays, we have a bipartisan national security agreement that, if passed into law, would include the toughest and fairest reforms to our immigration system in decades.
This bipartisan agreement would make asylum processing fairer and more efficient, while ensuring protection for the most vulnerable. And it would give the President emergency authority to shut down the border when it is overwhelmed.
The question is now for Speaker Johnson and House Republicans. If they believe we must take action as a country to secure our border, doing nothing is simply not an option.
This is not a matter of partisan politics. This is a bipartisan agreement. And it would make our country safer. It would make our border more secure, treat people fairly and humanely, consistent with our values as a nation.
And now I’ll turn it over to [senior administration official] to walk through more of what’s — what this agreement would do.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, [senior administration official], and thanks, everybody, for participating on today’s call.
As [senior administration official] noted, the legislation makes significant changes to our asylum system. It creates a fast, fair, and functioning asylum process that will provide people who merit protection with asylum much faster, including by empowering asylum officers to grant asylum during credible — during screening interviews.
But it also imposes consequences much faster to those who do not have a legal basis to remain. It does so in a number of ways that I’ll walk through very quickly.
First and foremost, it creates a new non-adversarial and non-detained provisional removal proceedings process that will allow individuals to receive a final decision in a few months — no more than six months — instead of the five to seven years that the process currently takes for individuals we are encountering today.
The bill does this by modifying the screening threshold that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum officers will use to evaluate protection claims with a goal of making it more likely that those who pass the initial screening are ultimately found to have a valid asylum claim at the end of the process.
It also expedites work permits to those who are here and who qualify so they can get to work more quickly. And it does so by allowing individuals who pass their initial screening interview — again, using a modified screening threshold that will make it more likely that those who pass the screening are ultimately found to have an asylum claim — the ability to be eligible for work authorization once they pass that screening. That is significantly faster than is the case in our current immigration system.
The legislation provides significant resources to secure the border and impose consequences on individuals we encounter. It adds 1,500 CBP personnel, including Border Patrol agents and officers who will work at our ports of entry.
It adds 4,300 asylum officers and additional USCIS personnel to help speed asylum claims and get to a final decision much faster.
It adds 1,200 Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel to ensure that individuals who are ordered removed are removed more quickly, as well as the ability to operate significant more repatriation flights than we are currently operating.
It will deploy 100 cutting-edge inspection machines to help and detect the stop — and stop the flow of fentanyl at our border, as well as funding for cities and states that are sheltering migrants.
And, lastly, it will include a new funding to expand the capacity of our partner countries to accept and reintegrate migrants who are repatriated from the United States. These resources are badly needed and will support and expand our workforce after decades of chronic underfunding that have led to enormous backlogs in the immigration court and the asylum system.
They will allow us to enhance the security of the border, as well as significantly speed up processing for individuals who claim asylum at the border.
Lastly, the authority — the legislation, I’m sorry, includes a temporary emergency authority that will allow the President to shut down the border when encounters reach elevated levels. This authority will allow the President and the Secretary of Homeland Security to temporarily prohibit individuals from seeking asylum, with limited exceptions, when our southwest land border is overwhelmed.
The authority preserves access to other protections, consistent with our international obligations, and will sunset after three years. Importantly, again, this authority will be used when the number of migrants encountered at the border reach historically high levels — levels at which the U.S. government strains to process migrants quickly and effectively.
Additionally, the authority is limited to a set number of days each calendar year. And in the third year of implementation, it may only be exercised for half the year.
And now I will turn it over to [senior administration official] to talk through some of the other important changes this legislation makes before we turn it over for questions.
[Senior administration official], back over to you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. Additionally, the legislation would strengthen a migrant’s right to counsel, providing additional tools to ensure humane and fair treatment of those seeking asylum, especially the most vulnerable. For the first time, the legislation would require gov- — the government to provide legal counsel for the most vulnerable asylum seekers, such as young, unaccompanied children ages 13 and younger.
It would also strengthen requirements so that migrants are always provided with clear and accessible information about their rights, including their right to counsel.
The legislation would also increase lawful pathways into the United States for certain populations and allow some individuals already here to adjust status or access work authorization more easily. Specifically, the legislation would provide additional visas for families and workers. It would raise the cap on the number of immigrant visas available annually by adding an additional 250,000 immigrant visas over five years.
