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What’s in the $118B bipartisan Senate package to secure U.S.-Mexico border, aid Israel and Ukraine?

WASHINGTON — Senators have come out with a carefully negotiated $118 billion compromise that pairs tens of billions of dollars in wartime aid for Ukraine with new border laws aimed at shrinking the historic number of people who have come to the U.S. border with Mexico to seek asylum.

The legislation faced immediate opposition from many Republicans in both chambers, and House GOP leaders said it would not even receive a vote. But bipartisan negotiators are laboring to sell the package as part of a last-ditch effort to approve money for Ukraine’s defense against Russia, emphasizing that Congress has the best chance in years to make changes to U.S. immigration law.

The bill would also send military aid to Israel, funding for allies in the Asia-Pacific and humanitarian aid for refugees fleeing Gaza.

While President Joe Biden has worked toward the deal with Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate, it faces a difficult, if not impossible, path to passage. Echoing opposition from their House counterparts, Republican senators have said the border policy doesn’t go far enough and questioned additional aid to Ukraine. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called it “an easy NO.”

The package has also drawn strong opposition from Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee.

Some Democrats are also expected to oppose the deal. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., said he opposes changes that it would make to the asylum process. “This border deal misses the mark,” Padilla said in a statement.

Here’s what to know about the package:

Billions for U.S. Allies and National Security

The package contains $60 billion in aid for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel. It would invest in domestic defense manufacturing, bolster humanitarian assistance and manage the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. In addition, $10 billion would aid humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, Israel, Gaza and other places.

The package would also send $20 billion to immigration enforcement, providing money to hire thousands more officers to evaluate asylum claims, add hundreds of more Border Patrol agents and help stop the flow of fentanyl.

Toughened Asylum Process

The bill would overhaul the asylum system with tougher standards and faster enforcement.

Asylum offers protection to people fleeing persecution for race, religion, political affiliation or membership in a discriminated group. It is part of international law and helps the U.S. protect human rights, but the system has become overwhelmed in recent years with historic numbers of people seeking asylum at the border with Mexico.

Under the proposal, migrants would have to show during initial screenings that they have a reasonable possibility of being granted asylum. Migrants would also be barred from making an asylum claim if they are found to have a criminal history, resettled in another country or could have found safety if they had resettled in their home country.

Migrants who cross the border illegally between a port of entry would be detained and receive a screening within 10 to 15 days.

Migrants who pass the new screening would then receive a work permit, be placed in a supervision program, and have their asylum case decided within 90 days. Migrants who seek asylum in between ports of entry would be put into detention while they await the initial screening for an asylum claim. The proposal calls for a large growth in detention capacity.

The proposal also calls for a large expansion of a Biden administration program that tracks families who arrive at the border while they await the screenings for their asylum claim. The program was developed as an alternative to detention for families.

Immigration advocates have raised concerns about the asylum changes, saying the current standard is deliberately low because migrants are often fleeing desperate conditions, don’t have legal representation, and are still shaken by their journeys.

Border Enforcement

Under the proposal, migrants would not be able to apply for asylum at all if illegal border crossings reach certain numbers.

The policy is similar to one first used by President Donald Trump. Known as Title 42, it justified the quick expulsion of migrants from the country in the name of stopping the spread of COVID-19.

The bill proposes a similar expulsion authority if the number of migrant encounters tallied by Customs and Border Protection reaches 4,000 a day over a five-day average across the Southern border. Once the number of encounters reaches 5,000, expulsions would automatically take effect. For context, border encounters topped 10,000 on some days during December, which was the highest month on record for illegal crossings.

Under the proposal, migrants could still apply at ports of entry. And once the average of illegal crossings dropped by 75%, the administration would have two weeks to end the use of the emergency authority.

Supporters of Title 42’s use say it was a necessary tool that allowed border officials to expel migrants quickly and freed them up to patrol the territory they were supposed to protect. But critics have questioned how effective Title 42 really was. They say it’s hard to get an accurate picture because migrants ejected under Title 42 would try repeatedly to cross the border. Critics also say it empowered cartels that preyed on the buildup of migrants south of the border.

If migrants facing expulsion raise concerns with border patrol officers that they could be persecuted if returned specifically to Mexico, they could still be allowed to apply for asylum.

Limits on Presidential Immigration Authority

The legislation would place limits on how presidential administrations can use “parole” to allow migrants into the country at the border. It would eliminate parole as it is used when migrants cross the border illegally or show up at ports of entry, and instead place them into the new system for evaluating asylum claims.

The Biden administration would still be able to schedule asylum screenings through an app. Also, the administration’s authority to allow people into the country when they are fleeing unrest or war would be preserved. The authority, known as humanitarian parole, had been a sticking point in the negotiations.

Aid for Migrants, Cities, States

While progressive and Hispanic Democrats have raised concerns that the package will harm migrants seeking asylum, the legislation offers some measures aimed at helping migrants already in the U.S. and the cities and states where they’ve gone. It would send $1.4 billion to local programs like shelters that have seen large influxes of migrants and speed work permits for migrants awaiting an asylum claim.

The legislation would also authorize sanctions and anti-money laundering tools against criminal enterprises that traffic fentanyl into the U.S. And it would provide 50,000 visas for employment and family-based immigration each year for the next five years.

However, the bill does not contain broad immigration reforms or deportation protections for unauthorized immigrants that were foundational to previous Senate deals.

Pathway for Afghan Allies

The legislation would also have a pathway to residency for Afghans who worked alongside U.S. soldiers in America’s longest war. Nearly 76,000 Afghans who worked with American soldiers since 2001 as translators, interpreters and partners arrived in the U.S. on military planes after American troops were removed from Afghanistan in August 2021.

The provision would eventually enable qualified Afghans to apply for U.S. citizenship and adjust the status of eligible evacuees to provide them with lawful permanent resident status after vetting and screening procedures.

Copyright © 2024 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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