Senators Release Border Deal to Unlock Ukraine Aid, but Fate Remains Uncertain


Senate Republicans and Democrats on Sunday cemented a compromise plan to crack down on unlawful migration across the U.S. border with Mexico and cleared a critical hurdle to an aid package for Ukraine, but the deal faces long odds in a Congress deeply divided over both issues.

The release of the agreement, struck after more than three months of near-daily talks among senators and Biden administration officials, counted as an improbable breakthrough on a policy matter that has bedeviled presidents of both parties and defied efforts at compromise for decades on Capitol Hill. President Biden implored Congress late last month to pass it, promising to shut down the border immediately once it became law.

But Speaker Mike Johnson has pronounced it “dead on arrival” in the Republican-controlled House. And with former President Donald J. Trump actively campaigning against the deal, it was not clear whether the measure could even make it out of the Democratic-led Senate, where it needs bipartisan backing to move forward.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, has said he plans to put the border and Ukraine package to an initial vote as soon as Wednesday, a critical test of its ability to survive.

“I know the overwhelming majority of senators want to get this done, and it will take bipartisan cooperation to move quickly,” Mr. Schumer said on Sunday in a statement. “Senators must shut out the noise from those who want this agreement to fail for their own political agendas.”

The plan features some of the most significant border security restrictions Congress has contemplated in years, including making it more difficult to claim asylum, vastly expanding detention capacity and effectively shutting down the border to new entrants if more than an average of 5,000 migrants per day try to cross over the course of a week, or more than 8,500 attempt to cross in any given day. Encounters would have to fall to 75 percent of those thresholds for a week before those processes could be restarted.

But it falls short of several Republican demands, including limiting parole and related programs that allow migrants to live and work legally in the United States without visas while they await a hearing on their immigration claims — sometimes for years.

Those omissions have alienated right-wing Republicans who insisted on far more severe measures, while the restrictions have enraged progressive Democrats. That could complicate the plan’s path through the closely divided Senate, where it needs bipartisan support — at least 60 votes — to move forward. And the compromises threaten to kill the agreement altogether in the G.O.P.-led House, where there is deep opposition to providing additional aid to Ukraine and many right-wing Republicans regard the immigration restrictions as insufficiently tough.

Mr. Trump has bitterly denounced the plan, calling it a “horrible, open-borders betrayal of America” and promising to “fight it all the way.” During a campaign event last month in Nevada, he urged Republicans to kill the measure and “blame it on me.”

With the new border measures, the price tag of the new bill is expected to be $118.3 billion — about $13 billion more than Mr. Biden initially asked for. The measure includes $60.1 billion to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, $14.1 billion in security assistance for Israel, $10 billion in humanitarian aid for civilians in conflict zones including Gaza, the West Bank and Ukraine, and $20.2 billion for improvements to border security.

The bipartisan Senate negotiations were spurred by an ultimatum in the fall by Republicans, who threatened to withhold their support for any bill to send Ukraine a fresh infusion of U.S. assistance unless the money was paired with severe border enforcement measures for the United States.

They followed through on the threat in December, blocking an emergency national security spending package requested by Mr. Biden that contained tens of billions in aid to Ukraine, funding for Israel’s war effort in Gaza, humanitarian assistance for Palestinians and security measures to counter Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Mr. Biden had included $13.6 billion for border security in his request, an indication that he and Democrats in Congress saw the situation at the border as a potential political liability in an election year. In the weeks that followed, their willingness to negotiate with Republicans about major policy changes to clamp down on unauthorized border crossings reflected a growing sense in the party of an untenable status quo, with a record-setting influx of migrants arriving in the United States without visas and the resulting crowding at shelters across the country.

Right-wing Republicans have rushed to capitalize on public dissatisfaction with Mr. Biden’s handling of the border, and many have argued that they should not support any immigration legislation that could allow the president or Democrats to claim credit for addressing the issue.

They have also taken aim at some of the provisions of the compromise that would streamline the process for migrants seeking to enter the United States.

The bill would raise the bar for migrants claiming a “credible fear” of persecution if returned to their home countries and would create a new voluntary repatriation program for the government to fly migrants back home on commercial airlines. But it would also direct that migrants who can claim a credible fear be released to live and work in the country, and allow immigration officers to grant asylum status on the spot to migrants presenting especially compelling cases. The bill also creates a review board to hear any appeals of the decisions, with the goal of making final asylum determinations within six months.

It also includes a measure to provide a government-funded lawyer to any unaccompanied children age 13 or under, and give any migrant put into expedited removal proceedings 72 hours to find a lawyer to contest deportation.

The bill would create 50,000 new green-card-eligible visas per year, for five years, 32,000 of which would be for families and 18,000 of which would be employment-based visas. Additionally, it ensures that the children of H-1B visa holders do not lose their green card eligibility once they become adults, and creates a new temporary visa category to let noncitizens visit U.S.-based family.

The bill also includes a version of the Afghan Adjustment Act, which creates a pathway to citizenship for Afghans who fled to the United States after the Taliban takeover.

Mr. Johnson and other House Republicans have said repeatedly that they will accept a border compromise only if it includes — or at least substantially mirrors — a severely restrictive bill they passed last spring. That legislation would revive a series of Trump-era policies, including a requirement that migrants who cannot fit in detention centers in the United States await their immigration court dates in Mexico, and an end to most programs that allow nationals of war-torn and economically ravaged countries to live and work in the United States temporarily.

G.O.P. lawmakers have also demanded a cap on the Biden administration’s ability to parole such migrants. The compromise features no such limits and no end to group-based parole programs.

Proponents maintain that their compromise will nonetheless have a tangible effect on border crossings, by expanding the administration’s ability to detain and process migrants and by eliminating the need for as many grants of parole.

Hamed Aleaziz contributed reporting.



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