Dec 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Inside the White House's border assurances to Hispanic lawmakers

Thousands of immigrants, most wearing thermal blankets, await processing at a U.S. Border Patrol transit center Tuesday in Eagle Pass, Texas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Biden officials have told Hispanic lawmakers that they are resisting GOP demands to limit the administration's authority to release migrants through the legal tool known as parole, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: The assurances on parole will complicate the already-fraught negotiations with Republicans over pairing additional aid to Ukraine — a key priority for President Biden — with major changes to border policy.

Behind the scenes: The administration's holding-the-line message was conveyed by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and White House chief of staff Jeff Zients over a Zoom call this weekend.

  • Top Biden officials are trying to placate members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who have expressed public anger at being left out of border policy negotiations.
  • They told the lawmakers that they would brief them again — before any potential deal is reached.
  • But Latino lawmakers remain frustrated that they haven't been more involved in the talks.

What they're saying: "We hear a lot of what concessions are we giving to Republicans, when there is not really any 'gets' on our side," Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), who was part of the small briefing, told Axios.

  • "That's not a negotiation. That's a hostage taking," Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who was also briefed, told Axios. "And the question is how far you're going to let them take you hostage."
  • Zients and Mayorkas explained to the CHC the proposals on the table and told them there are still some important policy issues that are being worked through, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Driving the news: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) acknowledged Tuesday afternoon that a deal would not come before the holidays.

  • "Everyone agrees on both sides that it takes more time," he said.

Zoom out: By tying border security with a supplemental spending request for Ukraine and Israel, the White House and Senate Democrats are attempting a difficult balancing act. The politics are difficult.

  • Vulnerable Democrats are urging Biden to do more to secure the border, but progressives and some members of the CHC are warning the White House that harsher border policies could depress the president's base.
  • "One of the untold stories of 2018 and 2020 is the number of Hispanic voters from [Michigan and Georgia] that pushed Democratic elected leaders over the top," said Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.).

Zoom in: There are two key policies Democrats are watching closely —restrictions on parole, which Republicans have routinely criticized as an enforcement "loophole," and expediting work permits.

  • Officials told senators they were not backing down on parole.
  • The Biden administration has made unprecedented use of parole — both to release people into communities when Border Patrol is overwhelmed and as the basis for new, legal pathways into the country for select nationalities.

What to watch: Republicans are also pushing to codify a measure that would allow border officials to immediately reject migrants at the border without allowing them access to the asylum system.

  • It would look similar to the Trump and COVID-era policy known as Title 42 but would be triggered whenever border crossings passed a still-unspecified threshold. (Title 42 was tied to public health concerns, not border traffic.)
  • There is also growing agreement on raising the standard for "credible fear," which is the first step in the asylum process.
  • Migrants must prove to officials that they have a credible fear of discrimination in their home country. An overwhelming majority pass this step, even as many will not be granted asylum down the road.
  • Negotiators are also considering adding measures to expedite work permits for people who are already in the country and waiting to go through the legal immigration process.
  • Quicker work permits have been a top demand from Democratic city leaders who have struggled to accommodate the greater number of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in their cities.
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