WASHINGTON, D.C. (WGHP) – Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) wants to be clear about what he is trying to accomplish in addressing what he sees as “the biggest threat to national security of our time:” undocumented immigrants crossing the border.

Tillis said the discussions he has had recently with members of the Senate on a bipartisan approach to changing immigration policy is “not a bill” but a “framework that addresses our needs.”

Tillis recently completed a trip to the Southern border with seven other members of the Senate in an attempt to “get on the same page” in understanding the problem. He was joined by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) speaks during a bipartisan group of senators’ visit to El Paso, Texas, earlier this week. That’s Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) immediately to her left. (AP PHOTO)

Tillis, in a Zoom meeting with reporters on Thursday, said the group visited both El Paso, Texas, and Yuma, Arizona, and met with local elected leaders, immigration officials and border patrol agents who deal daily with the influx of immigrants.

He talked about the increases in illegal crossings in the past two years, which he said grew from about 500,000 in 2020 to about 2 million in 2021 and 3 million last year, and the deadly drug fentanyl that is arriving with many who escape custody.

Tillis and Sinema led an effort late in the 2022 session to try to pass the “framework” that Tillis said was necessary before a bill could be drafted. There was a brief discussion about attaching their plan to the omnibus spending bill that passed the Senate.

CBS News reported that their efforts included “a path to permanent legal status to ‘Dreamers,’ or unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, a longtime Democratic priority” and … “increasing the salaries of Border Patrol agents and bolstering their ranks, providing additional funds to the Department of Homeland Security for detention facilities and deportations and enacting additional penalties for migrants who do not attend their court hearings.”

FILE – Migrants approach the border wall in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Dec. 21, 2022, on the other side of the border from El Paso, Texas. President Joe Biden is heading to the U.S.-Mexico border on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, for his first visit as president. Biden will stop in El Paso, currently the biggest corridor for illegal crossings. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez, File)

“I chuckled when I heard people and pundits talking about a bill,” Tillis said. “This is not a bill. It’s a framework that addresses the needs.

“We made progress. We have to have everyone on the same page on what the problem is. Then you get to a bill.”

He said that this issue is so “politically charged” that “some members aren’t willing to take hits and get to a legislative outcome.”

Asylum laws are the key

He described the variances in perspectives of some members wanting to provide amnesty and leave the border open and others wanting to seal the border. But neither is a solution, he said.

Tillis said on the group’s visit – which he described as opening the eyes of some of the Democrats – they witnessed the apprehension of two Chinese nationals and saw a small opening in the border near Yuma where Russian nationals seeking asylum were teeming in illegally.

Tillis said a key factor is to enforce international asylum laws. Individuals seeking asylum are to be granted safety in the first country they enter that is part of the asylum agreement, but he talked about how some are skipping over or passing through those first options to get to the U.S.

“The American people need to understand why Republicans say there is asylum abuse,” he said. “I want Russians to get out of Russia …  but the whole concept is to get them out of a dangerous place to the safest place near them.

“Over 10,000 Russians came through a 10-foot gate near Yuma. They came through countries with asylum [to get there]. … Two Chinese nationals paid on average $35,000 [to get to the U.S.] … They probably flew to Mexico City. … How many safe, third countries did they pass through before getting to Mexico?”

What can happen

President Joe Biden talks with U.S. Border Patrol agents as they walk along a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso Texas, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

He said he was glad that President Biden recently visited the border and met with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrado about the need for Mexico to secure its border with Central America, which Tillis described as much easier to patrol.

But he also expressed concern about the efforts of Vice President Kamala Harris when she was delegated this issue to address and said he had no confidence in Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“The reason I didn’t vote for his confirmation is that I expected what we’ve got now,” Tillis said. “The vast majority of illegal flows … are the result of failed policies of Biden and Mayorkas. … You can’t fix a problem until you recognize you had one.

“Policy statements are a step in the right direction, but they fall far short of getting across the goal line.”

So can this problem be fixed? Tillis was somewhat hopeful.

“We’ve gotten some very difficult, once-in-a-generation, first-ever legislation passed in last Congress,” he said, referring to gun control legislation and the Respect for Marriage Act, both of which he was active in developing.