What’s in the $118B U.S. Senate deal to address migrant backlog at southern border?


Senators in Washington, D.C, have come out with a carefully negotiated $118 billion US compromise that pairs tens of billions of dollars in wartime aid for Ukraine with new border laws aimed at shrinking the historic number of people who have come to the U.S. border with Mexico to seek asylum.

The legislation faced immediate opposition from many Republicans in both chambers, and House leaders said it may not even receive a vote, a move that could backfire with voters in an election year. But bipartisan negotiators are labouring to sell the package as part of a last-ditch effort to approve money for Ukraine’s defence against Russia, emphasizing that Congress has the best chance in years to make changes to U.S. immigration law.

The bill would also send military aid to Israel, funding for allies in the Asia-Pacific and humanitarian aid for refugees fleeing Gaza.

The package has also drawn strong opposition from Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee, and his most ardent backers.

“Why would I help Joe Biden improve his dismal 33 per cent [approval rating] when he can fix the border and secure it on his own?” Republican House member Troy Nehls told a reporter last week.

The package contains $60 billion in aid for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel. In addition, $10 billion would aid humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, Israel, Gaza and other places.

Without the Ukraine aid, Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin “could be rolling over Ukraine and even into Eastern Europe.”

Migrants wait to be processed by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol after they crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico on Oct. 19, 2023. (Eric Gay/The Associated Press)

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that “America’s sovereignty is being tested here at home, and our credibility is being tested by emboldened adversaries around the world.”

Republicans wanted border security measures attached to any bill that proposed more aid for Ukraine. Here’s a look at some of the proposed border changes:

Stricter asylum process

The package would also send $20 billion to immigration enforcement, providing money to hire thousands more officers to evaluate asylum claims, add hundreds of more Border Patrol agents and help stop the flow of fentanyl.

The bill would overhaul the asylum system with tougher standards and faster enforcement.

WATCH l U.S. asks Mexico for help, again, on migrant issue:

U.S. and Mexican officials hold talks on migrant surge

Senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, delivered a wish list of measures they would like Mexico to employ to address the thousands of migrants crossing into the United States every day.

Asylum offers protection to people fleeing persecution for race, religion, political affiliation or membership in a discriminated group. It is part of international law and helps the U.S. protect human rights, but the system has become overwhelmed in recent years with historic numbers of people seeking asylum at the border with Mexico.

Under the proposal, migrants would have to show during initial screenings that they have a reasonable possibility of being granted asylum. Migrants would also be barred from making an asylum claim if they are found to have a criminal history, resettled in another country or could have found safety if they had resettled in their home country.

Migrants who cross the border illegally between a port of entry would be detained and receive a screening within 10 to 15 days.

Migrants who pass the new screening would then receive a work permit and have their asylum case decided within 90 days. And migrants who seek asylum in between ports of entry would be put into detention while they await the initial screening for an asylum claim. The proposal calls for a large growth in detention capacity.

Immigration advocates have raised concerns about the asylum changes, saying the current standard is deliberately low because migrants are often fleeing desperate conditions, don’t have legal representation and are still shaken by their journeys.

A person in a tshirt holds up a sign outdoors that says, 'Governor Abbott, secure our border.'
A demonstrator carries a sign outside a rally on Saturday in Quemado, Texas. (Eric Gay/The Associated Press)

Asylum pause if numbers are unsustainable

Under the proposal, migrants would not be able to apply for asylum at all if the number of migrant encounters tallied by Customs and Border Protection reaches 4,000 a day over a five-day average across the Southern border.

Once the number of encounters reaches 5,000, expulsions would automatically take effect. For context, border encounters topped 10,000 on some days during December, which was the highest month on record for illegal crossings.

Several items of clothing of various colours are shown on a dirt path.
Clothing items from migrants who crossed the border illegally sit on the ground at Shelby Park on Saturday in Eagle Pass, Texas. The park has been occupied by members of Texas National Guard, with federal border patrol agents kept out of the park to access migrants who needed help. (Sergio Flores/AFP/Getty Images)

The legislation would place limits on how presidential administrations can use parole to allow migrants into the country at the border. It would eliminate parole as it is used when migrants cross the border illegally or show up at ports of entry, and instead place them into the new system for evaluating asylum claims.

The Biden administration would still be able to schedule asylum screenings through an app. Also, the administration’s authority to allow people into the country when they are fleeing unrest or war would be preserved. The authority, known as humanitarian parole, had been a sticking point in the negotiations.

Aid for cities dealing with migrant influx

While progressive and Hispanic Democrats have raised concerns that the package will harm migrants seeking asylum, the legislation offers some measures aimed at helping migrants already in the U.S. and the cities and states where they’ve gone. It would send $1.4 billion to local programs like shelters that have seen large influxes of migrants and speed work permits for migrants awaiting an asylum claim.

WATCH l Northern, Midwest cities improvise to shelter, aid arriving migrants:

Texas governor charters plane to send migrants to Chicago

Texas Governor Greg Abbott chartered a plane to send 100 migrants to Chicago in response to the city giving fines to buses that were ferrying migrants to the city. It is the latest escalation in a political fight over the unprecedented number of migrants crossing from Mexico into border states like Texas.

The legislation would also authorize sanctions and anti-money laundering tools against criminal enterprises that traffic fentanyl into the U.S. And it would provide 50,000 visas for employment and family-based immigration each year for the next five years.

However, the bill does not contain broad immigration reforms or deportation protections for unauthorized immigrants that were foundational to previous Senate deals.



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