Washington — Senate Republicans are seeking drastic limits on asylum and other immigration programs in an emergency funding package requested by President Biden that includes billions of dollars for Ukraine, Israel and other national security priorities, according to an outline of the senators’ priorities released Monday.
A memo by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, Tom Cotton and James Lankford outlined the Senate GOP’s border policy demands in the negotiations over the Biden administration’s, which also includes billions to bolster security at the border. Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have indicated that Mr. Biden and Democrats would need to accept border policy changes for the supplemental to pass.
In a statement later on Monday, White House spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández said the Biden administration disagreed with many of the Senate Republicans’ plans, but added that the president was leaving the door open for a “serious conversation” about an immigration compromise. Democratic senators also rejected the proposal.
“We disagree with many of the policies contained in the new Senate Republican border proposal,” Fernández Hernández said. “Further, we do not see anything in their proposal about creating an earned path to citizenship for Dreamers and others. Congress should fund the President’s supplemental request to secure the border now.”
Senate Republicans’ proposal
Senate Republicans’ demands include a set of restrictive changes to US asylum law, including a rule that would render migrants ineligible for asylum if they transited through a third country without seeking refuge there before reaching American soil. Migrants would only be allowed to request protection at official ports of entry. Those screened for asylum under the expedited removal process would have to meet a higher evidentiary threshold during interviews to avoid being quickly deported.
The plan would also revive the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, requiring US border officials to return migrants to Mexico pending a review of their claims if they can’t be deported or detained. Additionally, it would create a new authority similar to the now-defunct Title 42 pandemic-related order that would allow immigration agents to summarily expel migrants if doing so was deemed necessary to achieve “operational control” of the southern border.
The GOP senators’ demands include a provision that would shut down programs the Biden administration has set up to allow hundreds of thousands of migrants to enter the US legally, with the purpose of discouraging them from crossing into the country illegally. The humanitarian parole authority, the law the Biden administration has invoked to run these programs, would be dramatically scaled back.
The plan, which mirrors a bill known as HR 2 that the White House voted to veto after it was passed by the GOP-led House earlier this year, would give the government the legal authority to detain migrant families with children indefinitely, a practice currently hindered by a court ruling. It would also require officials to resume border wall construction.
“We have needed significant updates in border security law for years,” Lankford said in a statement. “But 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.”
Democrats raise objections
The GOP Senate plan quickly garnered strong pushback from Democratic legislators, advocates for migrants and human rights groups. Democratic California Sen. Alex Padilla said the proposal would “eviscerate our asylum system, endangering families and children fleeing violence and persecution.”
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was willing to talk to Republicans about reforming the immigration system. But he said legislators should not “hold critical Ukraine aid hostage in the process.”
“I have long urged my Republican colleagues to come to the table and negotiate on a bipartisan basis to pass immigration reform,” Durbin said in a statement. “Today’s proposal from my Republican colleagues is not a good starting point — it is not consistent with American values and it would not secure our border.”
Historically, Democrats have sought to link border security changes with efforts to legalize immigrants living in the country without legal permission, including so-called “Dreamers,” or those brought to the US as children. But more and more Republican lawmakers have rejected any immigration “amnesty,” citing the migrant crisis along the southern border.
While the White House expressed opposition to “many” of the Republican demands, it is less clear whether it would support some of the proposed asylum changes, given the record levels of migration reported along the southern border over the past several years and the growing frustration in Democratic-led cities struggling to house migrants.
Internally, Biden officials are supportive of Congress reforming the backlogged, understaffed and outdated asylum system, including by speeding up the process to determine whether migrants qualify for refugee or should be deported, US officials tell CBS News. After all, some officials in the administration believe the asylum system is one of the main drivers of the historic levels of border crossings in recent years, since the government can’t quickly grant asylum to those with valid claims or deport those who don’t qualify.
Pressed by Lankford during a hearing last week, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said “policy changes are needed” to reduce migrant crossings along the southern border.
“The asylum system needs to be reformed from top to bottom,” Mayorkas said.