President Joe Biden wants Congress to approve more than $75 billion in new spending to bolster Israel and Ukraine’s war efforts, and the price some lawmakers want for their support is significant changes to immigration laws they say could stem the record surge of migrants crossing the southern U.S. border.
Top Biden officials are already preparing Democratic lawmakers and activists for the possibility that the administration will have to accept such changes, on top of the $14 billion in new border security spending the president included in his supplemental funding request, Politico reported Thursday evening.
See also: Biden seeks $14 billion for Israel, $61 billion for Ukraine in request to Congress
Veterans of past immigration reform efforts say that pairing controversial changes to immigration law could threaten Biden’s entire package, which in addition to funding for Ukraine, Israel and the border, also includes funds for programs meant to deter Chinese influence in the Pacific.
“These immigration provisions are meant to be poison pills,” Stuart Anderson, executive director of the nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy and a former George W. Bush administration immigration official, told MarketWatch. “They are not meant to become law.”
Anderson pointed to an immigration bill passed by House Republicans earlier this year, which he said contained “a handful of provisions that are the most controversial on immigration that we’ve seen in the past 50 or so years.”
Among the provisions in H.R. 2 that would be nonstarters for Democrats, and even some Republicans, including mandating that all employers use the e-Verify system to determine whether a hire is legally eligible to work in the U.S.
Read more: Biden wants an extra $162 billion from Congress. Here’s how it could go with new House Speaker Johnson.
The system is already mandated in 20 U.S. states and there is little evidence that it has reduced the number of undocumented workers in those jurisdictions, Anderson said. Republicans like Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky say it is government overreach.
Republican leadership also had to include language in the bill that could create loopholes for agricultural employers at the request of GOP lawmakers from rural states.
The Republican bill included changes to asylum law that Anderson said would virtually eliminate the ability for anyone to claim asylum, a move that could run afoul of both U.S. treaty commitments and the Constitution, which provides due process protections for both citizens and noncitizens. Such changes would also be unacceptable to Democrats.
Americans unhappy with immigration status quo
Polling shows that Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with the status quo on immigration as economic and political dislocation in Central America and other parts of the world has driven a surge of unauthorized immigration across the southern U.S. border.
Americans’ satisfaction with the level of immigration to the U.S. hit its lowest level in a decade, according to a recent Gallup poll.
While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he will not consider changes to immigration in the Ukraine bill, some in the New York Democrat’s party argue pairing Ukraine aid with new solutions for the migrant crisis makes political sense.
See also: Here’s how House Republicans Israel-aid bill could add $30 billion to the deficit
“There’s no way you can look Americans in the eye unless we’re taking care of our own borders as we help others protect their own borders,” Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, told Semafor Thursday. “So this is very serious. I think we’ll work it out.”
Whether there is a proposal that can garner support from both Democrats and the right wing of the Republican party is another matter.
GOP Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma is reportedly working on a border proposal that would include significant policy changes but which he hopes can attract bipartisan support and win over Republicans skeptical of Ukraine funding.
Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration attorney and Cornell Law School professor, said in an interview with MarketWatch that there are incremental changes to immigration law that should be able to garner bipartisan support and address the migrant situation at the border, which is being driven by relatively new trends that were not evident during previous bipartisan efforts to reform immigration laws.
He helped convene a conference earlier this year that brought together activists, business and labor leaders and a bipartisan group of former government officials to craft a set of reforms that could appeal to both sides of the political spectrum.
Changing border dynamics
“Ten years ago the majority of people who were apprehended at the border were young males traveling by themselves primarily coming for work,” he said. “Now with the breakdown of various governments in Central America, Haiti, Cuba and Venezuela you see families coming, fleeing just desperate situations and that has changed the dynamic of people trying to cross into the United States.”
He and his colleagues published a white paper last month outlining the proposals thought to be politically viable, including reformation of the U.S. asylum system that now has 1.3 million pending applications, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Yale-Loehr argued that lawmakers need to recognize the “new normal” conditions at the border and adjust how the U.S. processes asylum claims, in part by reforming immigration law and creating asylum and immigration centers outside the U.S. at embassies and consulates so that applications can be processed outside the country.
As it stands today, the law requires migrants to be in the U.S. in order to claim asylum, which creates a huge incentive for migrants to cross the border illegally, he said.
Other proposals that could incentivize migrants to refrain from entering the country illegally include creating a separate, preferential adjudication system that rewards migrants who arrive in the U.S. regularly at designated ports of entry.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a staunch supporter of the Ukraine war effort, but the Kentucky Republican said Tuesday that GOP lawmakers won’t sign off on the national security funding package without a “serious” attempt to fix the situation at the border.
Thursday night, the House passed a nearly $14.5 billion military-aid package for Israel, in a move that sets up a brawl with the Democratic-controlled Senate. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, has said he will turn next to aid for Ukraine and border security.
Read: House approves $14.5 billion in aid for Israel as Biden vows to veto the GOP’s approach
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