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Press Release

Senators announce bipartisan immigration legislation

Global Refuge Staff

February 4, 2024

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 4, 2024

Contact: Tim Young | timothy.young@globalrefuge.org

Washington, D.C. – Senate negotiators have released long-awaited legislative text and summary of a bill linking emergency assistance for Ukraine and Israel to sweeping restrictions on asylum protections and $18.5 billion in funding for border operations, receiving communities, and hiring of additional asylum officers, border agents, and immigration judges.

Specifically, the legislation would create a new authority that, with narrow exceptions, would allow officials to summarily expel asylum seekers without asylum screening interviews when border encounters average 4,000 per day over a week. Expulsions would be mandatory when encounters reach an average of 5,000 per day over a week, or if they reach 8,500 in any single day. While invoked, U.S. border officials would also be required to continue processing a minimum 1,400 asylum seekers per day at official ports of entry.

“Secure borders and robust humanitarian protections are not mutually exclusive concepts, and our country can and should prioritize both,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Global Refuge. “While bipartisanship requires political compromise, it does not require compromising our nation’s core values. Migration poses a complex challenge, but without robust humanitarian exceptions, summary expulsions risk violating international law enacted precisely to safeguard against the refoulement of vulnerable people back to danger.”

Aside from the expulsion authority, the bill would also expand the scope of the executive branch’s expedited removal authority and establish a higher threshold for meeting the credible fear standard, which is the first step in requesting asylum. The legislation also institutes a new bar that would disqualify migrants from asylum protections if there are reasonable grounds to believe they could have internally relocated in their country of origin. Those who pass this higher initial screening threshold would generally be released pending full adjudication of their cases and be eligible for work authorization immediately.

“Expedited work authorization would allow asylum seekers to more quickly support themselves, which as a standalone measure would stimulate local economies, alleviate labor shortages, and relieve strain on receiving communities,” continued Vignarajah. “However, our concern is that moving the goalposts on initial asylum eligibility would ultimately deny protection to persecuted individuals and families based on increasingly arbitrary factors, and not on the merits of their claim.”

While the legislation would not legalize any of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. without documentation, it would allocate 50,000 new family- and employment-based immigrant visas per year for five years, offer lawful permanent residency to tens of thousands of Afghans evacuated to the U.S. following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and provide immigration status to the children of highly skilled H-1B visa holders.

We welcome the inclusion of additional visas and lasting stability for populations that have too long been left in legal limbo, like our Afghan allies and children of highly skilled workers who have only ever known this country as their home,” said Vignarajah. “Building additional legal pathways should be the cornerstone of any effort to alleviate strain on the border, and should have been a more pronounced priority in these negotiations. As our nation struggles with low birthrates and crippling labor shortages, we need to leverage smart immigration policy to meet our economic needs without abandoning our legal and moral obligations to people seeking refuge.”

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