Ariana Figueroa, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
February 4, 2024
WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday night released a $118.28 billion global security package that includes a long-anticipated overhaul of immigration law negotiated by a bipartisan trio of senators.
“The United States and our allies are facing multiple, complex and, in places, coordinated challenges from adversaries who seek to disrupt democracy and expand authoritarian influence around the globe,” Schumer, a New York Democrat, said.
The nearly 400-page package includes bipartisan immigration legislation that reportedly would raise the bar for migrants claiming asylum, curb the White House’s use of parole authority to temporarily grant protections to migrants, and end the practice of allowing migrants to live in the United States while they wait for their cases to be heard by an immigration judge.
The immigration provisions, negotiated by the White House and Sens. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Kyrsten Sinema, an independent from Arizona, would be the biggest changes to immigration law in nearly 40 years if it is enacted.
Schumer said the deal those three senators worked on for four months “is a real opportunity for Congress to address our borders and make progress towards a more efficient and well-resourced system.”
“This agreement improves an adjudication system that has been underfunded for decades by hiring more frontline personnel, asylum officers, and creating new processes to provide faster and fair decisions,” Schumer said.
Option to shut down the border
The legislation would give the option for the U.S. to shut down the border if there are more than 4,000 encounters recorded with migrants in a day, Sinema said during a Sunday morning interview on the CBS show “Face the Nation,” If that number reaches 5,000 encounters, the U.S. would be required to shut down the border.
Sinema said the proposed policy would be a “powerful tool.”
“The reason we’re doing that is because we want to be able to shut down the system when it gets overloaded, so we have enough time to process those asylum claims,” Sinema said.
Votes could come as early as Wednesday for the package that would provide funding to Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific region and U.S. border security.
Enacting the bill into law will be an uphill battle, even though President Joe Biden has committed to supporting the deal, as his administration contends with the largest number of migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border in 20 years.
House Republicans have fallen in line behind former President Donald J. Trump’s opposition to an agreement. Trump’s GOP-leading 2024 presidential campaign has used fears of immigration at the southern border as a central theme.
House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana has argued that Biden has the authority to make immigration policy changes, and does not need Congress to take action.
The release of the long-anticipated immigration bill text and global aid package accompanies a drive by House Republicans to impeach U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over what critics say is policy differences, but it’s unclear if the GOP’s razor-thin majority will prevail. A vote is expected in the coming week.
Johnson has a slim two-vote majority, and even if Mayorkas is impeached, the Democratic-controlled Senate likely would acquit the secretary, meaning he would not be removed.
Sinema says no more ‘catch and release’
Sinema said the bill would end the policy of allowing migrants who are detained to live in U.S. communities while they await having their asylum cases heard by an immigration judge, known colloquially as “catch and release.”
Instead of that practice, Sinema said those migrants would be taken to a short-term detention center, where a quick asylum interview would determine whether that migrant meets the asylum requirements or should be swiftly removed.
Sinema said that those migrants who cannot be detained, such as families, would have a three-month asylum review.
“For folks that we can’t detain, like families, for instance, (we) will ensure that we’re supervising them over the course of just three months and conduct that interview with that new higher standard, requiring them to show more proof early on about whether or not they qualify for asylum and to return them to their country if they do not have the evidence or the proof that they qualify for asylum,” Sinema said.
She added that those who do qualify for asylum will be on a rapid path for approval, within about six months.
There currently is a backlog of more than 3.2 million cases in immigration court, pending under roughly 600 immigration judges, according to the Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, which compiles immigration data.
Many migrants have initial court dates set years in the future. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has estimated that an additional 700 — so 1,349 total — immigration judges would need to be hired in order for the backlog of immigration courts to be cleared by fiscal year 2032.
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