Immigration activists, liberal Senate Dems trash border deal over lack of amnesty for illegals

Immigration activist groups, as well as some top immigration doves in Congress, are condemning the new immigration and border deal in the Senate — narrowing further the already embattled deal’s potential for passage.

Senate negotiators released the $118 billion supplemental spending deal package late Sunday, which includes funding for Ukraine, Israel and $20 billion in funding for border and immigration-related matters.

It includes a new border authority to allow Title 42-style expulsions when migration levels exceed 5,000 a day over a seven-day rolling average, and it narrows asylum eligibility while expediting the process, provides additional work permits to asylum seekers and funds a massive increase in staffing.

Sen. Bob Menendez, who led the push for the 2021 immigration reform bill championed by the Biden administration, called the bill unveiled Sunday unacceptable. (Getty Images)

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It is facing considerable heat from conservatives, including in the Republican-controlled House, where lawmakers have claimed the deal will regularize high levels of illegal immigration, while funding non-governmental organizations and giving legal aid to illegal immigrants.

But it has also upset many on the left, with immigrant activists saying it harms migrants without giving relief — including any form of amnesty for those in the country already, such as illegal immigrants who came to the country as minors and whom activists have named “Dreamers.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has led many lawsuits against immigration policies, including Title 42, said the deal would “force the government to summarily expel people from the border without due process, restricting legal pathways for the people who need them most.” 

Bob Menendez Sept 12

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., is seen in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, September 12, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

“Eliminating longstanding, core due process protections like court review of asylum cases and doubling down on harmful deterrence and detention policies are not going to get cities and states the support they need, nor are they a substitute for policies that would improve border management and address the immigration case backlog,” executive director Anthony Romero said. “This deal also fails to deliver on years of promises to enact reforms providing pathways to citizenship for Dreamers and other longtime residents.   ” 

The American Immigration Council called the effort to tackle an “unsustainable” situation at the border in a bipartisan way a “great step forward” but said it was unhappy with the result.

“Unfortunately, while this bill identifies many of the critical issues that need to be addressed to help us more effectively manage our southern border, it is incomplete in some respects and would be unnecessarily harmful in others,” executive director Jeremy Robbins said.

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“While the bill contains a series of positive measures, including an overall increase in green cards, increases in government funding to provide attorneys to unaccompanied kids, age-out protections for the kids of parents who are stuck in our years-long employment-based immigration backlogs, and a path to citizenship for our Afghan allies, it is silent when it comes to how to address the plight of Dreamers and others who have been forced to live in the shadows for far too long,” he said.  “And its key proposal for responding to increasing arrivals at the border — summary expulsions of individuals who are seeking humanitarian protections — is an approach that has proven to be a harmful and counterproductive policy under both the Trump and Biden administrations.”  

Migrants on the Mexico side of the border

Migrants try to reach the United States border to seek humanitarian asylum in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on January 17, 2024.  (Christian Torres/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Human Rights First accused Washington of “playing politics in ways that threaten refugees’ and other migrants’ lives.”

“Our government’s leaders must stop viewing the border as a numbers game. The United States cannot deny someone the right to seek safety and protection just because they are number 5,001 in line that day. The partisan posturing and political games being played in Washington serve no one,” CEO Michael Breen said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the Senate who have advocated for pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants were also furious at the bill. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who led the push for the 2021 immigration reform bill championed by the Biden administration, called the bill unacceptable.

“The so-called ‘bipartisan’ border negotiations in the Senate have yielded an unacceptable deal. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were told we would have an opportunity to provide meaningful input before the deal was consummated, but Senate leadership has brazenly reneged on their commitment,” he said. “They expect us to fall in line on a deal that directly impacts millions within our communities and will forever reshape America’s immigration system.”

“Accepting this deal as written would be an outright betrayal to the communities we have sworn an oath to protect and represent,” he said. “If these changes were being considered under Trump, Democrats would be in outrage, but because we want to win an election Latinos and immigrants now find themselves on the altar of sacrifice.”

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., meanwhile, said the bill “misses the mark.”

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He, too, accused it of reviving a Trump-era policy and failing to provide “relief” for illegal immigrants already in the U.S.

“It is critical that we support our allies in their fight to defend democracy and provide humanitarian relief, but not at the expense of dismantling our asylum system while ultimately failing to alleviate the challenges at our border.” 

The stance of the lawmakers and groups is at odds with the Biden administration, where President Biden, Vice President Harris and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas have all urged passage of the bill.

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