More weapons for wars or protection for asylum seekers? This is the ill-hearted and life-threatening game U.S. lawmakers are playing.
With the White House’s full support, Senate lawmakers voted this week to advance a $119 billion spending deal for military aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan in exchange for eviscerating the United States’ already deficient asylum system.
Needing 60 Senators in favor, the procedural vote on this legislation (S.Amdt.1386 to H.R.815) failed 49-50. The Senate is now seeking to pass a pared-down $95 billion bill (S.Amdt.1388 to H.R.815) that sends billions in military aid to the three countries with a comparatively modest $10 billion investment in humanitarian aid.
But we aren’t in the clear. Anti-immigrant measures could find their way back into the legislation through the Senate’s amendment process. This includes the asylum and border provisions the Senate struck down mere days ago.
What’s at Stake
To be clear, asylum is a stringent protection. The eligibility threshold is difficult to meet. Asylum seekers face credible experiences, threats, or fears of persecution (e.g., torture, death, severe harm).
The last thing lawmakers should do is further weaken an already fractured asylum system.
Migrating is a matter of life and death. The journeys are often perilous. With an asylum application backlog in the United States that crossed one million in 2023, the process to gain asylum could take more than a decade. It is a tormenting plight not taken lightly.
The proposed policy changes in the initial bill voted on this week ignored these truths. The bill sought to:
- Raise the already rigorous screening standard for asylum eligibility;
- Order the rapid expulsion of families seeking protection at the U.S. border without fair due process;
- Increase detention for vulnerable individuals seeking safety; and
- Grant executive authority similar to Title 42 to shut down the border once migration numbers cross a preset benchmark.
These proposed changes are both cruel and ineffective. Deterrence strategies don’t reduce migration flow and won’t save lives. And the favorable provisions in the legislation don’t outweigh decimating the U.S. asylum system.
The assaults against the U.S. asylum system during the Trump and Biden administrations have been lethal. The last thing lawmakers should do is further weaken an already fractured system.
The Consequences of Our Militarized Foreign Policy
To trade asylum and border measures for violent conflict risks further tarnishing everything this country purports to stand for as a global leader and a nation overwhelmingly made up of immigrants.
The irony? The atrocities of conflict contribute to asylum-seeking conditions. Our very asylum system was born out of the tragedies of World War II. Providing funding for more weapons helps to fuel more wars, adding to global instability and creating more asylum seekers.
Congress cannot treat vulnerable communities as political pawns—especially when the U.S. has played a starring role in their story.
Considering the ways U.S. policies have contributed to forced migration worldwide, the U.S. government should focus on solutions to manage migration and prevent displacement.
From Haiti to Guatemala to Venezuela, U.S. interventions, sanctions, and years of exploitation and political puppeteering have further destabilized countries of the Global South and fueled the migration needs at hand. Congress cannot treat vulnerable communities as political pawns—especially when the United States has played a starring role in their story.
Away from Political Theatrics and Toward Humane Migration Solutions
For decades, Congress has abandoned its responsibility to mindfully manage the flow of people traveling to and through the country. It has forsaken its commitment to the immigrant community of yesterday and today. Instead, lawmakers have turned to political antics to avoid modernizing and humanizing the United States’ immigration laws.
To advance a humane, just, and effective migration system, Congress must adopt modern policies including:
- Strategically addressing the root causes of forced migration;
- Ensuring just, safe, and orderly processing at the U.S. border;
- Funding humane migration management policies such as the Shelter and Services Program and investing in case management;
- Hiring more asylum officers to expedite screenings; and
- Allowing asylum seekers to sustain themselves and their families by providing work permits within one month of filing for protection—not six or more.
Equally, any changes to U.S. immigration law should also advance a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
The U.S. government seems to have more than a trillion dollars for defense, wars, walls, border security, and detention. For a country with the resources to operate a humane migration management infrastructure, opting for any alternative is ineffective, unjust, and dangerous.