McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Migrant advocates and Democratic lawmakers are speaking out against a Senate GOP-led border security plan that is tied to funding the war in Ukraine but could greatly change U.S. immigration and asylum policies.
“At this pivotal moment when the world is looking for us to lead, Republicans are trying to hold aid for Ukraine hostage to force Congress to pass bad immigration policy and bad border policy,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas who is ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, said Tuesday during a call with media.
“The people of the world are looking to the United States for leadership. This would send the wrong signal,” Castro said.
On Monday, Republican Sens. Tom Cotton, of Arkansas; James Lankford, of Oklahoma; and Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, proposed a litany of immigration reforms they want attached to a U.S. foreign aid package for Ukraine. They’re calling it the Senate Republican Working Group Solutions for the Southern Border Crisis.
The trio says their plan prioritizes policy reforms they believe are the most critical to securing the Southwest border and stopping illegal immigration from Mexico.
They want border wall construction to resume; increased pay for Border Patrol agents; stricter asylum application rules; more migrant family detentions; no mass humanitarian parole; and to prevent migrants who cross through safe third countries on their way to the United States to be eligible for asylum.
“We must make policy changes to reduce the flow of immigration. The world is on fire and threats to our homeland are at an all-time high. President Biden’s border policies are not working and it’s time to change course. Our proposal makes the necessary changes that our country needs at this critical time,” Graham, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.
“President Biden’s immigration policies have put American workers last and exposed our communities to crime and terrorism. This border package will cut off the flow of illegal migration, prioritize legitimate claims to entry, and restore order,” said Cotton, ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism.
“President Biden has allowed the cartels to exploit the loopholes in our asylum laws like no other President in history. We must close those loopholes and secure our border,” said Lankford, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Government Management and Border Operations.
Their plan would raise the credible fear standard required for asylum-seekers to prove to U.S. immigration officials. Instead of proving in their initial screening standard that asylum-seekers have a “significant possibility” of facing persecution in their home country, they would have to show a “more likely than not” if this plan passes.
Opponents say the measures are too drastic and should not be combined with a supplemental spending package that includes support for Ukraine.
“Republicans are demanding that our country enact a host of permanent policy changes that would compound chaos and cruelty at the border and move us farther from real solutions to 21st-century migration,” said Vanessa Cárdenas, executive director of America’s Voice.
This “would make it nearly impossible for most people who meet the standards of asylum under international law to find refuge here in the United States,” Castro said.
“We call upon the United States Congress to reject any attempts to merge draconian border policy provisions with the Supplemental and Government Funding Bills and instead pursue a just and humane approach to immigration policy through separate legislation. The proposed legislation seeks to undermine the rights of asylum seekers and does not uphold the values of justice … compassion. We further find the proposal to be arbitrary and capricious,” Haitian Bridge Alliance Executive Director Guerline Jozef said.
President Joe Biden last month asked Congress for $106 billion in a massive supplemental spending package that includes $13.6 billion for border security and border communities in the Southwest. The measure includes $61 billion for Ukraine; $14.3 billion for Israel and $9.15 billion for humanitarian aid for Gaza.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, tweeted that he believes the GOP plan is “dead on arrival.” He called it “extreme” measures” and said it would “cripple our asylum and humanitarian parole systems, and will only hurt some of the very people Republicans say they want to help such as the Ukrainians.”
Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California, tweeted that if approved, it “would eviscerate our asylum system.”
According to the document, here’s what the Senate Republican Working Group plan also would do:
- Require all migrants to claim asylum at a U.S. port of entry.
- Require asylum-seekers who are trying to stop removal claims to prove the central reason for their threatened harm if they return to their home country is related to their race, religion, nationality, politics, and /or membership in a certain social group.
- Not allow migrants to be considered eligible for asylum if they have committed felonies of other serious crimes including gang-related crimes; DUI; child abuse; domestic violence; contained controlled substances; and battery.
- Prevent the Department of Homeland Security from issuing broad class-based humanitarian parole, such as for all from a certain country, like Venezuela or Haiti.
- Allow parole to be granted for up to one year, with extensions of up to another year or less.
- Sent migrants back to Mexico or another contiguous country if they can’t be sent to their home country.
“It takes a page out of the far-right House bill, H.R. 2, by functionally closing the door to asylum seekers and adding harsh enforcement measures like the detention of families. Those are fierce-sounding campaign slogans that do not translate into effective border management. The new proposal even seeks to dismantle existing legal pathways, specifically humanitarian parole, that are relieving the pressure for people to enter at the U.S. border,” American Immigration Lawyers Association Executive Director Ben Johnson said.
“To manage the border more efficiently, Congress should fund Customs and Border Protection to improve processing speed at U.S. ports of entry, increase the number of federal officers that screen asylum seekers, and provide needed assistance to U.S. cities that are supporting arriving migrants. Most importantly, Congress should fund the entire immigration system to reduce excessive delays that slow down border processing and prevent American businesses from hiring workers and families from reunifying with loved ones,” Johnson said.
Kerri Talbot, executive director of the Immigration Hub, said negotiations should include long-term solutions for “Dreamers.”
“What we really need to negotiate is about the broader immigration system,” Talbot said. “We can’t be used as just a pawn in a chess game about funding for Ukraine, we need to actually have a longer conversation about immigration reform, and finally pass the kind of reform that would really help fix our broken system.”
Andrea Flores, vice president, at FWD.us, says “the key thing that is missing is that it doesn’t have new legal pathways to actually reduce pressure on the asylum system.”
Jason Houser, former chief of staff at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says if passed, this plan actually would hinder law enforcement on the border.
“You have a proposal here that doesn’t focus on the needs that both ICE; USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services); EOIR (Executive Office for Immigration Review) and CBP have in the way of dealing with the volume and sort of the flow of migrants across the Western Hemisphere. And it will not decrease in any way the volume of migrants coming to our border.
Houser, on the press call with Castro, added that detention of migrant families has never shown to stop asylum-seekers from coming to the U.S. border.
“This proposal ignores those requests from rank-and-file law enforcement within ICE, you again are hamstringing ICE to focus on keeping our communities safe, and you’re not giving law enforcement what they have been asking for,” he said.
“Under Title 42, the more restrictions of the Trump administration that are placed on asylum, the more you are driving trafficking to smugglers who found more and more dangerous routes for human beings to take into the United States. And it actually drove up irregular migration across the board,” Flores said.
“The factors compelling individuals to leave their homes will not cease simply because Washington politicians delude themselves into believing in the failed policies of previous administrations. President Biden must not succumb to the temptation of a short-term political victory at the expense of migrant lives at the southern border,” said Marisa Limón Garza, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, in El Paso. Texas.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.