December 18, 2023


On Friday, Senate Democratic leadership sounded optimistic that by Sunday, negotiators would reach a basic agreement on compromises weakening U.S. asylum and other migrant protections. That is Republican legislators’ demand for supporting the Biden administration’s $110.5 billion request for Ukraine and Israel aid, border measures, and other priorities. White House officials, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and a small group of senators met every day this past weekend. While senators say they’ve “closed out” some items and are getting closer to a deal, by Sunday evening they remained far apart. The Senate is now unlikely to pass legislation before the week of January 8, and the House will not be coming back until then.

According to partial reports, negotiators have reached general agreement on:

  • A suspension of the right to seek asylum, with Title 42-style expulsions, once migrant arrivals reach a certain threshold.
  • A geographic and numeric expansion of expedited removal, which requires asylum seekers to defend their cases before an asylum officer in a very rapid manner.
  • Higher standards of credible fear that asylum seekers placed in expedited removal proceedings would have to meet.
  • Detention of asylum seekers while pursuing their claims.

Reports indicate that negotiators disagree on:

  • The threshold that would trigger the new Title 42-like expulsions authority.
  • The extent of the nationwide expansion of expedited removal.
  • Which asylum seekers would be subject to mandatory detention (and presumably whether they would include families with children).
  • A Republican demand to roll back much of the 1950s-era presidential authority to grant humanitarian parole, currently being used to admit Ukrainians and a combined 30,000 citizens per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
  • Republican demands to negotiate new “safe third country” agreements to send asylum seekers elsewhere, and perhaps a new “Remain in Mexico” program.

White House officials met on Saturday with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which has voiced opposition to weakening asylum and whose members say they have been left in the dark about ongoing negotiations. Fifteen hard-right senators meanwhile sent a letter to the Senate Republican Conference demanding to be consulted on “rushed and secret negotiations with Democrats.” The large number of dissenters on both sides will make a majority hard to reach on any eventual deal.

Despite cold temperatures, thousands of migrants have been arriving atop trains in Ciudad Juárez, across from El Paso. As of this morning, CBP is suspending border railway crossings into El Paso.

Border Patrol migrant encounters remained very high in the agency’s Tucson, Arizona sector during the week ending December 14 (18,400), though down slightly from the week ending December 7 (18,900). Border Patrol processing facilities in the sector are at 130 percent capacity. The large-scale arrivals caused CBP to close its port of entry in remote Lukeville to assist with processing. Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) has ordered a deployment of National Guard personnel near the border.

Later today, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) will sign into law S.B.4, which makes unauthorized U.S.-Mexico border crossings a state crime punishable by prison if the captured migrant refuses to be returned to Mexico.

NewsNation reported that migrant deaths by drowning in the Rio Grande are worsening in Eagle Pass, Texas: “Currently, one trailer holds 24 deceased bodies, and officials say they need more trailers…‘This is where we store them… we encounter 2-3 bodies a day.’”

The United States has deported 52,192 Guatemalan citizens by air in 2023: 29,603 men, 12,849 women and 9,740 minors, both accompanied and unaccompanied; some were part of more than 7,000 family units.

Analyses and Feature Stories

The New York Times found that Democrats’ willingness to entertain some Republican demands on asylum and migrant protections reflects a “seismic shift” to the right on U.S. immigration politics. Many Democrats are upset and worry that it will hurt enthusiasm and turnout of Latino and progressive voters.

Part of the United States’ rightward shift, Keegan Hamilton wrote at the Los Angeles Times, is greater participation in, and tolerance of, armed militia groups at the border.

A letter from four leading members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops warned against new asylum restrictions, warning that they “will lead to many more deaths of immigrants on the border.”

Reuters found a sharp increase in the number of Mexican people fleeing to the border after being displaced by organized crime-tied violence.

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