These additional immigrant visas expand lawful pathways into the United States, prioritizing family reunification, and also get U.S. businesses access to qualified workers that they need. It promotes family unity, allowing individuals who came to the United States as children on their parents’ skilled labor visas to remain in the United States with their families even after turning 21.
The legislation would make clear that non-citizens can travel to the United States on a temporary B visa to visit family members. It would establish a faster pathway to permanent status for Afghan allies and their families who entered the United States under Operation Allies Welcome. And it would expand work authorization to fiancés or spouses of children of U.S. citizens and H-1B visa holders so that they can more quickly support themselves in the United States.
The administration calls on Congress to not delay and to immediately pass this bipartisan national security agreement.
MODERATOR: Thanks, [senior administration official], [senior administration official], and [senior administration official].
With that, we will move to the question-and-answer period. As a reminder, this is on background and attributable to “senior administration officials.” We will be taking questions one at a time. Please use the “raise hand” function to queue up for questions.
When you are called upon, please state your name, your outlet, and, for the benefit of everyone, please limit your questions to one per person.
I will give it a second for you all to queue up.
All right. We’ll start with Elliot. You should be unmuted now.
Q Hello. Yes. Hi, I’m sorry about that. My question — thank you — is for [senior administration official], I believe. I’m just trying to get a better understanding of how things would change on the ground on day one.
So, right now, as you know, there’s — the administration makes extensive use of parole through the CBP One app and — with Cubans, Haitian, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans. How would those two programs change under this — under this law, under this legislation?
And then, how about someone who crosses illegally and wants to claim asylum? What would happen? I’m just trying to understand mechanics. Would they be sent back to Mexico? What would — if — I guess it would depend on whether this emergency is in effect. But could you explain just a little bit how things would change on the ground in those scenarios on day one?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely. Thanks, Elliot.
So, on day one — were day one, for example, to be today, given where we are in terms of encounter levels at the border, we anticipate that the President and the Secretary would trigger this emergency authority immediately based on where we are on encounter trends and the levels that are set in the legislation.
When the emergency authority is being implemented at the border, individuals who are encountered will not be generally eligible for asylum. The legislation will require a manifestation of fear standard, and individuals who manifest a fear would be processed for a fast interview to determine whether they have a fear of persecution or torture such that they cannot be removed.
In terms of CBP One, when we are exercising the emergency authority, the legislation requires that 1,400 individuals be processed through our land border ports of entry in a safe and orderly means. And so, we anticipate that CBP One would continue to be in effect when we are exercising the authority.
And, lastly, the legislation does not impact the CHNV process at all. And so, that process will continue. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay. Next, we will go to Michelle. You should be unmuted now.
Q Hi, everyone. Sorry about that. Can you address the 90-day windows in the bill where people have to receive their initial asylum screening? And what happens if the government doesn’t meet that 90-day window? Is there any, like, enforcement of it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, hi, Michelle. Thanks for that question. So, the legislation creates a new provisional removal proceedings process for individuals who are encountered and who are not detained through the process.
As I think everybody knows, right now, individuals who are — who we cannot detain are released with a notice to appear into the immigration court process, and that is a lengthy process that can take five to seven years, we anticipate, for individuals who are being encountered today to reach a final decision.
What this legislation does is require that those individuals go into this new process, and we will be required to conduct an initial protection screening interview within 90 days, as you noted. We anticipate that — once we are fully staffed and resourced, that that interview will happen significantly faster than 90 days. And at that initial interview, our CIS personnel will be assessing whether individuals have a reasonable possibility of being subject to persecution or torture if they are returned.
We anticipate that this higher standard will lead to more individuals being screened out during the protection screening interview. And the legislation will also require that some mandatory bars to asylum be reviewed during that interview.
If we cannot get to an interview within 90 days, we will be required to schedule a protection merits interview for those individuals. However, the legislation does include a ramp-up period. I think we all recognize that this will be a new process; it will need significant resources in order to be implemented.
Again, Congress has not adequately funded our immigration system now for many decades, which has led to the backlogs we are seeing both in the immigration court system and in the affirmative asylum context, and those backlogs are directly contributing to what we are seeing on the border.
So, once we are fully resourced, we fully expect that every individual we encountered will reach a final decision within that 180-day period. And, in fact, I think we anticipate that it will be substantially faster.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We will go to Gabe next. You should be unmuted now.
Q Thank you, [moderator]. Thank you all for doing this.
