Immigration supporters are up in arms over border security reforms U.S. Senate Republicans have inserted into a foreign aid package President Biden requested for Ukraine.
The leaders of more than 25 humanitarian organizations issued joint statements Nov. 8 protesting the foreign aid attachment that calls for stricter asylum policies, restarting southwestern border wall construction and other measures drawn from the Secure Border Act of 2023, which was passed by the U.S. House in May.
“This forced amalgamation of border policy with foreign aid is a morally dubious quid pro quo that would functionally end asylum and undermine America’s commitment to global humanitarian leadership,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
“Responding with cruelty to those who have already contended with rampant violence, war, persecution and economic devastation in their homeland is patently inhumane,” she said.
The #WelcomewithDignity campaign blasted the Republican rider to Biden’s Ukraine aid package as an attempted return “to the abhorrent practices seen under the Trump administration,” including sweeping deportations and the detention of children and families during asylum proceedings.
“This extreme proposal is a declaration that Senate Republicans have embraced the anti-immigrant agenda of the House GOP. “
“This extreme proposal is a declaration that Senate Republicans have embraced the anti-immigrant agenda of the House GOP. They don’t want asylum seekers in this country. Instead, they seek to punish them,” said Melina Roche, campaign manager for #WelcomeWithDignity.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and James Lankford, R-Okla., presented the reforms Nov. 6 as a provision to any proposed funding for Ukraine’s war with Russia.
“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 said.
Republicans want to make it harder for asylum seekers to prove a credible fear of persecution in the homelands they fled from, tighten rules governing the use of humanitarian parole and boost incentives for the recruitment and retention of Border Patrol agents.
But some of the provisions don’t represent a major course change from Biden’s approach to immigration since taking office. The president has instituted practices human rights advocates have roundly condemned, such as requiring migrants to seek asylum in other countries enroute to the U.S. and forcing them to wait in Mexico during the asylum process. Senate Republicans have included versions of those policies in their rider.
Republican demands for tighter border security followed the administration’s recent request for additional Border Patrol agents, law enforcement personnel and asylum officers, and its announcement that border wall construction will be resuming in Texas.
It’s clear politicians are using asylum seekers and other migrants as pawns ahead of the 2024 election season, rights advocates said.
“Asylum is not a bargaining chip to be traded away,” said Laurie Ball Cooper, U.S. legal services director for the International Refugee Assistance Project. “Providing safety to those who come to America to flee from persecution is fundamental and should not be so callously disregarded.”
Republicans and Democrats alike must recognize that asylum is legal according to U.S. and international law, said Marisa Limón Garza, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. “Borderland communities and migrants will not be served up on a silver platter for political consumption. We are just as important a component of the American fabric as any other region.”
Garza cautioned the administration against enacting harsher immigration policies in order to win at the ballot box.
“Those who believe imposing further restrictions on asylum will discourage migration are embarrassingly uninformed,” she 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.”
Giulia McPherson, vice president of advocacy at Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, issued a similar challenge to Republican lawmakers. “Asylum restrictions included in recent Senate budget proposals do not meet the needs of people seeking safety at the US-Mexico border and the communities welcoming them. We encourage Congress to find a path forward to reform our current asylum system rather than propose restrictions that only harm people seeking safety.”
Lawmakers also must consider the danger their proposals create for children and families fleeing persecution, said Christy Gleason, vice president of policy, advocacy and campaigns at Save the Children.
“Increasing mandatory family detention, imposing a transit ban on asylum seekers, raising the credible fear standard, limiting and prohibiting the use of parole, the reinstitution of failed programs like Remain in Mexico and Title 42 are only a few of the most glaring provisions that make this proposal a non-starter,” she said.
It makes no sense to tie support for Ukraine and the avoidance of a potential U.S. government shutdown to immigration policies that fail the nation and immigrants, said Vanessa Cárdenas, executive director of America’s Voice.
“We need a wholesale modernization of our immigration system,” she said. “That process needs to take place via regular order and involve a full-scale set of policy reforms, not just deterrence-only efforts being shoehorned into a short-term funding debate by a Republican Party that keeps proving itself unwilling or incapable partners in the basic functioning of government and our democracy.”