The Senate’s leadership has just dropped the text of a $118 billion supplemental appropriation, complying with a Biden administration request, which would provide additional aid to Ukraine and Israel, among other priorities including $20 billion for border and migration needs.
Republican senators’ price for allowing this bill to go forward in the Senate—where Democrats have a majority but most legislation requires 60 votes to end debate and proceed to a vote—was new restrictions on migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.
This 370-page legislative text has been out for less than 2 hours as I write this, so my reading this Sunday evening has not been thorough. But it appears to include a lot of the controversial limits on access to asylum that had already been reported in media. (I summarized those last week in a Q&A document and in our weekly Border Update.)
- Requiring asylum seekers placed in “expedited removal”—usually 20-25,000 per month right now, but likely to expand—to meet a much higher standard of “credible fear” in screening interviews with asylum officers. The goal is to thin out asylum applications and make it unnecessary for as many cases as possible to go to immigration court.
- Reducing the time for a large number of asylum seekers’ cases from years to a few months, often while in tightly controlled, costly alternatives-to-detention programs.
- It does not appear to tighten the presidential use of humanitarian parole authority to permit some classes of migrants to enter the United States, though it adds a detailed reporting requirement.
Plus, the big one:
- As expected, the bill would allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to impose a Title 42-like expulsion authority, “summarily removing” asylum-seekers from the United States (except for hard-to-prove Convention Against Torture appeals), when unauthorized migrant encounters reach a daily threshold.
- That threshold is:
- An average of 4,000 migrant encounters per day over 7 days, which would allow DHS to start expelling people at the Secretary’s discretion.
- Expulsions become mandatory once the average hits 5,000 per day, or if encounters hit 8,500 in a single day.
- “Encounters” means people who come to the border and end up in Customs and Border Protection (CBP, which includes Border Patrol) custody without documents or authorization. Even if all 5,000 of them are deported or detained, the expulsions authority would still kick in.
- “Encounters” includes people who come to ports of entry with appointments made using the CBP One smartphone app; the bill requires DHS to maintain the capacity to keep receiving at least 1,400 of these people each day (nearly the current number of daily CBP One appointments), even when it is expelling people.
- While these 1,400 would not be in danger of expulsion, they do count toward the daily “encounter” threshold. If CBP takes 1,400 per day at ports of entry, then the expulsions could kick in if Border Patrol apprehends 2,600 or 3,600 more per day between ports of entry (for the 4,000 and 5,000 thresholds).
- Border Patrol apprehensions between ports of entry have averaged less than 3,600 per day during only 2 of the Biden administration’s first 36 full months. They have never averaged less than 2,600 per day.
- It is not clear whether Mexico would agree to take back expelled migrants, and if so from which countries.
- The expulsions would stop if the past week’s daily average dropped to 75 percent of the amount that triggered it (3,000 per day if the 4,000-encounter threshold was used; 3,750 per day if the 5,000-encounter threshold kicked in).
- A previously undisclosed element of the new Title 42-style authority: it would automatically “sunset,” or repeal, after three years. And DHS would have fewer days per year to employ it during each of those three years. (It would take an act of Congress to renew the authority or make it permanent—which is certainly not impossible.)
What do I make of this?
- Just as we pointed out in our Q&A last week, if this became law it would send thousands of people back to likely danger. The expulsion authority will ensnare many people with legitimate and urgent asylum claims, denying them due process. It will place many at the mercy of organized crime along the migration route and in Mexican border cities. And it wouldn’t even be justified with a thin “public health” reasoning, like Title 42 was: asylum seekers would be kicked out just because too many other people were fleeing. “The United States cannot deny someone the right to seek safety and protection just because they are number 5,001 in line that day,” a statement tonight from Human Rights First put it.
- And again, as the Q&A and another post from last week made clear, it won’t reduce migration, except perhaps for an initial few months. We seem to forget that the Title 42 era (March 2020-May 2023) was one of the busiest times ever for migration at the U.S.-Mexico border. The experience of Title 42 should have made clear for everyone the futility of deterring protection-seeking migrants.
Either way, though, this legislation is probably not going to pass. Though I’m complaining here about some of these provisions’ cruelty, I don’t see enough red meat here to satisfy far-right and rabidly pro-Trump Republicans, especially in the GOP-majority House of Representatives. Even those who were willing to live without a full return to Trump’s policies were demanding a lower threshold number for expulsions, and curbs on the presidential humanitarian parole authority. Since they didn’t get those, they may obstruct the bill.
So the negotiators of this text added language that may endanger people. They took great pains, though, to minimize the harm it might do to asylum seekers. It is good that they tried to do so—but it means that it will be rough going in the MAGA-heavy, election-year House of Representatives.
- Expelling Migrants From the Border Doesn’t Reduce Migration at the Border
- From WOLA: Dismantling Legal Migration Pathways Won’t Secure the Border
- On the Table Now: a Fatal Blow to the Right to Seek Protection in the United States
- This Border Proposal Could Send Us Back to the 1930s—and Some of it Might Pass