Fox: Tester slams lawmakers for voting down border bill amid reports ICE could release thousands of detainees

by Michael Lee

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., took aim at fellow lawmakers after a bipartisan border bill failed to pass a Senate vote.

“Montanans from every corner of our state tell me they want action to secure our southern border, and we have a bipartisan bill that would give ICE, Border Patrol, and law enforcement the resources and policy changes they need to actually get the job done,” Tester told Fox News Digital. “But instead D.C. politicians have chosen to play reckless political games, and we’re seeing the consequences play out right in front of our eyes. I’m calling on Congress to quit the games and pass this commonsense bill that will fund critical law enforcement agencies like ICE and help keep Montana communities safe.”

Tester’s comments come after the Senate failed to advance a supplemental spending package that included spending on border security as well as aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. The legislation was defeated in a 49-50 vote, mostly along party lines, with only Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, James Lankford and Mitt Romney voting in favor of advancing the bill on the Republican side.

The bill also contained $6 billion in additional funding for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, money that would have been used to help the agency close its $700 million budget shortfall. Instead, a Washington Post report Wednesday indicated that the agency has now floated the idea of slashing its detention capacity and releasing roughly 16,000 migrants as a cost-cutting measure.

Speaking to Fox News Digital, a spokesperson with the Department of Homeland Security argued that the failure to pass the bill was the latest example of Congress leaving DHS “chronically underfunded.” 

“Most recently, Congress rejected the bipartisan national security bill out of hand, which will put at risk DHS’s current removal operations,” the spokesperson said. “A reduction in ICE operations would significantly harm border security, national security and public safety.”

In a fiery letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., Tester argued that such cost-saving measures are a “serious problem” and the situation was “entirely preventable” had lawmakers passed the border legislation.

“Congress’ failure to pass this bill is already making our country less safe and only benefits the cartels and criminals taking advantage of our broken immigration system,” Tester said in the letter.

McConnell, who was initially involved in spearheading the bill, admitted last week that there was “no real chance here to make a law” ahead of the vote. Meanwhile, Johnson signaled Republican opposition ahead of the Senate vote last week, saying the legislation would be dead on arrival if it made its way to the House.

Meanwhile, a Senate GOP aide told Fox News Digital that Senate Republicans have consistently fought to maintain or fund an increased detention bed capacity, only to run into roadblocks in the Democratic-controlled Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Homeland Security.

“Every step of the way, Republicans had to fight to maintain what we had while Democrats continuously sought to lower the bed count as a matter of policy,” the aide said, pointing to multiple failed Republican attempts, including one for Fiscal Year 2024 to increase bed space to over 40,000.

The aide also pointed out that Tester is a member of the Homeland Subcommittee, arguing that the Montana senator “did not give us any help” in their efforts to increase capacity.

But Tester argued in the letter that the proposed border legislation would have alleviated the issues for ICE, scolding the two Republican leaders for their role in the bill’s defeat.

“Your public opposition to passing a bipartisan, effective border security bill for political gain makes America less safe. I am calling on you both to stop playing politics and pass this bill as soon as possible,” Tester said in the letter. “What is happening at the southern border is unacceptable, plain and simple.”

Johnson’s office did not immediately respond to a Fox News Digital request for comment.