Colorado’s Bennet part of bipartisan group working on Ukraine, Israel, Mexican border security funding deal

December 2, 2023, 11:50 am

A Texas National Guardsman observes as Border Patrol agents pat down migrants who have surrendered themselves for processing as Congress debates a new border security package (photo by Corrie Boudreaux for Source NM).

WASHINGTON — As Congress negotiates the White House’s $106 billion supplemental aid request for Israel, Ukraine and U.S. border security, fights over immigration policy have tied up the request.

The White House sent its proposal that includes nearly $14 billion in supplemental border security funding to Congress in late October, but it will likely look different after going through the House and Senate.

Congress only has a couple of weeks until recess to pass the supplemental measure. A small bipartisan group of six senators in the Senate is trying to put together a border security package.

Those six senators include Democrats Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Michael Bennet of Colorado, independent Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republicans Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and James Lankford of Oklahoma.

However, Democrats object to some of those Republicans’ attempts to change asylum requirements and place more limits on humanitarian parole, as well as include a hard-line immigration bill passed in the House and advocated by Republicans.

Here’s a look at what’s in the White House request and where negotiations stand:

White House proposal

On Oct. 20, President Joe Biden released a request for added funding to focus on border enforcement, deterrence and diplomacy.

The plan would beef up hiring. It includes 1,000 additional U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and resources for U.S. Homeland Security investigations; an additional 1,300 Border Patrol agents; 300 Border Patrol processing coordinators; an additional 1,600 asylum officers and support staff; 30 new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers to process work authorization documents; and 1,470 additional attorneys and support staff to match the 375 new immigration judge teams to help reduce the more than 2.5- million-case backlog in immigration courts.

The request also asks for additional funding for removal flights, additional beds at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, and $1.4 billion in Shelter and Services Program grants to local governments and non-profits for temporary food, shelter, and other services for recently arrived migrants.

This would aid border towns, as well as several cities that have taken in a majority of migrants, such as Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C., among others.

It would also give Southwest Border ports of entry the technology to enhance inspection capabilities, such as fentanyl detection.

Pathway for Dreamers?

No. A pathway to citizenship for the 800,000 people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, who were brought into the country without authorization when they were children, is not part of these border security talks.

What’s the House position?

House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana wants to include provisions of H.R. 2 in the supplemental aid package, an immigration bill that House Republicans passed in May.

H.R. 2 is a symbolic border security package that mirrors Trump-era immigration policies. It would resume the hundreds of miles of construction of a border wall, strip funding from nonprofits that aid migrants, beef up staffing of Border Patrol agents and restrict the use of humanitarian parole programs that the Biden administration has used to allow nationals from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Venezuela to work temporarily in the U.S.

It’s a nonstarter for Democrats in the Senate.

Disagreements in the Senate?

Senate Democrats don’t agree with including H.R. 2 in the supplemental package, and Senate Democrats also oppose changes that Republicans want to make to the asylum and humanitarian parole system. The Biden administration has relied heavily on the parole system.

The Biden administration already earlier this year placed new restrictions on asylum that resulted in criticism from Democrats and lawsuits from immigration advocacy groups.

Nearly a dozen Senate Democrats have already said they are concerned about the permanent changes that Senate Republicans now want to the asylum and parole system.

Similarly, a group of nearly 200 immigration rights organizations sent a letter to Congress, urging lawmakers to not make changes to asylum requirements or humanitarian parole and instead use funds “to improve asylum processing; reduce backlogs and work permit waiting times; resource states, localities and community shelter and support services; and fund legal counsel.”

Changes to parole system?

Republicans want a limit on Biden’s authority to create humanitarian programs by prohibiting the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from using broad criteria to grant humanitarian parole, according to a one-page summary by GOP Sens. Lankford, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Graham.

The GOP proposal would narrow the scope of the parole statue so that parole is only used in rare circumstances. It would also limit the time parole is granted to one year instead of two years.

Changes to asylum?

Senate Republicans want to raise the bar for initial credible fear of persecution screenings that migrants present to asylum officers who decide whether a person can reside in the U.S. while their case is being presented before an immigration judge.

Now, to claim asylum under the fear of persecution, migrants must show there is a “significant possibility” they will face persecution. Republicans want to change that language and require asylum seekers to demonstrate that “more likely than not” they would face persecution if they remain in their home country.

Republicans have argued this would “weed out” meritless claims for asylum, but Democrats have contended it would deny lifesaving protection for vulnerable people.

Where are talks now?

There is no agreement in the Senate or House and negotiations continue.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has made it clear to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Johnson that any border security agreement has to be bipartisan. Schumer has raised concerns about Johnson wanting to include H.R. 2 provisions in the Senate’s supplemental border security package.

“Democrats are willing to work with Republicans on commonsense, realistic border security, but we can’t have the hard right essentially say it’s H.R. 2 or nothing,” Schumer said in a floor speech. “If Speaker Johnson, or for that matter the negotiators, feel they have to listen to what Speaker Johnson can pass just amongst his caucus, we’ll never get anything done.”

Schumer said he plans to hold a vote on the supplemental package as soon as the week of Dec. 4.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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