WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans have released a sweeping set of U.S. border security proposals as a condition for sending more aid to Ukraine, laying out a draft plan to resume construction on parts of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, curtail humanitarian parole for people who cross into the United States and make it more difficult for migrants to qualify for asylum.
President Joe Biden last month sent Congress a $105 billion request for aid to Ukraine and Israel that also sought $14 billion for managing the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. But Republicans have said the White House proposals do not have enough teeth, and have pushed border policy changes to be linked with the aid for the two countries’ conflicts.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has not said whether he supports the proposal released Monday by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jim Lankford of Oklahoma. But he told The Associated Press in an interview Monday that he has been discussing the entire package of aid with the White House, including border policies.
Adding more enforcement for the U.S. border “is the best way to get nine Republican senators on board,” McConnell said, referring to the number of GOP senators needed to overcome a filibuster and pass legislation with 60 votes, assuming all Democrats are supportive. McConnell, who has strongly pushed for the Ukraine aid, said he thinks “every single Republican in the Senate and the House” believes that the influx of migrants is a major problem.
“We don’t want to miss the opportunity to deal with one of our problems that won’t cost much of anything,” McConnell said. “At the same time, I don’t think that will prevent us from doing what we need to do.”
The GOP proposal released Monday is unlikely to win immediate Democratic support — it borrows heavily from a Republican border bill passed by the House in May, and omits some of Biden’s proposals to help migrants who are already in the country — but it could be seen as an initial offer as Democrats write legislation based on Biden’s proposal. Democrats are also looking to find compromise on a spending bill to keep the government running past Nov. 17, when funding expires.
There is broad bipartisan support in Congress for assisting Israel as the country wages a new war with Hamas. But an increasing number of Republicans have said they are wary of sending more money to Ukraine after a year and a half of U.S. assistance, and have stressed that securing America’s borders is as important as supporting the ally in its war with Russia. The House passed a more than $14 billion aid package for Israel last week, and new House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has said the House will next consider legislation that combines Ukraine aid and border policy.
“We’re not going to try to secure other countries and not secure ours,” said Lankford, who also noted he has talked with Johnson as the House tries to craft its own proposal.
But finding agreement on the border will be difficult, and could easily hold up further Ukraine aid, as immigration has been one of the most intractable issues in Congress for decades. Republicans are hoping that Democrats will feel political pressure to accept some of their border proposals as illegal crossings topped a daily average of more than 8,000 last month and as Biden, who is up for reelection next year, has struggled to manage an increasing number of migrants.
Lankford noted that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at a hearing last week that the “asylum system needs to be reformed from top to bottom.”
But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who has worked in the past with Republicans on immigration issues, said the proposal “is not a good starting point.” He said the bill would end relief to some refugees from Ukraine, Afghanistan and other countries “who we should be aiding, not deporting.”
Immigration advocates who have been pushing for broader immigration and border solutions flatly rejected the GOP proposal that would make it more difficult for immigrants to claim asylum and would return to some Trump-era strategies.
Kerri Talbot, executive director of the Immigration Hub, said in a statement, “At a time when we need concrete actions and solutions to address the challenges of global migration, the senators have offered a redundant set of recommendations that are cruel, impractical, and dead on arrival.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said he had been talking to some of the Republicans as they wrote the border proposal, and the text released Monday evening “is not realistic.” He said there are Democratic priorities, including preventing the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, that should be on the table as well.
Murphy, who led ultimately successful negotiations on bipartisan gun legislation last year, said he still had hope that the two sides could find a narrow agreement on shared immigration priorities.
“I’ve been around this place long enough to know that sometimes when you can’t fail, you don’t,” Murphy said. “And we can’t fail on Ukraine.”
It is unclear, though, how much Republicans would be willing to give in negotiations on the border language. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who supports the Ukraine aid, said GOP senators are going to use the package as “a maximum point of leverage” as they push Biden to do more. That could include blocking a vote on Ukraine aid if it didn’t include GOP border priorities, Cornyn said.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Democrats “just need to understand that our members are dead serious about having border security.”
The GOP proposal would make it more difficult for asylum-seekers to prove in initial interviews that they are fleeing political, religious or racial persecution. It would detain families at the border and require migrants to make the asylum claim at an official port of entry. It also takes aim at a cornerstone of the Biden administration’s border strategy of granting humanitarian parole to migrants from countries experiencing unrest.
U.S. and international law give migrants the right to seek asylum from political, religious or racial persecution, but conservatives say many people take advantage of the current system to live and work in the U.S. while they wait for their asylum claims to be processed in court.
The package would also renew some of the same policies pursued by former President Donald Trump, such as building walls along the border.
Majority Senate Democrats are expected to introduce legislation based on Biden’s funding request in the coming days, and it is so far unclear what they will include on the border. The White House and McConnell have been part of those discussions, and “we hope to be able to come up with something we can all support,” McConnell said.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.