July 18, 2024 10:00 am
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Details of proposed major overhaul of U.S. immigration law, global aid package unveiled 


WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday night released a $118.28 billion global security package that includes a long-anticipated overhaul of immigration law negotiated by a bipartisan trio of senators.

“The United States and our allies are facing multiple, complex and, in places, coordinated challenges from adversaries who seek to disrupt democracy and expand authoritarian influence around the globe,” Schumer, a New York Democrat, said, explaining the need for U.S. aid for Ukraine, Israel and others.

The nearly 400-page package also includes sweeping bipartisan immigration legislation that would:

  • Raise the bar for migrants claiming asylum;
  •  Clarify the White House’s use of parole authority to temporarily grant protections to migrants;
  • Create a procedure to shut down the border at particularly active times;
  • And end the practice of allowing migrants to live in the United States while they wait for their cases to be heard by an immigration judge.

Senate Republicans had insisted that the changes in immigration policy accompany the global aid package.

For security, the measure includes $60 billion to support Ukraine in its war against Russia and $14.1 billion in assistance for Israel. It also has $10 billion in humanitarian assistance “to provide food, water, shelter, medical care, and other essential services to civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, Ukraine, and other populations caught in conflict zones across the globe,” according to a summary.

“Failing to pass this supplemental, and failing to support Ukraine is nothing short of throwing in the towel to Putin,” Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, said on a call with reporters.

The immigration provisions, negotiated by the White House and Sens. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Kyrsten Sinema, an independent from Arizona, would be the biggest changes to immigration law in nearly 40 years if enacted — although a tough path is ahead in both the Senate and House.

Following the release of the bill, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, wrote on X that the Senate’s bill will not “receive a vote in the House.” He argued that some of the provisions will be “a magnet for more illegal immigration.”

The bill makes changes to credible fear of persecution standards for asylum and for the expedited removal of those asylum seekers who don’t qualify. There would be $3.99 billion provided for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to hire 4,338 asylum officers.

Schumer said the deal the three senators worked on for four months “is a real opportunity for Congress to address our borders and make progress towards a more efficient and well-resourced system.”

“This agreement improves an adjudication system that has been underfunded for decades by hiring more frontline personnel, asylum officers, and creating new processes to provide faster and fair decisions,” Schumer said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a statement blamed President Joe Biden for “an unprecedented crisis” at the Southern border and said the legislation would force the president to enforce immigration laws. The Kentucky Republican also praised the new emergency tools.

“I am grateful to Senator Lankford for working tirelessly to ensure that supplemental national security legislation begins with direct and immediate solutions to the crisis at our southern border,” McConnell said.

Border funding

The package includes $20.23 billion to “address existing operational needs and expand capabilities at our nation’s borders, resource the new border policies included in the package, and help stop the flow of fentanyl and other narcotics,” according to a summary from Murray’s office.

Murray said on the call with reporters Sunday evening that “there’s no reason for drama, delay, or partisanship.”

While the Senate language is bipartisan, U.S. House Republicans, including Speaker Mike Johnson, have said new immigration legislation is not necessary and blame Biden for not enforcing current law. Several House members strongly criticized the measure after it was released Sunday, previewing a difficult path in that chamber.

The legislation would prohibit additional U.S. funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, following allegations from Israel that several of its staffers participated in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The Biden administration has paused funding for UNRWA while the investigation is ongoing, but many, including McConnell have called for a full cutoff in U.S. aid.

McConnell said in late January on the Senate floor that Republicans “will not accept any legislation that allows taxpayer dollars to fund UNRWA.”

Option to shut down the border

The legislation would give the secretary of Homeland Security the option to shut down the border if, during a period of seven consecutive days, there are more than 4,000 encounters recorded with migrants. If that number reaches 5,000 encounters for a period of seven consecutive days, the U.S. would be required to shut down the border.

The only way the border would be shut down within one day is if there is a combined total of 8,500 migrants encountered, according to the bill text.

Sinema said during a Sunday morning interview on the CBS show “Face the Nation that the proposed policy would be a “powerful tool.”

