Posted on May 10, 2023

GOP Border Bill Would Gut Pathways to Asylum

Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill, May 10, 2023

A Republican border and immigration bill set to come to the House floor Thursday would represent one of the biggest clawbacks of asylum rights in decades if enacted, experts warn.

The GOP is aiming to pass the bill May 11 — the same day President Biden is set to lift Title 42. It’s a move that will restore some access to asylum rights for the first time since the start of the pandemic, even as the administration rolls out significant new limitations on who and how people seek such protections.

But with the White House poised to restore limited pathways for people fleeing persecution and danger, the GOP bill would slice away at asylum rights and other options for migrants to remain in the U.S.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, said the bill would “effectively end the system of asylum that we’ve had for the last 43 years.”


The bill contains a number of GOP priorities meant to reinforce border security, reinstating some policies from the Trump era.

It requires the completion of former President Trump’s border wall and would add more than 20,000 new border agents. It also requires the government to detain all migrants, send them home, or return them to Mexico while they await immigration proceedings — a prospect the southern neighbor could refuse.

The security measures are paired with provisions gutting asylum rights, in some cases borrowing word-for-word from a Trump-era asylum regulation struck down in court.

Even the bar for the initial screening ahead of seeking asylum has been raised — would-be applicants must show they are more likely than not to be granted the status, rather than a “significant possibility” they could qualify — meaning fewer applicants would get a chance to make their case.

Many may not even make it to the initial screening, as citizens from a number of countries are effectively blocked from seeking asylum.

The bill requires those seeking asylum to first apply at any other country they pass through, allowing only those who receive denials to try the U.S. That language largely bars anyone who cannot directly come to a U.S. port of entry, essentially limiting asylum to Mexicans, Canadians, and those who already have hard-to-secure tourism visas who can hop a direct flight to the U.S.


“They cut asylum up into little pieces and they put it in a box and they dropped it at the bottom of the ocean,” said Angela Kelley, a chief policy adviser at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.


Republicans have long argued the U.S. asylum system is too generous but also that the prospect alone serves as a magnet to those unlikely to qualify. {snip}


The bill narrows protections for those fleeing from political persecution as well as those who are targeted as members of a “social group,” a category that can be used for those persecuted due to their sexuality.

The legislation would grant asylum only to those whose political activity is a challenge to current state leadership rather than a cause in general, meaning that women in Saudi Arabia pushing for the expansion of women’s rights but uninterested in overthrowing the monarchy would not qualify.


“This isn’t just a crackdown on asylum seekers. It really is a stain on the character of our country if this were to become law because it’s so extreme and so cruel and so unworkable,” Kelley said.

“I’m trying to think if I’ve ever seen a piece of restrictionist legislation that has gone this far, and I don’t believe that I have.”