[Senior administration official], you mentioned that it’s up to the Speaker Johnson. Does the President plan to meet with Speaker Johnson directly to sell this bill?
And then, also, some DH- — DHS officials we’ve spoken with have told us that the emergency shutdown provision in the bill may not be effective unless Mexico agreed to take on more migrants. Has Mexico agreed to take on more migrants?
And finally, a point of clarification. Fourteen hundred, you said, will be processed through CBP One, even though the border would be shut down. I want to make sure that I understood that correctly. So, even if the border were, quote, “shut down,” CBP One would still be in effect on that — any given day? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m happy to take the first question. The President speaks regularly with members of Congress from both parties and has called on Congress — the Senate and the House — to pass this national security supplemental. We’ve been clear that this is a bipartisan agreement. This is representative of Republicans and Democrats coming together to put solutions on the table. And we are — are calling on Congress to take it up quickly and to pass it quickly.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [senior administration official].
With regards to the other two questions, first, obviously, the government of Mexico has been a critical partner for us over the last few years and has, you know, accepted returns of third-country nationals, both under our Title 42 implementation and, more recently, under our Title 8 authorities. And we are hopeful that they will continue to do so, but they’re obviously a sovereign nation, and we will need to engage them in conversations about this new authority.
That said, we have significantly increased our capacity to operate repatriation flights to countries throughout the hemisphere. Over the last three years, we are operating record numbers of those flights, and we will always seek to return individuals who are encountered to their home countries before we would seek to return them to Mexico. And I don’t anticipate that will change as a result of this legislation.
And, lastly, I think when we are exercising the emergency authority, as we noted earlier, we — the emergency authority will require that we process a set number of individuals each day — 1,400 — through our ports of entry in a safe and orderly manner. This will ensure that there is access to the asylum system in the United States even during times of emergency, which we feel is critical. And as such, yes, CBP One will continue to operate during the emergency periods.
That said, individuals who are processed under CBP One moving forward, if this legislation should be enacted, will be subject to the new provisional removal proceedings process. That means that they will be going through a much faster process in order to get to a final decision than they currently are today.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We will go to Priscilla next. You should be unmuted now.
Q Hi. Can you hear me?
Q Okay. Great. A few quick questions. How quickly does the administration think that they can operationalize this bill if it were to pass? Given that there are resources involved and talks with other countries, are we looking at months? Years?
And then a question for [senior administration official]. Is there any backup here if House Republicans don’t budge and there is still a need in Ukraine funding and (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, I can take the first part of that question, and then, [senior administration official], I’ll turn it over to you for the second one.
So, again, I think we will implement the bill on day one. And as we discussed, given where we are today in terms of encounters, we anticipate that the emergency authority would be exercised immediately on day one, as the President noted the other day.
We also, though, appreciate it will take some time to resource the system that, again, has been chronically underfunded by Congress now for many decades. We do anticipate that it will take three years to fully resource the system, but we will be processing individuals we encounter through the new authorities starting on day one and ramping up quickly over time. And we have, in fact, asked for and received special authorities in order to expedite our ability to hire, train, and deploy personnel at USCIS, ICE, and CBP.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, Priscilla, thanks so much for the question. The bottom line is this is really critical funding here to help us support Ukraine with a range of capabilities. And it includes almost $20 billion to help replenish U.S. military weapons and equipment — basically replenishment authority from the DOD inventory, which is critical, because, as you know, we ran out of that authority here in late December. So, this will — this will be critical to us to be able to continue to support Ukraine.
And without this funding that we have — that Senate negotiators have worked so hard to — to achieve in this — in this proposed legislation, we won’t have the ability to continue to send arms and munitions to Ukraine.
And I want to remind that the last shipment from the United States with the authorities that we had left or was signed out on the 27th of December — and some of that materiel is still arriving — but there’s nothing in train behind it unless or until we can get this funding.
MODERATOR: Thanks, [senior administration official]. We will go to Pedro next. You should be unmuted now.
Q Thank you. Thank you. A couple of questions. Number one, are there, in the — in the new legislation, any funding for ICE to increase capacity of detention and bedding in the country and removal as well?
