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Navigating border policies: Biden admin’s races against time for Ukrainian aid

United States: On Wednesday, top Biden administration officials were working to achieve a last-minute agreement for wartime aid for Ukraine by accepting Senate Republican requests to strengthen US-Mexico border regulations to reduce crossings.

Homeland Security Secretary – Alejandro Mayorkas was set to restart negotiations with Senate negotiators, even as immigration groups and members of President Joe Biden’s own Democratic Party expressed concern about the proposals under consideration. Some planned to demonstrate at the Capitol, warning of a return to Trump-style restrictions, according to news agency Associated Press.

Homeland Security Secretary – Alejandro Mayorkas | Credits: AP Photos

The Tight Deadline

With Congress set to adjourn on Thursday, the window for reaching an agreement on Biden’s US$110 billion proposal for Ukraine, Israel, and national security priorities was rapidly closing. Despite the tight timeframe, optimism persisted as White House officials and key Senate negotiators fine-tuned objectives for border tightening and the removal of recent migrant arrivals within the US.

“This is difficult, very difficult,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said in a floor speech on Wednesday. “But we’re sent here to do difficult things,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer | Credits: Reuters

According to several people familiar with the private talks, among the proposals being seriously discussed are plans to allow Homeland Security officials to stop migrants from applying for asylum at the US southern border if the total number of crossings exceeds the daily capacity of around 5,000. This year, several one-day totals have surpassed 10,000.

Under discussions, proposals are made to imprison the people who claim asylum with families and children, possibly with electric monitoring systems, AP noted.

Negotiators explored avenues for authorities to remove migrants present in the US for less than two years, even if they were geographically distant from the border. Notably, such removals would apply to individuals who hadn’t sought asylum or were denied entry into the asylum system.

The restrictions are like those proposed by President Donald Trump’s Republican administration to reduce border crossings, although many of them were successfully challenged in court. If Congress passes them, immigration advocates will have no legal footing to oppose the limits on people seeking refuge.

Mixed reactions and capitol protests

Immigrant advocates, who intend to demonstrate throughout the Capitol on Wednesday, have warned of a return to anti-immigrant policies and questioned if they would really address border issues.

“I would never have imagined that in a moment where we have a Democratic Senate and a Democratic White House, we are coming to the table and proposing some of the most draconian immigration policies that there have ever been,” said Maribel Hernández Rivera, American Civil Liberties Union director of policy and government affairs.

In the Senate talks, some agreement was reached on lowering the threshold for applicants to claim asylum in the first credible fear assessments.

Even if an agreement is reached and passes in the Senate, House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana, a Republican, would have to shepherd the measure through his chamber, where it will almost certainly face resistance from both parties. Conservatives argued that the Senate’s ideas do not go far enough, while progressive Democrats and Hispanic senators are opposed to restricting access to asylum.

Many members of Congress anticipated earlier this week that an agreement before Congress went for the holidays was improbable. Even after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited parliamentarians on Tuesday and urged them to rekindle their support for his country’s defense against Russia’s invasion, pessimism remained strong, according to the report by Associated Press.

Mayorkas, on the other hand, met with key Senate negotiators for about two hours on Tuesday, and legislators exited with a renewed feeling of confidence.

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who is leading the talks for Democrats, said the meeting included “a group that can land this deal if everybody is ready to close.”

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