Republicans Are Linking Aid for Ukraine and Israel to Tough Immigration Policies

Meanwhile, a government shutdown looms.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) gives remarks during a bipartisan candlelight vigil. Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/AP

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On Saturday, House Speaker Mike Johnson unveiled a two-tiered proposal to avert a government shutdown as the current short-term government funding bill is set to expire November 17. The plan, which already seems unlikely to succeed, would temporarily extend funding for some government agencies and programs, but omits any additional funding to Ukraine and Israel, an issue US lawmakers remain at an impasse over. 

In the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas attack and the subsequent invasion of Gaza, some Republicans have been pushing to prioritize assistance to Israel at the expense of Ukraine. They’ve also made their support contingent on stricter border policy and asylum measures regarding a proposed $105 billion dollar national security package from President Joe Biden, which includes aid for Ukraine and Israel, as well as additional funding for the US-Mexico border. 

A bipartisan group of senators—Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), James Lankford (R-OK), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), and Thom Tillis (R-NC)—have reportedly been negotiating a potential deal on border and asylum policies. Last Monday, Senate Republicans released a border plan that suggests the resumption of border wall construction, limiting the use of humanitarian parole to allow migrants into the United States, and imposing further restrictions on asylum eligibility, which essentially brings back the Trump-era Remain in Mexico policy.

“We’re not going to try to secure other countries and not secure ours,” Lankford told NBC News. “For three years we’ve been saying: ‘When are we going to secure the country? When are we going to do this?’ And every year it’s gotten worse…And the volume has reached loud enough that we’re saying, ‘Time out; we’ve got to be able to secure our own country while we’re working for the security of others.’”

The proposed Republican framework reflects a bill passed by the GOP-controlled House earlier this year over unanimous opposition from Democrats. Unsurprisingly, the latest proposal has already drawn fierce criticism from some Democrat lawmakers. “This draconian GOP proposal holds crucial funding for Ukraine hostage in exchange for cruel border and asylum policy changes,” Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “The proposal would eviscerate our asylum system, endangering families and children fleeing violence and persecution. It would require the caging of children. And it would force construction of an ineffective and damaging border wall.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) noted, “Any partisan proposal that seeks to revive a Trump border wall and demand sweeping, far-right immigration policies, which run counter to our values as Americans is headed nowhere in the Senate as far as I’m concerned.” Connecticut Democrat Murphy told NBC News there are parts of the proposal that “we could have a conversation about,” but in the end, its consequences would make it both harder to get aid to Ukraine and improve the situation at the border. Appearing on NBC’s Meet the PressOn on Sunday, Murphy criticized Johnson’s continuing resolution proposal as “gimmicky” and described the GOP-controlled House as a “dumpster fire,” but said Congress must pass foreign aid by the end of the year.

A spokesperson for the White House said they “disagree with many of the policies” in the proposal and noted the absence of any path to citizenship for Dreamers. But President Biden appears at least to be open to a compromise. Politico reported that administration officials have recently had private conversations with lawmakers and advocates about the possibility of implementing policy changes to appease Republicans, including a potential tweak to the language of asylum that would make it harder to meet the credible fear standard for protection.

The Biden administration has already come under criticism from immigration advocates over its more stringent asylum rules and a recent move to allow construction of a border wall in southern Texas using funds appropriated during the Trump administration. 

“At a time when we need concrete actions and solutions to address the challenges of global migration,” Kerri Talbot, executive director of the Immigration Hub, said in a statement about the Senate GOP proposal, “the Senators have offered a redundant set of recommendations that are cruel, impractical, and dead on arrival.” 

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