Democrats are considering imposing tough new immigration rules as part of a bargain with Republicans to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for Ukraine.
Senators from both parties are locked in talks over a string of proposals including tightening the rules for would-be asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border.
Republicans are also seeking to clamp down on Joe Biden’s power to temporarily admit refugees to the US, a vehicle he used to admit tens of thousands of refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine.
Senate Republicans are making the demands a potential condition of their support for the president’s request for $106 billion in emergency funding, largely for military aid to Ukraine and Israel.
A number of Democratic senators have said they support tightening immigration rules amid fears the chaotic scenes unfolding on America’s southern border have become a political albatross going into the 2024 election.
Leaders in Democratic-strongholds have already sounded the alarm over the influx of migrants, including New York, whose mayor warned the crisis could “destroy” the city.
In a sign of just how much the party’s position has shifted, reports suggest Democratic negotiators have not demanded protections for “Dreamers”, undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children, as part of the deal.
Offering a pathway to citizenship for the “Dreamers” is a longstanding Democratic priority.
In anticipation of a progressive backlash, the White House has been quietly contacting progressive groups, including prominent immigration advocates, to prepare them for compromises they might find unsavoury, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Senator Thom Tillis, one of the Republican negotiators, said the two parties were making progress on tightening asylum rules but suggested Democrats were resisting demands to rein in Mr Biden’s humanitarian parole powers.
The White House has been using the mechanism to encourage people to enter the US via an official route in a desperate bid to bring down the number of illegal border crossings.
Under the system, migrants are granted permission to enter until a court date to hear their asylum case.
Republicans have argued that it has not discouraged illegal crossings and many granted parole simply remain in the country undocumented.
One GOP proposal would impose strict limits on the number permitted entry under parole authority each year, another would restrict the powers to one-off cases rather than entire groups of people.
Republicans have also floated reviving the Trump-era policy of forcing migrants to remain in Mexico while their cases are processed.
Democrats are under pressure to secure a deal as soon as possible, with the White House calling it a “critical time” for Ukraine and one senator warning Kyiv was close to being “out of bullets”.
Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, has said he hopes to put the aid package to a vote next week.
“Republicans are making it difficult, but we’re going to keep at it,” he said.
Any proposal will need GOP support to muster 60 votes in the 51-49 Democrat-led Senate, and to pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The House has passed its own more hard-line border legislation to make its position clear and its Republican speaker Mike Johnson has warned it will not support Ukraine funding without border policy changes.
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