Republican-backed Mazi Melesa Pilip and Democrat Tom Suozzi are sparring over...

Republican-backed Mazi Melesa Pilip and Democrat Tom Suozzi are sparring over the issue of immigration in the Feb. 13 special election in the 3rd Congressional District. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Democrat Tom Suozzi and Republican-backed Mazi Melesa Pilip, the candidates in the special election in the 3rd Congressional District, are sparring over a bipartisan border deal in the U.S. Senate, with Suozzi supporting the compromise and Pilip rejecting it as ineffective.

The influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border is a key issue in the Feb. 13 special election to fill the seat of expelled former Rep. George Santos. Republicans and Democrats are attacking each other over the issue in campaign commercials and during stump speeches.

On Sunday, a small group of Senate negotiators unveiled a $118 billion proposal that aims to bolster security at the border and provide aid for Israel and Ukraine, as well as humanitarian relief for civilians in Ukraine and Gaza, both war zones.

The bill, which is backed by Democratic President Joe Biden, would allocate $20 billion to crack down on illegal immigration, with funding for more Border Patrol officers and asylum officers, who review immigration petitions; expanded screenings for illegal and lethal drugs such as fentanyl; and added capacity at border detention centers.

The measure would allow the president to close the border if the number of migrants exceeds 4,000 per day for more than a week. The law requires closure if the number exceeds 5,000 per day for a week, or 8,500 on a single day.

Senate leaders in both parties support the bill, but a number of high-ranking congressional Republicans disapprove. They support a House bill, H.R. 2, that would require construction of a 900-mile border wall and force asylum-seekers to stay in detention centers or on the other side of the border.

Biden has vowed to veto H.R. 2. Former President Donald Trump, a Republican, has called on Republicans to reject the Senate deal, which would deny Biden a policy win in a presidential election year.

“The proposed Senate border deal is an absolute nonstarter for me because it simply puts into law the invasion currently happening at our southern border,” Pilip said in a statement on Sunday. Pilip also said senators should not have paired the border deal with the wartime aid package for Ukraine and Israel.

“All of these pressing issues should be dealt with separately and swiftly,” Pilip said.

During a news conference on Monday, Suozzi said Pilip was beholden to extreme views of Republicans such as House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.).

“This is a pretty good indication of what this whole race has been about — that I want to have a bipartisan solution to the problems we face, and my opponent is taking these Republican talk points from extremists,” Suozzi said.

Suozzi said Pilip's use of the word “invasion” was evidence of a “hard-right” and “extreme” turn Pilip has made in recent days.

Suozzi, 61, of Glen Cove, is a former Nassau County executive who represented the 3rd District for three terms. Pilip, 44, of Great Neck, is in her third year as a Nassau County legislator. Early voting began Saturday and runs through Feb. 11.

With Paul LaRocco

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