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Funding seen as a last hurdle to final U.S. Senate immigration deal

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Ariana Figueroa, Georgia Recorder
January 23, 2024

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan agreement that would make the most substantial changes to immigration policy in 30 years hinges on funding disputes, key senators said Tuesday.

While senators have not finalized the text of the agreement, they are discussing changes to the White House’s use of parole authority to grant temporary protections to migrants by allowing them to live and work in the United States without visas. Senators also want to raise the bar for migrants to claim asylum.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said during a Tuesday press conference that senators will get a chance to review the bill text, but did not indicate when he would bring the deal to the floor for a vote. Senate Democrats and Republicans have pushed for a quick deal on immigration policy to free up aid to Ukraine.

There were few specifics on the holdups to an agreement, but funding appeared to be one. “One of the things we have to discuss is the appropriations process because there will be a need for new money, and you know, we’re all discussing how much is there,” Schumer said. “There’s some disagreements. We’re trying to come to an agreement.”

Senate appropriators are working out “technical details,” said Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, the lead Republican negotiator working with Arizona independent Kyrsten Sinema and Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy.

“We’re still cranking through everything,” Lankford said.

The top Republican on the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said that appropriators are reviewing the immigration policies in the negotiated deal.

Collins added that there are some details that have not yet been finalized.

“There still is a lot of text that is bracketed on some major issues and where negotiations are still continuing,” she said. “This is a real challenge for us to get accurate cost estimates from (the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) and (the Congressional Budget Office) if we don’t have the final text.”

Collins said she hopes the Senate will vote on the deal this week, “but obviously members are going to want to look at the actual text.”

Even if the Senate passes an agreement as part of a global security supplemental package to provide aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, it’s unclear if House Speaker Mike Johnson will bring the legislation for a vote.

Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, has advocated for the inclusion of H.R. 2 – a bill that would codify some hard-line Trump-era immigration policies – the House passed with only Republican votes last year.

Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have rejected the inclusion of the House bill, arguing that any agreement on immigration needs to be bipartisan.

Aid critical for Ukraine, senators say

During a Tuesday press conference, McConnell stressed the importance of Congress passing the supplemental global security package.

“The rest of the world is basically at war,” the Kentucky Republican said.

He added that it’s an “ideal time,” to address immigration policy at the Southern border.

“If this were not divided government, we wouldn’t have an opportunity to do anything about the border,” he said. “In fact, I don’t think we’d get 60 votes for any border plan if we had a fully Republican government. This is a unique opportunity where divided government has given us an opportunity to give us an outcome.”

For months, Lankford, Sinema and Murphy have worked to strike a deal with the White House to free up more than $100 billion in supplemental global security aid to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and for U.S. border security.

Senate Republicans have hinged their support for the foreign assistance on immigration policy changes at the Southern border.

Murphy said a deal needed to be reached quickly because of the war in Ukraine.

“Ukraine is at a breaking point,” Murphy said. “We’re not engaged in a theoretical conversation about Ukraine possibly losing the war, they will lose the war very soon if we don’t get them aid.”

The White House said that it sent its last round of aid to Ukraine, and there are concerns that Ukraine is running out of ammunition as it nears the third year of war with Russia.

“We want to get this done as soon as possible,” Schumer said.

Biden backs immigration changes

President Joe Biden last week made one of his strongest public statements to date when he said that he backed “significant policy changes” to asylum law. It was a stark reversal from his campaign promise to protect asylum law and move away from the harsh immigration policies of former President Donald Trump’s administration.

As the 2024 presidential election campaign gets underway, immigration has become a central way for Republicans to criticize Biden and Democrats, as well as a central issue for Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination.

As an unprecedented number of migrants head to the Southern border to claim asylum, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has added to the strain in major Democratic-run cities by placing migrants on buses and planes to such cities, often without warning local officials.

Nine Democratic governors on Monday sent a letter to Biden and congressional leaders requesting federal aid and urging changes to immigration law as their states take in an overwhelming number of asylum seekers.

The two major policy issues senators are negotiating are raising the bar for migrants to claim asylum and curbing the administration’s use of parole authority, which grants temporary protections to migrants.

The executive branch has used parole since the 1950s, but the Biden administration has invoked that authority more often to manage the large number of migrants at the Southern border, according to data compiled by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, which compiles immigration data.

For example, in fiscal year 2021, about 30,000 migrants were paroled, and in fiscal year 2022, more than 130,000 migrants were paroled, according to TRAC. That number increased in fiscal 2023, when in the first 10 months, more than 301,000 migrants were paroled, according to TRAC.

Recently, Biden has used that authority to grant temporary protections for migrants at the border, as well as more than 140,000 Ukrainians; more than 76,000 Afghans; and 168,000 Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan nationals.

Senate Republicans have made clear that limiting the White House’s use of parole is a “red line” issue and without it, no deal will be made. 

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has also been part of talks in the Senate as House Republicans are moving forward with a markup of articles of impeachment for Mayorkas next week over immigration policies at the Southern border.

Ashley Murray contributed to this report.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.