President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans are rallying behind a bill to reopen the federal government that would provide temporary protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States by their parents as children in exchange for $5 billion to build a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who previously stated he wouldn’t waste time letting the Senate pass House bills that don’t stand a chance of becoming law under President Trump, will reportedly bring the DREAMers-for-a-Wall proposal up for a vote this week. Democrats, however, view the “compromise” as merely a temporary fix to a crisis the Trump administration created and have dug in their heels in opposition, while experts say the legislation is nothing more than a sham.
“Democrats were hopeful that the president was finally willing to re-open government and proceed with a much-need discussion to protect the border,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said over the weekend. “…It is unlikely that any one of these provisions alone would pass the House, and taken together, they are a non-starter. For one thing, this proposal does not include the permanent solution for the Dreamers and TPS recipients that our country needs and supports.”
The bill would supposedly extend benefits of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs, which offer temporary relief from deportation to thousands of immigrants, for another three years. The president rescinded both programs previously, in late 2017 and 2018, though several lower court rulings later determined the DACA rescission unjust, blocking its implementation. The Supreme Court also declined to review DACA this week, as Trump had requested, in order to determine whether the president had the authority to end it.
The text of the bill, which McConnell released Monday night, has raised red flags among immigration lawyers and advocates, who note the proposal includes massive restrictions to the U.S. asylum system.
Under the bill, called the “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act,” only 50,000 underage Central American migrant children would be able to apply for asylum each year and only 15,000 applications would be granted. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), not immigration judges, would not be the ones adjudicating these applications. Decisions would be final and non-reviewable.
This new procedure would require that DHS grant asylum “consistent with the national interest,” making it even more difficult to receive such protections.
“President Trump in his January 8 speech claimed to be extremely concerned for Central American women and children, but this proposal could effectively bring an end to asylum for Central American minors,” Greg Chen, Director of Government Relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association told reporters on Tuesday, referring to the president’s televised address to the nation, in which he suggested there was a crisis at the southwest border.
A ban on asylum for Central American minors does not include a ban on other forms of humanitarian protections like Withholding of Removal, which is granted to immigrants who can prove to a judge that they stand at least a 50 percent chance of being persecuted in their home country, and Convention Against Torture, which prevents the U.S. government from returning people to their nation of origin if there is a credible chance they will be tortured. However neither provides a path to citizenship and are increasingly difficult to obtain, due to strict demands for supporting evidence.
Furthermore, the bill guts the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), leaving room for the government to forcibly return asylum-seeking children to their country of origin unless it is “more probable than not” that they would win their asylum case or be trafficked — a very high bar to clear.
Under the proposed legislation, asylum claims could be declared “frivolous” if an immigrant presents false documents during the application process. Immigration attorneys say the change is just another way to restrict bona fide asylum seekers from entering the country, since many of the corrupt countries they are fleeing provide false documents without the asylum seeker’s knowledge.
In order to deter such “frivolous” applications, the bill would additionally implement a new processing fee for minors.
Immigration attorneys have also decried the bill’s TPS proposals, which they say would disqualify scores of people from seeking protection in the United States due to war or natural disaster.
TPS grants temporary relief from deportation to individuals fleeing countries ravaged by natural disasters or disease. Last year, the administration revoked protections for hundreds of thousands of TPS recipients from El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras. The GOP bill claims to extend protections for TPS recipients from those countries for three years, but omits other TPS designated countries like Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Nepal. These countries are technically still covered by TPS, however Yemen and Somalia will see their protections end in March 2020, and TPS designations for Nepal are set to end on June 24, 2019.
Included in the bill is a provision that would gut future TPS applications. At present, anyone from a designated TPS country can apply for protections. Under this bill, only people who are lawfully present in the United States — i.e. not undocumented — qualify for the status. Immigration advocates assert this provision would exclude nearly every current TPS recipient.
The ongoing government shutdown entered its 32nd day on Tuesday, as lawmakers on Capitol Hill spar over Trump’s proposed border wall funding. Already, some 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or forced to work without pay, and employees are losing an estimated $2 billion in paychecks every two weeks the shutdown continues.
Democrats have so far been reticent to give in to Trump’s demands, which they see as disingenuous. Republicans and the White House, meanwhile, are adamant about the wall’s necessity, suggesting it will deter violent criminals and drug smugglers from entering the country, both points which have been repeatedly debunked as misleading or inaccurate.