New Bill Would Trade Away Asylum Seekers’ Rights
By Ayelet Parness
Feb 5, 2024
On Sunday, the U.S. Senate introduced a $118 billion supplemental funding bill after months of negotiations. The bill ties funding to a number of agencies and initiatives — including aid to Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, Taiwan, and U.S. refugee programs — to policies severely restricting access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. These new policies, which would represent the most significant overhaul of immigration law in decades, would have disastrous and lasting effects on the U.S. asylum system.
The bill includes a Title 42-like expulsion policy that would require U.S. Customs and Border Protection to expel non-citizens who cross the U.S.-Mexico border between ports of entry, with few exceptions, if the number of such crossings average over 5,000 in a week or 8,500 in a single day. People expelled would not be screened for asylum claims, and those expelled multiple times would be penalized with a one-year bar on admission to the U.S.
The bill would also dramatically raise initial screening standards for asylum seekers, likely cutting off access for many with valid claims. It would also speed up the asylum process to the extent that people will not have enough time to find an attorney or adequately prepare to represent themselves in proceedings that will determine whether or not they are allowed to live in safety in the U.S.
Taken together, these policies would result in many asylum seekers being denied this essential lifeline and being returned to the dangers they were trying to escape in their home countries — in direct contradiction of federal and international law.
“While we recognize that there are undeniable challenges at our southern border, this so-called Senate deal would do nothing to alleviate that pressure and would undermine asylum protections for people fleeing for their lives,” said Mark Hetfield, HIAS president and CEO, in a statement. “The Senate bill would undermine U.S. asylum law, endangering people attempting to seek protection in this country during an unprecedented global displacement crisis. Instead of making our nation safer and leading by the power of our example, this bill would make it almost impossible for people to access asylum, while at the same time creating uncertainty and chaos.”
These policies would result in many asylum seekers being denied this essential lifeline and being returned to the dangers they were trying to escape in their home countries — in direct contradiction of federal and international law.
The supplemental funding bill also includes some policies that would help displaced people and for which HIAS has long advocated. Among them are provisions from the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would provide a pathway to permanent status to the thousands of Afghan evacuees admitted to the U.S. under temporary humanitarian parole status. The bill would also expedite work permits for some asylum seekers.
Hetfield criticized what he characterized as cynical moves to attach these essential measures to poison-pill asylum restrictions, pitting the needs of different groups of displaced people against each other.
“It is wrong for lawmakers to link these issues now, just as it is inappropriate to tie these proposed border restrictions to aid for Israel, Taiwan, and Ukraine, which should be evaluated on their own merits,” he said.
This is a critical moment for asylum in the United States. HIAS is calling on Congress to reject this bill that would tie vital aid to policy that would gut the U.S. asylum system. Instead, lawmakers should pass humanitarian assistance provisions on their own, without being tied to broader policy change. It is vital that HIAS supporters make their voices heard in this moment when the future of asylum in this country is at risk. Call or write your members of Congress to ask them not to compromise on support for displaced people.