Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday called for bipartisan talks aimed at bolstering asylum laws and addressing border security, issuing a bid for negotiations amid a surge of migrants crossing the southwestern U.S. border and daily outcries by President Donald Trump about the need to clamp down on immigration.
"What we need to do is sit down in a serious, adult, bipartisan basis and try to fix the problem, because the problem is pretty obvious," McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters. "Border security is a part of it, but that doesn't solve the asylum issue, and that can't be solved, I don't think, without some kind of statutory adjustment."
McConnell's statement underscored the political pressures facing lawmakers amid a steady diet of news reports about federal agencies being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people trying to enter the U.S. from Mexico. Trump has shaken up his team atop the Department of Homeland Security, imposed new policies to curb the numbers of people being processed for entry, complained that asylum laws and too lax and asserted that the country is "full."
The prospects that serious talks will be held, let alone prove successful, are murky. Congress has not approved sweeping immigration legislation in decades. Democrats believe Trump merely wants to use the border problem as an issue in his re-election bid next year, and the approach of the presidential election means the curtain for substantive compromises on any issues will fall in just a few months.
By international law, nations are supposed to let asylum seekers stay in their countries if they have legitimate, specific fears of persecution or danger if they return home.
The U.S. Border Patrol said it apprehended 92,607 people at the U.S.-Mexico border in March. That included just over 53,000 who were parents and children traveling together, largely from Central America, which it calls a record for family members.
McConnell said negotiators would determine if the talks would also address other issues including the status of young "Dreamers" brought to the U.S. illegally as children,
"I would like to see some serious bipartisan discussions going on to try to solve as many of these problems as we can agree to solve," he said.
Asked if he'd discussed possible talks with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., McConnell said, "Well, yeah, we're talking about a variety of different things. We'll see what happens."
A Schumer aide asked for comment did not immediately provide the Democrat's reaction.
Last year talks between bipartisan senators and the White House failed to produce an immigration deal after Trump insisted on restrictions on legal immigration, which Democrats opposed.
In an indication of how difficult such talks might be, Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that besides making sure border agents have the resources they need, Congress must "close loopholes" that drive Central American families to seek asylum here.
While touring the southern border in Arizona, Pence also said the administration wants to be able to return people more quickly to Central America and have more flexibility in detaining some migrants. He did not provide specifics.
In the past, Democrats have had little interest in making it easier for Trump to eject or detain immigrants.