Immigration rights advocates are pleading with Congress to reject any foreign aid legislation that includes permanent and severe reductions to asylum access for migrants.
The appeal was issued as Senate Republicans seek to make border security issues a key condition of granting President Biden’s emergency request for assistance to Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine.
“With a Senate vote expected as early as next week, we call on all senators to safeguard asylum,” the #WelcomewithDignity campaign said in releasing statements from numerous faith-based and secular human rights and immigration organizations.
“While prior anti-immigrant proposals were rejected by many Senate and House Democrats, it is alarming that lawmakers are once again considering trading key asylum and parole protections for foreign aid. The asylum system must be rebuilt, not dismantled. The fundamental right to seek asylum must be protected,” the statement added.
Bipartisan talks have been under way in the Senate in search of compromise, but any agreement reached would be unlikely to survive the demands of House Republicans, who passed much more harsh immigration and asylum measures earlier this year.
The fact that Biden’s request includes billions of dollars for border security has not impressed conservatives bent on implementing more severe immigration measures, including family detention and making it harder for migrants to prove they face danger in their home countries.
But it is a good sign a small number of Republican and Democratic senators are trying to find middle ground on the spending package, said Scott Boylan, leader of the Council on National Security and Immigration.
“As Congress considers important national security funding priorities, we welcome a conversation on needed border security reforms. It has been clear for well over a decade that our immigration system is broken,” Boylan said. “Congress should consider policies that modernize border security technology, provide ports of entry with additional screening and security mechanisms, and streamline and improve asylum processes to better identify and prioritize meritorious claims. Congress also should take the opportunity to codify permanent protection for two particularly deserving populations: Dreamers and evacuees from Afghanistan.”
But other human rights advocates flat-out oppose tying asylum to international aid.
“Emergency funding should not come at the expense of others who need help themselves to escape persecution and violence,” said Melina Roche, #WelcomeWithDignity campaign manager. “Changes to the life-saving asylum protections in a funding bill are unacceptable. We must all stand against policies that try to instill fear and strip individuals and families of their fundamental right to seek asylum that would only sow chaos at the border.”
Gutting America’s asylum system in a one-time spending package subverts the nation’s values and commitments and places migrants at further risk, said Sarah Mehta, senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Restrictive anti-asylum policies do nothing to keep our country safer. Instead, they have caused needless suffering and death and have only created further confusion and disorder at the border. As negotiations continue, we need our elected leaders to show moral courage and reject extremist anti-immigrant policies.”
It would be unconscionable for legislators to trade away asylum protections long cherished in U.S. law, said Katharina Obser, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission.
“Despite what lawmakers suggest, restrictions to asylum and parole do not deter migration and will only increase chaos at the southern border,” she said. “Today, with an asylum ban in place and nearly 40,000 people jailed in immigration detention, people still come to the United States in search of safety because they have no other choice.”
Trading away asylum rights for foreign aid would be tragic, she added. “Instead of such deals, lawmakers should turn to proven measures — such as resourcing asylum processing and the communities that work with those seeking asylum — that ensure that our asylum system is resourced, fair, and humane,” Obser suggested.
Priscilla Orta, supervising attorney of Project Corazon at Lawyers for Good Government, said curtailing asylum protections would contribute to human rights violations around the world.
“If this proposed deal goes through, thousands of refugees fleeing for their lives will be returned to their home countries to once again face persecution and death. Many will die,” she said. “These changes to asylum law would violate our international obligations and decimate decades-old immigration laws that were passed with almost unanimous support. We categorically oppose any attempts to build even higher barriers to asylum and reject Trump-like attempts to dismantle our asylum system. We are better than this.”
The situation facing Congress is a moral one, said Robyn Barnard, director of Refugee Protection, Human Rights First.
“Our elected leaders should reject any attempts to trade on the lives of people seeking asylum during emergency funding negotiations,” she said. “Congress enacted our refugee protection laws on an almost unanimous basis decades ago and they have served as a lifeline. They must be protected and we urge senators to hold true to our values in ensuring they are not undermined.”
The right to seek asylum is a protection that should rise above political haggling, said Jennifer Babaie, director of advocacy and legal services at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.
“We know when politicians use immigrant children and families as political props, real people get hurt. There is a face, a name, a story, to every person caught in the ongoing political crossfire,” she said. “Addressing the humanitarian crisis at the border calls for real, comprehensive and humane solutions. If we work together instead of being divided and distracted by false narratives, we can create an immigration system that provides access to safety for all.”