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Nov 6, 2023, 11:02pm EST
politics

Senate GOP demands massive asylum overhaul in return for Ukraine aid

REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzlez
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The News

Senate Republicans on Monday unveiled a list of border security proposals that they’re demanding in exchange for their support to send more assistance to Ukraine, kicking off what’s likely to be grueling negotiation on a major White House priority.

The House GOP’s signature border bill — known as HR2 — forms the bedrock of their Senate counterparts’ one-page blueprint, which would amount to an enormous overhaul of the asylum system. The changes would raise the “credible fear of persecution” threshold that migrants must meet for asylum claims; codify Trump-era rules like compelling asylum-seekers to wait out their cases in Mexico; and require migrants to make claims at a designated port of entry, among other changes.


“This is not trying to be out there on the edge. Each one of the elements of it is a problem that we currently have on the border,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told reporters. “We really are working to get an outcome. ”

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Lankford — who says he has communicated with new House Speaker Mike Johnson on the subject — noted that Republicans dropped certain provisions from their proposal that had been included in HR2, such as deploying a nationwide E-Verify system.The bill also wouldn’t try scaling back the Biden administration’s use of the “CBP One” app to screen migrants and process a spike in asylum claims at the US-Mexico border.

Some Democratic senators like Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., assailed the GOP proposal and said it would “eviscerate” the asylum system in a statement. Yet top Senate Democrats expressed a willingness to hash out a compromise.

“There aren’t many encouraging parts to it, but there are some,” Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranked Senate Democrat, told Semafor, adding he saw overlap between the Senate GOP’s border proposal and a bill he sponsored earlier in the year that would hire more Border patrol agents among other provisions. Durbin said he intends to sit down with Lankford soon.

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Joseph’s view

The road to a bipartisan border security agreement is narrow and fraught with potential sinkholes, but there’s enough interest from key Democrats to make a deal a serious possibility, especially given that Ukraine aid appears to hang in the balance. Key Republican supporters of the war effort — most notably Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — have said their party won’t back additional support for Kyiv without a border bill.

“I think it’s a perfect time for us to make real strides on how we get better control as far as border security,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told Semafor. “We have to do it. And I’m all in on trying to help find that pathway forward.”

In a statement Monday, White House spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández said the administration was “open to a discussion” about changes to the immigration system, and emphasized its desire for a comprehensive bill. “We disagree with many of the policies contained in the new Senate Republican border proposal,” he said. “Further, we do not see anything in their proposal about creating an earned path to citizenship for Dreamers and others.”

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Not many Democrats or outside advocates believe they’ll be able to secure any victories on the level of citizenship for Dreamers, though. Instead, their main goal at the moment appears to be crafting a border bill that focuses on providing more resources to speed up processing of asylum requests, rather than one that tightens the limits on who can apply.

“It should be very much focused on easing the pressure at the border and providing resources for better coordination, for better processing, and to allocate more resources to the cities so they can help people,” Vanessa Cardenas, the executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group, told Semafor.

But even more modest concessions some Democrats have in mind could be a hard sell with Republicans. Manchin, for instance, told Semafor that he favored making it easier for asylum seekers to qualify for worker visas so that “at least they can pay for themselves and pay taxes.”

The idea got a cold reception from Republicans Monday. “That’s a magnet,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tx., told Semafor. “If you tell people you got a job, you’re going to get more people to come.”

At the same time, Senate Republicans are also signaling they may be willing to budge from some of their more stringent demands. “If we get the bill right, we’ll probably lose Democrats and Republicans on the final vote,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., told reporters. “So now we’ve got to start the discussion”

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Room for Disagreement

Hardline conservatives in the House are still embracing an H.R.2 or bust approach. “Border security is a simple thing,” Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., told Semafor. “We need to go back to the Trump policies that were working, and you codify them into law with the H.R.2 bill that we’ve already passed.”

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