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Explainer: Why would more money for Ukraine equal fewer refugees in the US?

U.S. Border Patrol agents detain migrants who attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border undetected, in an area outside Sunland Park desert, New Mexico, U.S., June 23 2023.

U.S. Border Patrol agents detain migrants who attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border undetected, in an area outside Sunland Park desert, New Mexico, U.S., June 23 2023.

REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

US Republicans have wanted to tighten immigration rules ever since President Joe Biden took office – and may now get their wish. Conservative lawmakers are tying financial support for Ukraine and Israel to a revamp of US border policy, and Biden says he is willing to make “significant compromises on the border” to meet their demands. So what are they asking for?


An end to humanitarian parole

The US has long admitted immigrants for urgent humanitarian reasons, including refugees from Hungary, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, as well as Iraqi Kurds. Under Biden, the US airlifted over 80,000 Afghans in 2021 and admitted 271,000 Ukrainians as of February 2023, and this year it granted humanitarian parole to 270,000 migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

The GOP offer wants to end the humanitarian parole program in place for all these countries. Migrants would also not get a second parole if the terms of their stays expire before their cases are heard.

Tighter rules for asylum

Asylum applicants first undergo a “credible fear interview” to establish that they genuinely fear persecution or torture in their home countries. Successful candidates are allowed to stay in the US and pursue their case in immigration court, which can take years. Ultimately, one in two of these applicants is rejected, fueling Republicans’ long-standing complaint that they abuse the system to remain in the US – and that fewer of them should be allowed to apply.

A boost to expedited removal

The process of Expedited Removal was established in 1996 to allow immigration officers to rapidly deport immigrants without involving a judge. Initially in force within 100 miles of the US northern and southern borders, the administration of President George W. Bush extended it in 2002 to migrants arriving by water, and its use increased in 2004. President Donald Trump attempted to extend it nationwide, but legal challenges stymied his efforts. Now, the Republicans are once again demanding that it be extended to apply to migrants entering anywhere on the entire land mass of the United States.

The net result of these changes would be more removals and fewer applicants, who would be deterred from seeking asylum or illegally entering the United States. But if Biden is serious about coming to a deal, he needs to act fast: The House of Representatives is planning to recess on Friday, and January is sure to once again be dominated by government funding negotiations.

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