January 25, 2024

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In the Senate, Republican efforts to tie migration restrictions to Ukraine aid are sputtering, as former president and likely Republican nominee Donald Trump has been calling conservative Republican Senators and urging them to reject a deal.

The Biden administration has asked Congress for a $110.5 billion package of Ukraine and Israel aid, border spending, and other priorities. Republicans have refused to support the spending measure unless Democrats agree to include stricter border and migration measures; a small group of senators has been negotiating these demands since November.

Rights defenders and some Democratic legislators have sounded alarms about concessions that the negotiators may have already agreed on, including a new Title 42-like authority to expel asylum seekers on days of heavy migration (with a rumored threshold of 5,000 per day to trigger expulsions), tougher criteria for credible fear interviews, more detention, and perhaps some curbs on presidential humanitarian parole authority.

Senators on the Republican Party’s rightmost wing are arguing that the migration-restriction measures don’t go far enough. Hardline Republican senators apparently shouted at their moderate colleagues during a lunch meeting on January 23. They could scuttle a deal even before it goes to the Republican-majority House, where leaders may also take a hard line.

Just a few days ago, negotiators were raising expectations that a deal might be reached this week—that most of what remained was to work with appropriators to gauge the cost of the new restrictions. The change in prospects in the Senate is sharp, and indicates the sway that Donald Trump holds over the Republican Party.

The impasse may leave current asylum laws and standards in place, even as it puts in doubt the administration’s ability to provide Ukraine with new assistance to repel Russia’s invasion. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who favors Ukraine aid, hinted yesterday that he might favor standing down and de-linking migration restrictions from the Ukraine package: “The politics on this have changed.”

“In effectively backing away from the border-security-for-Ukraine construct that Hill Republicans clung to for the last few months, McConnell is acknowledging Trump’s continued stranglehold on the GOP,” wrote Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan at Punchbowl News. “Democrats will get to say they made huge concessions on parole and asylum during these talks, and Trump tanked it.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) published an open letter asserting his state’s “constitutional right to self-defense” against an “invasion,” a term that conflates asylum seekers and economic migrants with an invading army. The missive follows a January 22 Supreme Court finding allowing the federal Border Patrol to access the Rio Grande riverbank by cutting through razor-sharp concertina wire laid by Texas state police and national guardsmen.

Some Republican politicians are urging Texas to ignore the Supreme Court ruling. This would be unconstitutional—but it’s not clear what “ignoring” means, since Monday’s ruling doesn’t compel Texas to do anything except abstain from confronting Border Patrol agents when they determine that they need to cut through the concertina wire.

The Court did not require Texas to remove any wire or prohibit Texas from adding new wire, as the state has been doing this week in Eagle Pass. The decision was limited to the scope of Texas’s October lawsuit seeking to stop agents from cutting it. That case remains before the federal courts’ 5th Circuit.

DHS sent Texas’s attorney-general a new letter (following one issued January 14) reiterating its demand that federal agents be permitted access to Shelby Park, which occupies 50 acres of riverfront border in Eagle Pass. The letter contends that the Supreme Court’s decision not only allows agents to cut the concertina wire but to be present in the park, and the border area in general.

Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector reported 6,025 migrant apprehensions during the week of January 17-23, a notable increase from 4,606 the previous week. Across the border, Border Patrol apprehended about 4,000 migrants on Tuesday, which remains a bit less than half the reported December average.

CBP sources leaked to Fox News an estimate that 96,000 migrants evaded detection during October-December 2023. If accurate, that would point to Border Patrol apprehending about 85 percent of attempted migrants, which is in line with the past few years and historically high.

Analyses and Feature Stories

“More Border Patrol agents will not stop what’s happening right now, we’re not having a difficulty encountering people,” Border Patrol Tucson Sector Chief John Modlin told Arizona Public Radio, referring to large numbers of asylum seekers turning themselves in to agents in remote Arizona desert. “The difficulty is what’s happening after we’re encountering them. That’s where the system is now overwhelmed.”

TRAC Immigration found a serious shortage of attorneys as the U.S. immigration courts’ backlog inflated to 3,287,058 cases by the end of December. In many cases, the shortage affects both sides: “ICE has adopted the practice of not sending an attorney to many hearings.”

The 42,637 northbound refugees and migrants recorded transiting Honduras in December included fewer Venezuelans, Cubans, and Haitians than in November, but 11 percent more people from Sub-Saharan African countries and 31 percent more from Asian countries, according to a UNHCR monitoring report.

As it has moved to abandon fentanyl smuggling, the Sinaloa Cartel faction controlled by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s sons is aggressively pursuing migrant smuggling, including ransom kidnappings, reported Milenio.

A letter from prominent Miami Cuban-American leaders, many of them Republican, urged House Republicans to abandon their effort to impeach DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who is Cuban-American.

On the Right

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