Senate Republicans, led by Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Tom Cotton (Ark.) and James Lankford (Okla.), on Monday unveiled a list of immigration reforms they will demand be attached to any foreign aid package funding the war in Ukraine, signaling a difficult negotiation with Democrats in the next few weeks.
The Republican senators who have been in talks with a broader cross-section of the Senate GOP conference want a variety of changes to immigration and asylum policy, which Democrats have so far resisted.
They want the Department of Homeland Security to resume construction of the southwestern border wall, beef up pay for Border Patrol agents, reform the nation’s asylum laws, crack down on humanitarian parole of illegal migrants and deny asylum to migrants who cross through safe third countries before coming to the United States.
“We must make policy changes to reduce the flow of immigration. The world is on fire and threats to our homeland are at an all-time high. President Biden’s border policies are not working and it’s time to change course. Our proposal makes the necessary changes that our country needs at this critical time,” said Graham, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a statement accompanying a one-page list of proposals.
The GOP senators want to raise the standard for asylum requests for migrants who claim “credible fear of persecution.” They want claimants to demonstrate it would be “more likely than not” they would face persecution if they remain in their home countries — a higher bar than the current requirement of facing a “significant possibility” of persecution.
They say migrants should be required to request asylum at legal ports of entry, which they argue would make it easier for Border Patrol agents to focus on drug smugglers and criminals.
They want to reduce what they call “frivolous delays” in deportation proceedings by making the denial of a migrant’s claim for asylum “controlling” when that same migrant tries to raise a need for asylum as a defense from being removed from the country.
“President Biden’s immigration policies have put American workers last and exposed our communities to crime and terrorism. This border package will cut off the flow of illegal migration, prioritize legitimate claims to entry, and restore order,” Cotton said in a statement attached to the multi-point proposal.
The GOP senators want to end the practice they call “catch and release,” whereby illegal migrants are released into the country even if they don’t make asylum claims.
They want to prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from using broad class-based criteria to grant humanitarian parole and codify two existing parole programs: the Cuban Family Reunification Program and parole for the spouses and children of active-duty members of the military.
“We have needed significant updates in border security law for years,” Lankford said in a statement. “But President Biden has allowed the cartels to exploit the loopholes in our asylum laws like no other President in history. We must close those loopholes and secure our border.”
Elements of the Senate GOP proposal were drawn from the House-passed Secure the Border Act of 2023, which Senate Democrats have panned as a non-starter.
The Biden administration announced last month that it would waive more than 20 laws and move forward immediately with the construction of 20 new miles of border barriers in Texas.
In his request to Congress for $105 billion in foreign aid and border security resources, the president requested funding for an additional 1,300 Border Patrol agents and funding for more than 100 inspection machines to detect fentanyl.
The administration also requested funding for an additional 1,000 law enforcement professionals, 1,600 additional asylum officers and 375 new immigration judge teams.