That tool would be known as a border emergency authority and is temporary and would sunset within three years, according to the bill text. Some exceptions to that authority include unaccompanied minors and victims of human trafficking.

“The reason we’re doing that is because we want to be able to shut down the system when it gets overloaded, so we have enough time to process those asylum claims,” Sinema said.

The secretary of Homeland Security could remove that emergency authority in no later than 14 days, if there are seven consecutive days during which the number of migrant encounters that initially sparked that emergency authority goes down to 75% of encounter levels.

Votes on the way

Votes in the Senate could come as early as Wednesday for the package. Enacting it into law will be an uphill battle, even though Biden has committed to supporting the deal, as his administration contends with the largest number of migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border in 20 years.

“There is more work to be done to get it over the finish line,” Biden said in a statement on Sunday night. “But I want to be clear about something: If you believe, as I do, that we must secure the border now, doing nothing is not an option.”

House Republicans have fallen in line behind former President Donald J. Trump’s opposition to an agreement. Trump’s GOP-leading 2024 presidential campaign has used fears of immigration at the southern border as a central theme.

Johnson, a Republican of Louisiana, has argued that Biden has the authority to make immigration policy changes, and does not need Congress to take action.

The release of the immigration bill text and global aid package accompanies a drive by House Republicans to impeach U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over what critics say are policy differences, but it’s unclear if the GOP’s razor-thin majority will prevail. A vote is expected in the coming week.

Johnson has a slim two-vote majority, and even if Mayorkas is impeached, the Democratic-controlled Senate likely would acquit the secretary, meaning he would not be removed.

In a statement, Mayorkas said that the changes do “not fix everything in our immigration system,” but are an important step.

“This agreement builds on this Administration’s approach of strengthened consequences for those who cross the border unlawfully, without curtailing the development of lawful, safe, and orderly pathways for those who qualify,” he said.

“While it will take time to fully implement these new measures, the new enforcement tools and resources this proposal offers will further strengthen our ability to enforce the law in the months and years ahead, and we will begin implementing them as soon as it becomes law,” Mayorkas said.

Sinema says no more ‘catch and release’

Sinema said the bill would end the policy of allowing migrants who are detained to live in U.S. communities while they await having their asylum cases heard by an immigration judge, known colloquially as “catch and release.”

Instead of that practice, Sinema said those migrants would be taken to a short-term detention center, where a quick asylum interview would determine whether that migrant meets the asylum requirements or should be swiftly removed.

Sinema said that those migrants who cannot be detained, such as families, would have a three-month asylum review.

“For folks that we can’t detain, like families, for instance, (we) will ensure that we’re supervising them over the course of just three months and conduct that interview with that new higher standard, requiring them to show more proof early on about whether or not they qualify for asylum and to return them to their country if they do not have the evidence or the proof that they qualify for asylum,” Sinema said.

She added that those who do qualify for asylum will be on a rapid path for approval, within about six months.

Immigration court backlog

There currently is a backlog of more than 3.2 million cases in immigration court, pending under roughly 600 immigration judges, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, which compiles immigration data.

Many migrants have initial court dates set years in the future. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has estimated that an additional 700 — so 1,349 total — immigration judges would need to be hired in order for the backlog of immigration courts to be cleared by fiscal year 2032.

To help with court backlogs, the bill provides the Executive Office for Immigration Review with $440 million to hire immigration judges and support staff.

The bill provides U.S. Customs and Border Protection with $6.7 billion, and out of that, $723 million to hire additional border patrol officers and for overtime pay.

The bill includes a provision of the bipartisan Afghan Adjustment Act that would create a pathway to residency for Afghan nationals who worked and helped the U.S. government before Afghanistan fell to the Taliban following the U.S. withdrawal in 2021.

About 76,000 Afghans were placed through a humanitarian parole program, granting them temporary protections but leaving them in legal limbo.

 Jennifer Shutt and Jacob Fischler contributed to this report.

This article is republished from the Michigan Advance under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.