Posted on November 3, 2023

Biden Weighs Border Deal — Altering Asylum Law for Ukraine Aid

Myah Ward and Ursula Perano, Politico, November 2, 2023

Top Biden officials are preparing Democratic lawmakers and immigration policy advocates for the likelihood the administration will have to swallow compromises on asylum law in order for the president’s national security funding request to pass.

In calls with those lawmakers and advocates in recent weeks, officials from the White House and Department of Homeland Security floated potential changes as a means of winning over Republicans opposed to aid for Ukraine, according to four people familiar with the talks.

The outreach illustrates how challenging the coming days will be for the White House as it tries to move a $106 billion supplemental aid package that includes money for Ukraine, Israel, the southern border and Taiwan. Republicans have insisted that any large-scale plan include border policy changes as well. In the process, they have placed a political lighting rod of an issue squarely into the biggest legislative matter before Congress — and forced the White House to balance competing interests.

A former administration official familiar with the discussions, who was granted anonymity to discuss private conversations, said the White House’s openness to asylum reform “was a huge substantive risk, and political one.”

“It could get ugly,” the person added.

While the administration has begun broaching the contours of a possible immigration policy compromise, similar movement is harder to detect on the Hill. Democratic lawmakers have resisted engaging in talks over what concessions they would make before Republicans detail what concrete policy asks they have, even as they express a willingness to talk.


The specific asylum reform that has come up in private conversations with administration officials, according to people familiar with them, is a change to the credible fear standard. Under current law, if a migrant is subject to expedited removal and put through the credible fear process, that person is required to show a “significant possibility” of credible fear of persecution, torture or fear returning to their country. A tweak to the law’s language could in theory mean fewer migrants hitting the credible fear threshold and, therefore, more being denied the opportunity to apply for asylum.

It is unlikely that such a change would placate Republicans, who are floating proposals such as reimplementing Remain in Mexico — a Trump-era policy that forced migrants to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims were processed — alongside other changes to asylum law.


The administration’s move could, moreover, spark blowback among Democrats, including those who have accused the White House of lacking a humane approach to the border and migration. One person familiar with the talks told POLITICO that if the White House moves forward with pushing changes to asylum law without trying to secure progress on something like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, immigration advocates would likely denounce the deal.