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Four Key Points for Democrats on the Immigration Moment

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Washington, DC – Republicans are seeking to use the supplemental funding process to enact a host of permanent and draconian immigration policy changes. Some Senate Democrats, such as Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) among others, are expressing openness to the discussion. 

The following is a statement from Vanessa Cárdenas, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

“Democrats should stand strong and not reward Republicans’ extremism, brinkmanship and attempt to make permanent policy changes via a short-term funding vehicle. We need to modernize our entire immigration system to deliver solutions for 21st century migration. Yet that process and the policy particulars cannot be defined and determined by a Republican Party that is trying to shoehorn cruel, chaotic and sweeping deterrence measures into the supplemental while blocking the larger reforms we need.

Sen. Murphy and other Senate Democrats must not throw our asylum system under the bus to achieve other policy objectives. There are genuine experts on immigration right there in the Senate, not the least of which are the Hispanic Senators and others who represent states rich with large immigrant populations. They should be consulted in these discussions so that the full scope of immigration issues is thought through carefully and that ineffective and permanent policies are not enacted in a vacuum to achieve other funding goals.”

Below are four key points for Democrats and other observers on the current moment:

Point 1: There are important border and asylum issues Congress can and should address in the supplemental funding package

  • The supplemental funding debate isn’t a binary choice between avoiding border/asylum issues altogether or delivering on Republicans’ wish list of restrictions. In fact, Congress should advance bipartisan solutions to provide smart resources at the border that make the existing process work better while keeping communities safe, including: asylum processing, reducing backlogs and work permit waiting times, resourcing states, localities and community shelter and support services,  and bolstering access to legal counsel. 
  • A smart funding package would better fund the system and ensure humane treatment for asylum applicants and would not permanently block access to safety. See more policy details on what Congress should prioritize and deliver in the supplemental package HERE.

Point 2: Short-term funding vehicles aren’t the place to make permanent policy changes 

  • Republicans are essentially saying that in exchange for funding the government, avoiding a shutdown and supporting our allies in Ukraine – or Israel, Taiwan and elsewhere – our country must enact a host of permanent draconian policy changes on immigration. 
  • We need a wholesale modernization of our immigration system. Yet that process needs to take place via regular order and involve a full-scale set of policy reforms, not just deterrence-only efforts being shoehorned into a short-term funding debate by a Republican Party that keeps proving itself unwilling or incapable partners in the basic functioning of government and our democracy. See more on why Democrats shouldn’t reward GOP’s proposed brinksmanship HERE.

Point 3: Don’t let Republicans define what immigration reforms should be on the table during a larger debate – especially as their proposals have a long and proven track-record of failure and would add more chaos and cruelty at the border

  • Senator James Lankford (R-OK), who rolled out a draconian and unserious immigration proposal this week to hold Ukrainian aid as hostage to an extreme GOP immigration agenda, dismissed the idea that a resolution for Dreamers might be part of a legislative package, telling reporters that “this is a national security package.” 
  • Yet the policies being pushed by Sen. Lankford themselves are sweeping – looking to advance a warmed-over version of House Republicans’ extreme, cruel, and unworkable HR2 legislation and filled with provisions to gut asylum access and re-up Trump’s failed policies. It also seeks to eviscerate legal pathways that are working to alleviate border pressures – the end of which would add more chaos and cruelty at the border. The President’s intelligent use of parole for certain countries is showing results by reducing traffic from those countries at the border, for the most part. 
  • Democrats should not let Republicans acting in bad faith define what a reform debate needs to be – our country needs a wholesale legislative modernization, including new legal channels to improve orderliness and strengthen our economy; processes for Dreamers and long-settled undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship; and elements to ensure we can process asylum seekers efficiently and secure our borders intelligently. See more on why the Senate GOP proposal is deeply unserious and would compound chaos and inhumanity HERE.

Point 4: How Democrats can and should address the politics of immigration 

  • Republicans’ relentless focus on anti-immigrant themes isn’t a political silver bullet. In fact, the GOP’s brand of nativist politics mostly didn’t factor in the 2023 off-year elections and hasn’t paid off in general elections going back to 2017 (eg: 2018, 2020, and 2022)
  • There are no shortage of examples of Republicans’ preference for ugly politics over real solutions – including their increased reliance on dangerous conspiracies and ‘open borders’ misinformation and their fealty to Donald Trump and his increasingly violent, anti-semitic, and dangerous policy and rhetoric. It’s part of an extremist agenda that alienates the majority of the country. The party is openly calling for mass deportation, military incursions in Mexico, and barring certain ethnicities, religions or nationalities from legal immigration or remaining in the country. 
  • Instead of thinking that embracing Republican-lite policies will spare them ugly political attacks or avoiding discussing the issue, Democrats must articulate a larger vision for immigration and the border and can and should draw clear contrasts between the larger vision and solutions they are seeking and Republicans’ politicization, obstruction and reliance on dangerous falsehoods and conspiracies.