Originally Published in The Hill
Rebecca Beitsch - March 24, 2021
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) plans to reintroduce a bill that would redesign the asylum system, seeking to block migrants from entering the U.S. by establishing refugee processing centers abroad.
It would also make it harder for refugees to claim they are fleeing due to a “credible fear” — upping the standards for migrants to gain asylum status.
“What we're trying to do is basically say, if you come to America, you will no longer be allowed to apply for asylum here,” Graham said.
“We want you to apply for asylum in your home country. If you’re a child and you show up at our border, we’re going to send you to your home country. You can apply for asylum there, we’ll give you a court date here. You can show up for your court date. But you won't be released within the United States,” he said.
The changes would be a shift from a system that recognizes some may need to flee their country immediately in order to avoid danger or persecution.
Though Graham attributed the need for the bill due to historic levels of unaccompanied children crossing the border, he previously introduced the bill in 2019. The bill advanced out of committee amid cries from Democrats that Graham skirted rules, but negotiations on the legislation died out just a few months later.
“I am for dealing realistically with people who've been here for a long time. I’m for doing something for the Dream Act population,” he said, referring to those without legal status who were brought to the U.S. as children. “The price is to control the border.”
Graham’s bill calls for appointing 500 new immigration judges in an effort to clear the backlog of immigration cases.
But his bill would also likely limit the number of asylum cases that go before a judge, changing the screening test so that only those who can show they are “more likely than not” to face harm would be advanced to a hearing.
“The credible fear standard is too low,” Graham said. “Most asylum seekers are not coming because of fear but because of economic distress.”
The legislation also takes a number of steps aimed at reducing the number of children in U.S. custody, allowing the U.S. to return children to their home country rather than house them.
“We have a quirk in our law. If you're a minor child from Mexico or Canada, we have the legal authority to send you back,” he said. “But if you’re from a noncontiguous country ... there’s no authority for us to send the unaccompanied minor back. I’ve changed that.”
The bill would also give the government 100 days instead of 20 to detain children — a major change to the Flores Agreement signed under the Clinton administration designed to limit the amount of time the government keeps children, including those arriving with their parents, in custody.
Graham said the extra time would give the government more time to process families without releasing them into the U.S.
The legislation comes as prospects for Democratic-led immigration bills are increasingly uncertain.
The House last week passed two bills that would grant a path to citizenship for some 5 million people, including Dreamers and some migrant farmworkers. But it faces opposition in the Senate without an agreement for stricter border measures.
Meanwhile, President Biden’s plan to grant citizenship to some 11 million people while lifting a number of immigration caps may not have enough support in either chamber.
Graham’s bill is the second major proposal from Republicans seeking to push Democrats to agree to tougher border control measures in exchange for status for Dreamers.
Legislation from Rep. Maria E. Salazar (R-Fla.) provides citizenship for Dreamers but calls for “enhanced physical barriers” at the border and swifter deportation of those with a criminal history. The legislation also includes a so-called trigger mechanism to “ensure border security is completed before other reforms take place.”