President Joe Biden and some Democrats in Congress are trying to make one hell of a bad deal.
A recent vote for emergency military funding that would have traded extremist demands from the Republican Party on immigration for billions of dollars in military aid to Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine failed in the Senate.
But now, some Democrats have signaled that they’re willing to trade human rights for more war funding — telling Republicans that they are ready to gut asylum protections and aid in mass deportations in exchange for those billions to send to Ukraine and Israel amid the latter’s atrocious war on Gaza.
The policies that Democrats are considering within this bill are truly horrendous and would result in permanent changes to our immigration system: nationwide expansion of expedited removals, which is a fancy way of saying mass deportations; ending humanitarian parole; restarting Title 42; and agreeing to the so-called “Safe Third Country” restrictions — the Asylum Ban redux.
Biden and Democrats are looking to resurrect — and in some cases expand — the worst policies of the Trump administration. Immigrant families who have been here for years, even decades, could be rounded up and deported. On the table also: A beefed-up version of Title 42 — a Trump-era emergency authority enacted under the pretense of pandemic-related health concerns that speeds deportations at the southern border. The “Safe Third Country” restrictions are just the asylum ban creeping up under some centrist think tank rebranding.
All this is to, in part, provide substantial military aid for more war in Israel and Ukraine. So we have to ask, who the hell is this deal supposed to be for, anyway?
Politically, there’s no electoral benefit for the Democrats here. Republicans and the compliant right-wing media ecosystem are going to say Democrats are “soft” on the border no matter how draconian a deal they make. There is no amount of “getting tough” that will satisfy Republicans. And shredding immigrant rights is a surefire way to turn off substantial portions of the Democratic base.
The sentiment on sending war funds to Israel as it engages in ethnic cleansing is increasingly unpopular. Polling released on December 5 from Data for Progress shows over 70 percent of Democrats support a ceasefire in Gaza, and 61 percent of all voters support the call for a ceasefire.
Morally, it’s an abject failure. These extreme, permanent changes to the immigration system will severely harm immigrants in our country and completely demolish what little credibility this administration has when claiming to be a bulwark against Trump-era policies. To do so in service of sending more money to a country committing war crimes is completely indefensible.
Modern asylum laws were created after the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed to the public with the defeat of Hitler’s Nazi regime and the liberation of concentration camps by Allied forces. During World War Two, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s government turned away thousands of Jewish refugees, fearing that they were Nazi spies and also motivated by ever-present antisemitism.
Throughout most of the war, the United States had a poor track record of offering asylum as millions of European Jews were displaced from their homes, forced into squalid conditions in ghettos, and eventually massacred in concentration camps. In one of the most horrific instances of our country turning its back on desperate people, the German ocean liner St. Louis and its 937 mostly Jewish passengers were turned away from the port of Miami, forcing the ship to return to Europe, where more than a quarter died in the Holocaust.
Modern asylum laws stem from the deep shame felt after the war, knowing more could have been done to help desperate people fleeing desperate conditions. The context is different but the same is true today. The Biden administration threatens to turn back progress by negotiating with bad-faith actors and betraying their core supporters, all while throwing truly vulnerable people under the bus.
The last major federal immigration overhaul was nearly 40 years ago when the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was passed through Congress. It included some anti-immigrant policies but also gave status to most undocumented people who had arrived in this country before January 1, 1982.
Almost 40 years later, millions of undocumented people live under never-ending fear of deportation and our laws have not been updated to ensure safety for refugees, asylum seekers, and other vulnerable people in an increasingly interconnected world.
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