And, also, for [senior administration official], is — Speaker Johnson mentioned this morning that he was agreeing to maybe approve funding for Israel as a standalone. I wonder if the President has considered that idea or the President wants to see the whole package approved rather than just a fund for Israel alone.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Pedro, I can take the first part of the question. Yes, the funding includes billions of dollars for ICE to expand our ability to detain individuals who are encountered at the border and put them through the expedited removal process in a detained setting. It includes funding to add more than 1,200 personnel to ICE in order to help us process and remove individuals, again, much more quickly. And it will also include funding to expand our ability to operate repatriation flights. And all of that information is on the factsheet that I think you’ll be receiving shortly.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And as for the idea of something individual on Israel — to your second part of your question — the President wouldn’t have combined all these four different national security areas into one supplemental request if he didn’t believe that all four were absolutely critical to our own national security and to the national security interests that we have all around the world — in Europe, in the Indo-Pacific, and absolutely in the Middle East.
It’s hard to look at what the Speaker has been talking about as much more than a political ploy. We believe that Senate negotiators have worked really long and hard, that this is the path forward. And if this legislation ends up on the President’s desk, then obviously he’ll — he’ll move forward. He’ll sign that and he’ll move forward on it because this addresses all these very distinct but also very urgent national security needs. And this is the approach that the President wants to see us take.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We will go to Danny next. You should be unmuted now.
Q Thanks very much for doing this call. Just a couple of things, if I may. Firstly, obviously, Speaker Johnson has previously said that this bill would be “dead on arrival” in the House. What are the main elements in today’s plan that you think would be able to change his mind on that and the mind of Republicans in particular?
And, secondly, Chancellor Scholz of Germany is coming to the White House on Friday. Are you going to be asking him to make the case to congressional leaders and Republicans, again, in particular, regarding the importance of aid for Ukraine?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can take the first. You have heard from President Biden — we must act. Speaker Johnson and House Republicans should provide the administration with the policy changes and resources that we are requesting to secure the border.
This is a bipartisan piece of legislation that represents real solutions that have been negotiated over months by Senate negotiators. And there’s no reason that Congress should not pass this legislation to support national security priorities, like they have many times before, with strong bipartisan support.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the Germany question, the Chancellor and, of course, the whole nation of Germany have been critical supporters of Ukraine go- — as they have battled for their democracy and their sovereignty over the last two years. We welcome all of the contributions that Germany has made. They have provided lethal and non-lethal capabilities. And the President is looking forward to continued discussions with Chancellor Scholz about all the different ways where Germany can contribute to — can continue to contribute to those efforts.
So, there’s going to be a wide-ranging agenda with the Chancellor on Friday. And I have no doubt that that conversation will expand beyond what’s going on in the European continent and in Ukraine specifically to include issues concerning the Indo-Pacific and tensions there, as well as the Middle East.
It is not our habit nor our practice to ask or to urge foreign leaders to engage with members of Congress on any particular policy issue. Should the Chancellor feel that that’s a part of the discussions that he wants to have while he’s in Washington, that will be up to him, but there will be no pressure campaign from the President or from the White House to have Chancellor Scholz deliver any particular message.
Again, Germany has been — has been a key — obviously a key NATO Ally but a key partner in supporting Ukraine. And we look forward to having a discussion with him about all the manner — all the ways in which we can continue to support that effort.
MODERATOR: Thanks. And our final question will come from Camilo. You should be unmuted now.
Q Hey, folks. Can you hear me? Yes?
Q Okay. Great. Awesome. So, obviously, this bill that was published today is markedly different from the day-one bill that the President and you guys have repeatedly talked about that was sent to Congress. And, ultimately, nothing happened with that bill. There were no asylum restrictions in that bill. And, obviously, there was certainly not a shutdown authority — as you’re calling it — in that bill. Can you concede that there has been a major pivot in the sense of how this administration is handling asylum and border policy? And if so, can you explain why that pivot has occurred?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, Camilo. I’m happy to take that. If you look at the President’s record over the years, he has long sought and supported bipartisan solutions to our broken immigration system. I think you’ll agree that the American people overwhelmingly agree with what President Biden underlined in his day-one bill and in his funding request: Our immigration system is broken, we have an imperative to secure our border, and we must treat people fairly and humanely.
And the question is now for Speaker Johnson, House Republicans: Will you join Republican and Democratic senators to deliver these meaningful policy changes and additional resources to the border?
MODERATOR: Thanks, [senior administration official].
And with that, that is all the time that we have today. As a reminder, this call — the embargo for this call will lift now.
Thanks. Thanks, everyone.
8:37 P.M. EST