Amid recent reports of ongoing negotiations to couple international aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan with potentially significant changes to the asylum system, the Florence Project calls on United States Senators, particularly Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who is one of the Senators reportedly negotiating a deal, to immediately reject the premise that these two pieces of legislation can or should be linked.
By tying border policy to an unrelated international funding package, legislators are seeking to use the lives of asylum seekers as leverage, rather than engaging in thoughtful and purposeful policymaking. The budget negotiation and appropriations processes are not appropriate avenues for significant immigration reform, and permanent changes to asylum law should be meaningfully considered on their own merit, not as part of a budget negotiation process.
“At this moment in time, Congress should be prioritizing an approach focused on investing in a functioning asylum system,” said Laura St. John, Florence Project Legal Director. “This means considering changes to asylum law separately from any other legislation and with a team of negotiators that includes experts on immigration and champions for the rights of asylum seekers and migrants. True immigration reform that protects the fundamental human right to seek protection cannot be built by a bargaining team of people who prioritize detention and deterrence over humanity and welcome.”
In addition to these alarming reports, in the last several weeks, two different anti-immigrant proposals have been put forward in Congress, both of which the Florence Project condemns in the strongest possible terms.
The first is an extreme, anti-immigrant proposal tied to an international funding package for aid to Ukraine and is reminiscent of the H.R. 2 bill passed by the House in May. This bill, which could be the jumping off point for the aforementioned negotiations, represents the opposite of meaningful immigration reform. Instead, it would take a piecemeal approach with the apparent primary goal being to breathe new life into some of the most abhorrent, ineffective, and cruel policies of the recent past, including Remain in Mexico. It also would increase detention, including detaining families and children during their asylum cases, expand asylum bans, limit parole authority, and more.
“Everybody is entitled to live a life safe from harm and persecution; it is a fundamental human right,” said St. John. “It is despicable that members of the U.S. Congress would even consider taking away that right to seek safety, never mind using a fundamental human right as a bargaining chip in budget and funding negotiations. The proposed Senate bill would effectively end asylum as we know it, require everyone be detained, including families, and end protections for unaccompanied immigrant children. It is radical, extreme, and goes against our very core values. We urge all members of the Senate to immediately reject this legislation.”
The cruelty shown in this proposed legislation is yet another, particularly harsh, example of prevention through deterrence – the idea that if you make things difficult enough, you can stop people from attempting to come to the U.S. But the one thing we know after decades of failed deterrence-based policies is that strategies based in cruelty and deterrence are not only morally bankrupt, they also simply do not work. The truth is that people seeking protection in the United States are fleeing for their lives. We need and deserve a system that recognizes that reality and the humanity of those people who are making the most difficult decision to leave everything they know behind.
The second bill, also proposed by extreme legislators, would bar Palestinians from entering the United States as well as revoke visas, refugee, or asylum status granted to Palestinians on or after October 1, 2023. While the bill has no chance of becoming law, by introducing such legislation, politicians stoke racism and hate toward certain groups, in this case American Muslim and Palestinian communities, which often leads to increased prejudice and violence.
“The Florence Project condemns this bill in the strongest possible terms,” said St. John. “Any legislation that targets for exclusion people of a certain nationality, ethnicity, or religion is completely antithetical to American values.”
We urge members of Congress, particularly our Senators and Representatives in Arizona, to reject both of these proposals, stand firm in their support of the fundamental right for all people fleeing persecution and harm to seek protection in the United States, and never use the lives of asylum seekers as a political bargaining chips.