Negotiators face major obstacles to meeting July border deadline

Negotiators face major obstacles to meeting July border deadline
© Getty Images

Negotiators searching for a solution to the crisis on the southern border must overcome major policy differences, as well as deep skepticism from their allies, before reaching a deal on overhauling the nation’s asylum laws.

Given the chasm between the two sides, a potential agreement isn’t expected until September at the earliest.

The crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where 144,000 migrants were detained last month, has overshadowed broader negotiations on border security, overhauling the nation’s legal immigration laws and creating a path to citizenship or permanent legal residency for young immigrants known as “Dreamers.”


“A lot of sticking points. I’ll give it a good college try,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate Judiciary Committee requests consultation with admin on refugee admissions Trump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition MORE (R-S.C.), who has primary jurisdiction over immigration reform efforts.

Graham met with senior White House adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump officials mull plan to divert billions more to border wall: report California trip shows Trump doesn't always hate the media Trump's 'soldier of fortune' foreign policy MORE and Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts Bipartisan group of senators urges FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately MORE (Ill.), a leading Democratic voice on immigration reform, last week to discuss asylum and broader immigration reforms.

Kushner, who is also President TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE’s son-in-law, is working on a broader plan that involves strengthening border security and overhauling the rules for legal immigration — which could gain bipartisan support if it includes a pathway to citizenship for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and legal residence for refugees who came into the country under what’s known as temporary protected status.

The administration believes it could help solve the border crisis, but its timeline is uncertain, and negotiations are likely to extend well into the fall.

White House officials and lawmakers argue that in the meantime, Congress needs to stem the flow of migrants that has spiked in recent months.

“They want to do something to deal with the border in the nearer future,” said Chris Chmielenski, deputy director of NumbersUSA, a group that favors reduced immigration levels.

Trump on Saturday tweeted that he had halted for two weeks his plan to initiate Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids nationwide. He said he was giving Democrats and Republicans more time to make changes to asylum laws.


“At the request of Democrats, I have delayed the Illegal Immigration Removal Process (Deportation) for two weeks to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border. If not, Deportations start!” he wrote.

But a congressional aide told The Hill on Monday that a committee markup of Graham’s bill isn’t likely until the week of July 8, “which is already past the president’s self-imposed two-week deadline.”

Any deal on changing asylum laws would likely move separately from a Senate bill to provide $4.59 billion in supplemental spending, which is scheduled for a floor vote this week.

That supplemental spending package includes $2.9 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to care for unaccompanied children and money for Customs and Border Protection and ICE.

Republicans feel they have growing leverage in the overall immigration negotiations.

When the federal government shut down in December because of a dispute over funding a border wall, Democrats called it a “manufactured crisis.” They have since dropped that term and now acknowledge the crush of migrants needs to be addressed with bipartisan legislation.

An administration official argued that Democrats misjudged the severity of the impending border crisis at the beginning of the year and that they are under pressure to compromise.

The official praised Graham’s bill, which would require migrants to apply for asylum from their home countries or Mexico, provide for 500 new immigration judges to reduce the backlog of cases, and modify the 1997 Flores settlement to allow migrant children to be detained with their families for up to 100 days, far longer than the current 20-day limit.

The legislation also would treat unaccompanied minors from Central America the same as those from Canada and Mexico, allowing the United States to return them to their countries of origin after screening.

The official argued that Democrats, who are opposed to Graham’s plan, need to come up with their own proposal, one that addresses what Trump sees as the “magnets” pulling migrants from across Central America to the United States.

The problem, as the administration sees it, is that migrants know that if they show up to the border as a family, they likely will be able to reside in the U.S. while they await further processing, giving them the opportunity to skip those legal proceedings.

Durbin said a main sticking point is over how to handle asylum requests from migrants from Central America.

He and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE (D-N.Y.) say migrants should be allowed to apply for asylum from their home countries but also continue to have the opportunity to apply from the U.S. once they cross the border.

“That’s the key difference between the Republican and Democratic position. We think they ought to have the option to be spared the trip and the expense and the danger to apply in their home countries. [Former President] Obama had such a program. Trump ended it. We want to start it again. We think that may take off some of the pressure,” Durbin said.

Durbin, however, opposes altering Flores or the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which requires unaccompanied minors detained by Customs and Border Protection be transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours.

He said the Central America Reform and Enforcement Act, which has the support of Schumer and fellow Democratic Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezAs NFIP reauthorization deadline looms, Congress must end lethal subsidies Senate Democrats warn Trump: Don't invite Putin to G-7 Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid MORE (N.J.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein calls on Justice to push for release of Trump whistleblower report Senate Judiciary Committee requests consultation with admin on refugee admissions Trump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick MORE (Calif.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security Senate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts Senate panel approves three spending bills MORE (Vt.) is a good marker of what his party would accept in talks with Graham and Kushner.

That legislation would help Mexico and Central American countries strengthen their own asylum statutes and expand processing capacity for resettlement in places other than the United States.

Additionally, the measure would provide assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to combat violence against women and children, strengthen public institutions, reduce corruption, and strengthen their economies.

The bill also would significantly increase the number of immigration judges.

Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said asylum requirements for migrants who cross the border should be tightened but voiced opposition to changing Flores.

“I do believe we need to control the influx of immigrants coming in from Central America, many of them with false expectations that they’re going to be granted asylum at some point in the legal process,” he said.

“There should be a very strict criteria as to when they can apply [for asylum] in the United States. They have to be in fear of their lives because of political persecution as opposed to just fleeing because of general violence or poverty or some other general condition,” Garcia added.

But he said that detention centers such as the one he visited recently in Clinton, Texas, where migrants are being held behind barbed wire and armed guards, need to be shut down.

“We need to get children back, reunited with their parents,” he said. “Children under no conditions should be kept in jail.”