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US Government Shutdown Threats Center Around Senate Border Bill

FILE — Migrants wait to be processed after crossing the Rio Grande and entering the United States, Oct. 19, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. Lawmakers are trying to agree on measures to curb the influx of migrants at the US-Mexico border. 
FILE — Migrants wait to be processed after crossing the Rio Grande and entering the United States, Oct. 19, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. Lawmakers are trying to agree on measures to curb the influx of migrants at the US-Mexico border. 

As budget negotiations continue on Capitol Hill, U.S. lawmakers face two government-shutdown deadlines — one on Friday — while trying to agree on separate legislation addressing funding for Ukraine and measures to curb the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson and other Republicans have criticized the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden for its immigration policies and said a Senate compromise has no chance of passing their chamber.

Biden has called on Congress to authorize $61 billion in assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Conservative Republicans insist this funding must be tied to more robust border security measures to curtail migrant arrivals.

Republicans also say their version of the bill, H.R.2, which passed the Republican-controlled House in 2023 without Democratic support, will prevent hundreds of thousands of migrants — including thousands of unaccompanied children — from crossing the southern U.S. border without authorization.

Critics of the House bill disagree. They say that scrapping asylum-like immigration protections is counterproductive and would drive migrants into the hands of smugglers.

Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Global Refuge, formerly known as Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, told reporters on Tuesday that although the Biden administration instituted restrictions on asylum last year, federal border officials reported a record number of apprehensions at the southern border in fiscal 2023.

"We've seen kind of daily highs, and I think it's a reflection of the fact that the push factors that so many are fleeing are more powerful," Vignarajah said, referring to the various crises, social problems and persecution that compel people to emigrate.

Here's what H.R.2 would do:


The legislation endorsed by Republicans would increase the requirements that asylum-seekers must meet to establish credible fear in their initial interview. Individuals failing to meet the higher standard would be removed through an expedited removal process to their home countries.

U.S. federal law allows people from other countries to seek asylum in the United States if they fear persecution at home. They must be present in the U.S. and prove a fear of persecution on one of five grounds: race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social class, which can include things such as gender or caste.

Currently, asylum-seekers must meet three requirements laid out by the United Nation's 1951 Convention on Refugees, which was adopted by the United States. Applicants must prove they have a reasonable fear of persecution in their home country. Reasonable fear is defined by the United Nations as at least a 10% chance of persecution. They must fear persecution on one of five grounds and prove the government of their home country is either involved in the persecution or unable to control it.

Under H.R.2, it would be more difficult for people to pass the initial credible fear screening.

"And this will, of course, reduce the number of people who qualify, but it won't have a major impact on the number of people crossing our borders," Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, told VOA. "But in some ways, if you want to know what it would look like to raise the credible fear standard, it looks like the border today."

The Biden administration in 2023 announced a new asylum restriction that applies to nearly every migrant who crosses the border between ports of entry and turns themselves into Border Patrol.

"So that means nearly everyone who's crossing the border today unlawfully is already banned from asylum and already has to meet a heightened standard in order to avoid a rapid deportation," he said.

H.R.2 also would require a migrant to be physically present in the United States or to have arrived at a U.S. port of entry in order to apply for asylum. Currently, U.S. law allows any person arriving in the United States to pursue asylum regardless of manner of entry.

Expedited removal

H.R.2 would increase the use of expedited removal, which is a process that empowers immigration officers to deport certain noncitizens quickly and efficiently without a hearing before a U.S. immigration judge.

Expedited removal can apply to migrants who have entered the United States unlawfully, cannot prove they have been in the country for at least two years, and do not qualify for humanitarian relief. The guideline also can apply to immigrants who have committed fraud.

Currently, if a person is removed via this fast-track deportation process, they are banned from reentry for at least five years. If the applicant is removed on grounds of fraud or other criminal activities, a lifetime bar on entry can apply. The Republican proposal says if a migrant "knowingly files a frivolous asylum application," they will be barred permanently from entering the United States.

Unaccompanied minors

H.R.2 also would modify how immigrant minors are protected under the Flores settlement — a 1993 court case that has influenced federal immigration law on detention of migrant children. The bill proposes speeding up the deportation process for unaccompanied minors.

Under the bill, the Department of Homeland Security would be allowed to detain families with children indefinitely. It would also extend the time children can be held in adult detention facilities at the border from three to 30 days. The bill would prevent states from imposing licensing requirements on these detention facilities, even when state law mandates oversight.

Migrant children can claim Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status if they cannot reunite with one or both parents in the U.S., but H.R. 2 would limit it to children whose parents have neglected or abandoned them while making it harder for unaccompanied migrant children to qualify for SIJ status.

The Department of Health and Human Services would have to share information about local sponsors of unaccompanied migrant children with DHS. If these sponsors are undocumented, DHS would have to start deportation proceedings of the children within 30 days. Sponsors themselves, if undocumented, can also face the same proceedings.

Humanitarian parole

Under H.R.2, humanitarian parole would be allowed "on a case-by-case basis, and not according to eligibility criteria describing an entire class of potential parole recipients." Currently at the border, officers from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services decide most of the parole requests.

If parole is granted, it would not mean the applicant is officially admitted into the U.S. Therefore, once the two-year parole benefit runs out, the person "shall immediately return or be returned" to their home country.

Under the Biden administration, the United States has significantly increased the use of humanitarian parole. In response to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, through Operation Allies Welcome, the U.S. welcomed about 88,500 Afghan nationals and their families and resettled them in communities across the country using the parole authority.

Operation Allies Welcome was originally set up to coordinate efforts to resettle vulnerable Afghans. It also has granted admission and helped resettle tens of thousands of Ukrainians who sought refuge following the Russian invasion nearly two years ago.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said there will be "no deal" if parole is "not fixed."

"There needs to be a hard cap on parole," he said.

Global Refuge's Vignarajah told reporters that "one of our greatest concerns is seeing implementation of policies where we would continue funding for Ukraine, but do away potentially with a measure that actually allowed for 200,000 Ukrainians to come into the country, and so there's obviously an irony in how that would impact Ukrainians and beyond."

Vignarajah also said she thinks some lawmakers are aiming to change immigration policies without fully grasping the potential outcome, and that policy modifications proposed in H.R.2 won't alter prevailing migration patterns at the southern border.

"We know just how lifesaving humanitarian parole is in an emergency situation," she said, "because we've had the honor of walking alongside tens of thousands of families forced to flee the only homes they've ever known and to find a new life here."