Detention and that border ‘shutdown’: What's really in Biden's bipartisan immigration deal

The bipartisan border security deal that’s headed for a pivotal first vote this week would pair $20 billion in emergency spending with policy changes that would amount to the most stringent immigration bill endorsed by a Democratic president in recent memory.

President Joe Biden is calling the bill the “toughest and fairest” in decades — and progressives are calling it a return to the Trump era.

The 370-page bill is already in jeopardy, with House Republican leaders vowing that they’ll never vote on the long-negotiated package. They are joined by conservative senators who argue that the $118 billion-plus legislation, which also sends tens of billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, has too many loopholes to effectively stop spiking migration at the southern border.

Progressives in both chambers of Congress are also turned off by the deal, lamenting that it amounts to an embrace of Donald Trump-style border policies and an undue shrinking of the asylum system designed to protect vulnerable immigrants.

Yet Biden is throwing his weight behind the plan, which he called “essential” to making the U.S.-Mexico border “more orderly, secure, fair, and humane.” It would deliver far more emergency cash than his October request for less than $14 billion in border funding as illegal border crossings from Mexico reached an all-time high in December, with nearly 250,000 arrests.

As members of both parties scrap over the substance of the bill, here’s a rundown of what’s really in it:

Detention

Immigration and Customs Enforcement would get almost $8 billion in emergency funding, rivaling the agency’s regular annual budget of about $9 billion. The emergency funding would include more than $3 billion for increased detention capacity.

Asylum

The plan would set a goal of speeding up the review of asylum claims, striving to let no cases last more than six months — often by allowing asylum officers to close out a claim rather than going through immigration courts. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would get nearly $4 billion to help shoulder that new workload, including for hiring more than 4,300 asylum officers.

The measure would require asylum seekers to show greater proof to seek refuge in the U.S. and would ensure they are allowed a lawyer if they are facing rapid deportation. All unaccompanied children under 14 years old would also be granted lawyers during removal proceedings, covered by an infusion of $350 million for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Immigrant advocates quickly panned the proposal, with the ACLU arguing that it would “eviscerate” longstanding protections, and the National Immigrant Justice Center stressing that it would make asylum “largely un-obtainable for those who are permitted to request it at ports of entry.”

‘Border shutdown’

The bill would force the Department of Homeland Security to shutter the border if daily illegal crossings top 5,000 migrants on average or 8,500 in a single day. Unaccompanied minors from countries other than Mexico and Canada wouldn’t count toward that total.

The administration could only reopen the border if encounters of illegal crossings drop to 75 percent of the number that initially triggered the closure.

DHS would also have the power to shut down the border if crossings average more than 4,000 a day for a week, and Biden has signaled he would aggressively use that authority.

During a “border shutdown,” many people trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border would be quickly deported. But exceptions would be made for unaccompanied minors and people who meet the requirements of the United Nations Convention Against Torture rules.

Ports of entry

DHS would still consider asylum requests from people crossing at legal ports of entry during those periods of “border shutdown” — just not in between those ports. Officials would have to process at least 1,400 asylum requests per day under those terms.

Local support

$1.4 billion would be disbursed to help states and local governments handle the influx of immigrants. In New York alone, Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this month proposed spending $2.4 billion to provide services to migrants in her annual budget.

Border wall

The bill would force the Biden administration to use money already laid out for border barriers on the kind of steel fencing that Trump boasted during his tenure. That “bollard”-style border wall is supposed to be 18 to 30 feet high, with “anti-dig” and “anti-climb” features.

Afghan nationals

Permanent residency would be offered to Afghans who fled their home country and received special immigrant visas following the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2021. It would also allow Afghans who are considered U.S. allies to be deemed refugees and entitled to special State Department protections or immediate removal from Afghanistan.

Special immigrant status would also be offered to Afghans who are an immediate relative of a U.S. military member or veteran. Up to 2,500 special immigrant visas would be offered a year, for a total of up to 10,000.

Visas

The deal would free up 250,000 new visas over half a decade for people seeking to work in the U.S. or to join family members. It would offer work authorization to the children and spouses of people who have H-1B visas for specialized jobs that often require a bachelor’s degree, like tech and engineering work.

Immigrants awaiting visas would also be eligible for work if they have a U.S. citizen spouse or fiancé, or if their parent is the spouse or fiancé of a U.S. citizen.

Countering fentanyl

Folded into the border security deal is legislation aimed at beefing up anti-money laundering policies and sanctions, known as the Fend Off Fentanyl Act.

The Drug Enforcement Administration would receive more than $23 million to disrupt and disband Mexican cartels trafficking fentanyl across the southern border. And the State Department and USAID would see about $25 million for programs aimed at curbing the flow of the drug into the U.S.

‘Documented Dreamers’

Advocates and some Democrats quickly slammed the lack of relief or pathways to citizenship for so-called Dreamers, or undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. There’s also no new citizenship path for farm workers or other long-time residents who work in essential jobs.

The legislation does, however, aim to provide a pathway to citizenship for “Documented Dreamers,” or children who accompanied their parents on a work visa and who could potentially lose their place in line for a green card at age 21.

Work permits

Immigrants who apply for asylum could be eligible to work in the U.S. while they wait.

Border Patrol

Customs and Border Protection would get nearly $7 billion in emergency funding, a massive infusion above its current yearly budget of about $21 billion. That extra funding would include $723 million would cover increased hiring of Border Patrol agents and overtime pay.

The bill would also give DHS more flexibility in hiring Border Patrol agents and create yearly training requirements for non-lethal force, protecting due process and preserving civil and human rights.

Anthony Adragna contributed to this report.


Source: Politico-Congress

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