Over the weekend, the public finally saw the text of a proposed federal funding bill that senators and White House officials have been negotiating for weeks behind closed doors. As expected, the proposed legislation was designed to implement extreme anti-asylum and detention policies—yet still fails to effectively address migration processing needs at the U.S.-Mexico border.
We'll give a quick break down of the bill below, but if you want more, you can read our deep-dive analysis of this bill.
Despite its extreme character, some anti-immigrant legislators have deemed it “dead on arrival” for not being cruel enough. Regardless of whether it passes, at the National Immigrant Justice Center we’re worried about how it could reshape future discussions about the role of immigrants in our society, how to restore a more just immigration processing system, and our government’s obligations to uphold human rights norms and offer refuge to people fleeing persecution.
U.S. communities are healthier and stronger when our policies are inclusive of immigrants and refugees, and Americans know this—people in cities across the country have been stepping up for over a year to welcome new neighbors arriving as part of the unprecedented humanitarian displacement taking place around the globe.
Members of Congress who claim to champion immigrant rights must speak out to oppose the harmful policies proposed in this bill.
In exchange for foreign military aid, the proposed funding bill would exponentially increase the jailing and surveillance of immigrants and create new complex immigration procedures that undermine basic constitutional rights.
The bill provisions we’re most worried about would:
- Violate the Refugee Convention by closing the border to people seeking safety
The centerpiece provision of the bill would require the U.S. government to seal the border to people seeking asylum when the number of people arriving at the border reaches certain quotas. This would force the United States to close its doors to countless people in need of asylum protection and send them back to harm.
- Increase ICE’s detention and deportation budget to record-breaking levels, higher than during the Trump administration
The bill would significantly expand U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) ability to detain and deport people, including families, despite the already-high numbers of people in immigration detention. Refugees would be punished with incarceration for the mere act of seeking safety and private companies contracting with ICE would reap the benefit.
- Exacerbate the humanitarian and operational challenges on the border
Like the procedurally similar Title 42 policy, expulsions and unpredictable border closures would create chaos at ports of entry and incentivize organized crime on the border. Refusing to process people so they may seek safety in the U.S. would mean they’d be trapped – unable to return home and vulnerable to kidnappings and violent crime by cartels and other armed groups. Under Title 42, people in this untenable situation were forced to try multiple times to reenter the United States, exacerbating processing delays.
- Make asylum largely inaccessible for those who are permitted to ask for it at ports of entry
The bill would create a rushed new process for people seeking asylum, starting with a screening interview most people would be set up to fail under newly heightened standards. People facing rushed deportations under this new process would NOT have access to review by an immigration judge or federal judge, effectively guaranteeing wrongful deportations. They would also be put under punishing surveillance measures that have serious physical and mental health consequences.
The greatest danger this bill poses is to reframe future immigration policy debates in a way that ignores the value and richness that immigrants and asylum seekers have always brought to the United States—especially if it draws the support of U.S. senators and representatives who have previously championed a more humane immigration system.
It is time to leave toxic immigration politics in the past and to demand that legislators work together to support humane and effective solutions that uphold the dignity of both newcomers seeking refuge and long-time community members.
Heidi Altman is the director of policy at NIJC.