By The Editorial Board | January 16, 2024 | Inquirer
Republicans have forced the Biden administration to the negotiating table on immigration, holding aid for Ukraine hostage in a bid to enact draconian measures that would further upend the asylum process and pave the way for the kind of anti-immigrant crackdown favored by right-wing hard-liners.
Senate negotiators who are working on a bipartisan compromise must ensure that the U.S. asylum system remains a beacon of hope for those seeking refuge and protect a key presidential authority known as humanitarian parole.
While a steady stream of irresponsible “invasion” rhetoric and images of immigrant caravans have stoked needless fear, all Americans — regardless of political persuasion — should worry about the situation at the border, which is arguably out of control. Immigration officials reported more than two million unauthorized border crossings in fiscal year 2023. More than 300,000 migrants were processed at the southern border in December alone, an all-time monthly high.
Something must be done to reduce the large number of migrants who continue to brave harrowing conditions — risking assault, injury, and death — as they travel in search of a better life in the United States. However, little of what is being touted by Republicans would improve the situation. If anything, their proposals are likely to lead to more chaos.
Among the proposals are making it harder to seek asylum, expanding expedited deportation of families traveling with children, and establishing the ability to expel migrants without humanitarian screenings when border agents are overwhelmed.
It’s no secret that an overtaxed asylum system, which is taking years to process cases, is allowing legal entry to applicants who may not have a strong protection case. However, updating asylum law — born out of America’s dismal actions regarding refugees during World War II — should be done with deliberate care, not as a rushed response to border pressures.
Expelling migrants or denying them the legal process of asylum may send them back to the harm they were fleeing, and violates the spirit of national and international laws. Also, by not addressing the root causes of our immigration problems, it virtually guarantees that desperate migrants will continue to attempt to illegally cross the border.
The Republican wish list also includes limiting the president’s immigration parole power, which the Biden administration has used to grant temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of immigrants — including Afghan and Ukrainian refugees.
Speaking on the Senate floor last week, Connecticut’s Chris Murphy, the lead Democratic negotiator in immigration talks, detailed why this proposal should be off the table.
“No other tool at the president’s disposal has been so effective in reducing unauthorized crossings as has parole,” he said. “Limiting this ability will only push more people to cross in between the ports of entry — exacerbating the very problem that Republicans claim they want to solve.”
Although GOP political gamesmanship is undoubtedly to blame for the current immigration stalemate in Congress, President Joe Biden shares responsibility. He has been to Pennsylvania on more than 20 occasions since becoming president. He’s been to the border once.
Biden has failed to effectively communicate his administration’s efforts to address the issue, relying on half measures that have resulted in mixed results and have allowed people like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and New York Mayor Eric Adams to dominate the conversation.
There are no quick and easy answers, but some of the more pragmatic and effective proposals — including expanding legal pathways that can help fill millions of available U.S. jobs, supporting refugee processing and resettlement across Latin America, and partnering with nonprofits and local governments to reduce the pressure of new arrivals on resources and infrastructure — are not even part of the current discussion.
Instead, Senate negotiators have to contend with pressure from House Republicans who seem to have no intention of providing a reasonable and humane solution to immigration.
As detailed in House Resolution 2, which passed the GOP-controlled body last year with no Democratic support, Republicans would gut the asylum process, build a border wall, cut immigrant services, end protections for migrant children, and go after immigrants who are working in the country illegally. All measures that undercut America’s standing as a welcoming nation and ignore the vital role immigration plays in the nation’s success.
Proposals like HR 2 will not fix the immigration crisis at the border, but they offer a chilling preview of what the U.S. can expect if Donald Trump returns to the White House and the worst of Republican policies are unleashed.
The Biden administration must act decisively and convince the public and voters that it is serious about addressing the current problems with immigration. The alternative would be disastrous.