Trading Immigration for Aid

Terry Schwadron
4 min readNov 30, 2023

Terry H. Schwadron

Nov. 30, 2023

However incongruous and divorced from the realities of warfare involving Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan, there’s a conversation going on in Congress about finding a way to trade changes in U.S. border enforcement for a vote on continuing promised military and humanitarian aid to our allies.

Basically, such a deal is the price being demanded by the most extreme House Republicans, who earlier this year passed a bill going nowhere that sought to limit migration in several ways and restart border wall construction.

From all reports, however, a significant slice of Democrats share interest in addressing current migrant issues on the border. As a result, there is activity among a bipartisan group of lawmakers towards coming up with an agreement about some aspects of immigration.

While the White House and many supporters of continuing international aid oppose the demanded linkage with border issues, we’re seeing it happen because of the demands of two wars at a time of uncertain politics over Congressional squabbling over funding the government altogether.

From a political standpoint, this is more about scoring points for a belligerent House Freedom Caucus and Speaker Mike Johnson than it is about intelligent and thoughtful set of solutions either for war, border, or federal spending levels, but it is the ugly side of partisan politics showing us how the sausage may need to be made for results that mean actual life and death to those far from Washington.

Too Soon to Gauge

It seems too soon to know what any of this means in a practical sense in either theater of war or on the border. House Republicans involved seem to think that only their views are acceptable, while Joe Biden, Democrats and some policy-minded Republicans think that there are such niceties as legality and proper procedures that need be followed.

Biden proposed billions of dollars in a large spending package to continue military aid for Israel, humanitarian aid for Gaza, military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, and, naturally, investment in U.S. companies for weapons-making — all in recognition that the United States is playing a critical, strategic role in the world, and that these conflicts are central to U.S. interests.

The House Republicans have balked, stripping the aid packages from continuing resolutions to keep the federal government operating, and demanding adherence to its own House 2 immigration bill passed back in January as a price for a vote on the international aid. Republicans led by Donald Trump and the right-wing Freedom Caucus generally favor an isolationist view of the world and see spending on problems at home as trumping spending for conflicts abroad.

That House bill would limit the ability of the Department of Homeland Security to provide parole to migrants seeking asylum in the United States by defining reasons for which that parole may be granted. Basically, the bill would restore Trump-era rules to force migrants to wait for asylum hearings in Mexico or other countries.

The bill would also require restarting construction of 900 miles of border wall, change procedures for asylum application involving unaccompanied minors, would require the State Department to negotiate with countries in the Western Hemisphere, particularly El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, concerning agreements related to claims for asylum. It would require all employers to use E-Verify, a federal web-based system to assure legal documentation.

The bill would direct Customs and Border Protection to hire enough border patrol agents to maintain staffing at 22,000 and increased surveillance operations.

The Possibilities

There is no question that immigration has political implications as well as proving an emotional issue. As migrant housing and processing issues have struck the country’s biggest cities, the perception that something needs doing has crossed partisan lines and has emerged as among the top continuing concerns in next year’s elections.

Still, we have not seen Biden, who is dealing with signs of dropping popularity, wade into these current congressional negotiations. Nor has there been much concern to date about the maze of contradictory court rulings that have made enforcement of one migrant policy or another into a system nearly impossible to parse. Issues involving normally expected legal immigration for marriage, schooling or business are just as complicated as they are for the surging global migration that is sending waves of would-be asylees to our southern border.

We’re still at the point in these negotiations — primarily among senators — about what issues are in or out. You might think that there would be consideration of a path to citizenship, for example, to account for millions of migrants in the United States, but Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., says Republicans tell him that is a non-starter.

For others, the issues include anti-drug efforts towards stopping fentanyl smuggling, an issue that somehow has become entwined with the movements of people fleeing violence and poverty at home — a trend that certainly will worsen as climate change makes parts of the world unlivable.

If you’re under fire in the Middle East or in Ukraine, it must seem beyond belief that Washington can’t even decide what it is arguing about.