Senate Democrats are warning about what they say could be “harmful changes” to the asylum system, amid ongoing negotiations about the supplemental aid package requested by the Biden administration for aid to Ukraine and Israelm, arguing that permanent policy changes must be coupled with a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
“As negotiations surrounding the supplemental aid package progress, we are concerned about reports of harmful changes to our asylum system that will potentially deny lifesaving humanitarian protection for vulnerable people, including children, and fail to deliver any meaningful improvement to the situation at the border,” a coalition of 11 Democratic senators said on Wednesday.
The senators on the statement are Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., Edward Markey, D-Mass., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Ron Wyden, R-Ore.
Negotiations have been ongoing in Congress over the White House’s $106 billion supplemental aid package, which includes $14 billion in funding for border operations as well as additional funding for the U.S. allies in Ukraine and Israel.
Republicans have pushed hard for limits on the use of asylum – including the raising of the initial credible fear screening standards for those migrants who claim asylum to avoid removal from the country – as well as limits on the use of humanitarian parole.
Earlier this year, the House passed a sweeping GOP border and immigration bill that would radically reduce the use of parole and place various limits on asylum. The Senate has not passed that bill, but parts of it were used in an initial supplemental spending proposal by a GOP working group.
The proposals they put forward would raise the “credible fear” standard, tighten asylum limits for those who have traveled through third countries without claiming asylum, and would make migrants ineligible for asylum if they have committed felonies or serious crimes.
The proposals also include a requirement that DHS keep families in custody while charges for illegal crossings are pending – a move designed to prevent migrants bringing children with them to secure a quicker release from custody due to current limits on how long minors can be detained.
Those proposals were immediately rejected, however, by the White House and Senate Democrats, but negotiations have continued.
More recently, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said there needed to be “certainty” on how the parole process is being used.
As negotiations continue, the liberal Democratic senators said they are concerned that the supplemental agreement could include changes to immigration and asylum processes – and said that could not happen without an amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
“Using a one-time spending package to enact these unrelated permanent policy changes sets a dangerous precedent and risks assistance to our international partners,” they said. “Any proposal considering permanent changes to our asylum and immigration system needs to include a clear path to legalization for long-standing undocumented immigrants.”
“We remain committed to working in good faith to modernize our outdated immigration system on a bipartisan basis and through a deliberative process,” they added. “We cannot truly secure our border and help American communities without increasing lawful pathways for migration and legalizing long-time undocumented immigrants who put food on our tables, care for our elderly, and form the fabric of our communities.”
Fox News’ Jamie Joseph contributed to this report.