A spate of asylum claims at the US-Mexico border is complicating an already intractable immigration debate on Capitol Hill, further dividing the two parties and threatening to undermine what some lawmakers have seen as the best hope in a decade for Congress to forge a comprehensive agreement. immigration deal.
For decades, bipartisan discussions of such a compromise focused on combining heightened border security with a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants and expanded legal pathways to entry. But in recent years, an explosion in the number of migrants seeking asylum — a protected status for those who fear persecution in their home country — has upset the equation, exposing deep political and moral divisions.
The change helps explain why talks on Capitol Hill to find consensus on comprehensive immigration reform have failed, despite lawmakers’ hopes that the title 42 due this week – an era of pandemic policy that had allowed authorities to quickly expel migrants — would force Congress to act.
“It’s changed,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said of the immigration reform debate. “We managed to reach an agreement that invested a significant amount of money in border security last time. Making similar progress on asylum is very, very different, because it’s a matter of values.”
Coons is one of a group of about eight Republican and Democratic senators who have been talking privately for months about an immigration compromise but have split in recent days over how to handle asylum.
Asylum applications were meant to be reserved for people who feared persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a social group to seek protection on American soil. But in recent years, they have increasingly become an access tactic for migrants who have no other options to enter the United States, and who know it could be years before their cases are heard and, if they are unfounded, rejected.
Earring asylum applications before the immigration courts they have more than sevenfold over the past decade, according to data analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, putting the issue at the center of congressional debate.
In recent months, Republicans and Democrats have taken radically different positions on how to address abuses of the asylum system.
Republicans have proposed measures to restrict access across the board, push legislation through the House this week that would require immigrants claiming a credible fear of persecution to wait outside the United States for their cases to be heard in court. they just barely stopped dead to pass language that would have shut down the asylum system if the United States had run out of detention beds.
Democrats have largely gone in the other direction, accepting the right to seek asylum protections as intrinsic to the character of the United States and calling for expanding other avenues to legal immigration to ease the tension.
Bipartisan Senate talks on immigration reform recently hit a snag over the most high-profile proposal to emerge from the discussions: a proposal by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent, and Thom Tillis, a Carolina Republican. North, to give the Biden administration two-year authority to expeditiously remove migrants trying to cross the border, but with an exception for asylum claims that did not exist in Title 42.
None of the Democrats in the group supported the legislation, while some Republicans also pushed back, claiming the bill did not do enough to deter fraudulent asylum claims.
Ms Sinema and Mr Tillis have said they saw their proposal, which garnered some support from Republicans and moderate Democrats in the Senate and House, as a potential centerpiece for a broader bill that would include security measures. border crossing and a pathway to citizenship. for unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children.
During the last Congress, they tried to rally support around a similar plan, but ran out of time to complete their work. Mr. Tillis and others in the bipartisan group estimated that anything resembling a comprehensive proposal was still weeks away.
Experts said the delay could further complicate efforts to reach a deal, noting that the situation at the border, particularly around the asylum issue, is changing faster than lawmakers writing the bills are responding. law.
“At the end of the last Congress, they actually had the most balanced and bipartisan support on the scheme that they circulated,” said Jennie Murray, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum, an immigration group. She noted that at the time, what seemed like proactive provisions, such as an attempt to curb asylum claims by extending Title 42 removal authority, would now be viewed by some Democrats as an unacceptable reduction.
“We are just in a completely different context,” he added.
As the situation at the border changes, the parties are moving further towards opposite corners. This week, the administration rolled out a new set of rules to address an expected spike in asylum claims after Title 42’s demise, despite calls from several leading Democrats, including Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, to reconsider.
Mr. Nadler responded by joining the rest of the Democrats in the New York congressional delegation, including Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the Minority Leader, and Senator Chuck Schumer, the Majority Leader, in appealing to President Biden in a letter “to expand the issuance of probation.” to asylum seekers,” by eliminating a 150-day waiting period for applicants to work.
Republicans, by contrast, have accused the administration of delaying progress in Congress by refusing to take more restrictive measures at the border.
“My advice to the administration is to change your asylum policies,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a key negotiator in previous efforts to craft comprehensive immigration bills. “Stop the flow. If you can control the flow, regain control of the border, then you have a chance to talk about what we’ve been talking about for 15 years. Without it, you probably won’t go anywhere.”
Few see an easy way out of the impasse, especially as Washington prepares for a presidential election that could pit Biden against former President Donald J. Trump, whose restrictive immigration policies many Republicans are trying to revive.
“This is about the 2024 presidential election,” said Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif. “I think it’s going to be very difficult during Biden’s first term to move in that direction.”