Immigration advocate says GOP wants to tie 'galling' asylum changes to federal budget negotiations
Republicans want stricter immigration laws. They're calling for a variety of changes, including raising the credible fear standard for asylum seekers as a way to make the border more secure.
Kica Matos, president of the National Immigration Law Center and Immigrant Justice fund and a longtime immigration advocate who lives in New Haven, explained what's being proposed on Connecticut Public’s Morning Edition.
Defining asylum and its history
Matos explained that claiming asylum is one way for people coming to the United States to enter the immigration system.
"Asylum is a type of protection for people who believe that they are in danger of being persecuted if they return to their home country, based on their race, their religion, their nationality, their political opinion, or their membership in a particular social group," she said. "In order for you to be able to apply for asylum, you present yourself to either port of entry via an airport, or if you've crossed the border, an official port of entry, or you can actually cross the border in any way."
Immigration advocates like Matos say the changes Republicans are pushing for would roll back lessons learned after WWII.
"What's particularly galling is the asylum changes that they are wanting to put in place," she said.
"During the Second World War, boatloads of Jewish refugees tried to come to the United States. They were fleeing the Holocaust and our government turned them away. They were sent back and some of them died in concentration camps," Matos explained. "There was this campaign after the Second World War to say 'Never again. Our country, the world, will never again turn people away, who are fleeing for their lives.'"
In 1948, asylum laws were enshrined in international human rights laws. And in 1980, Matos says, the US passed laws to codify those asylum protections at the federal level.
On credible fear standard
There are a number of stages in order to qualify for asylum, Matos said, but the credible fear standard is the very first stage in the process.
"The first one is you present yourself to somebody and say, I'm seeking asylum, because I feel that if I go back to my home country, I'll be killed or I'll be persecuted," she said. "Right now, the standard is that you have to establish there's a significant possibility that you will be able to present these facts before a judge. It's a very preliminary stage. This official just asks you the questions and says, 'yes, this person, they fit the standard, their story is credible enough, and I'm going to move them to the next stage.'"
Then, the person seeking asylum would present their evidence before a judge.
Why Republicans have chosen the credible fear standard as part of their negotiations, linking immigration to the budget
Immigration is one of the most significant issues Republicans wanted to be part of budget negotiations, Matos said.
"This is not legislation that they are talking about. They’re talking about a spending bill, and they've tacked on all of these demands, including stricter border measures, a change to the asylum laws, what we just talked about, they want to return family detention. So they want to be able to detain families at the border. And they want people to wait in Mexico, people who applied for asylum, a similar status, instead of coming to the US. They want to insist that they wait in Mexico and they want to eliminate a relatively new parole program that's been established.
"There is a very aggressive anti-immigrant agenda that the Republicans are pushing. And they're looking for every avenue that they have to try to be able to advance that agenda," Matos said.
Because the budget is necessary to pass to keep the government running, it becomes a good tool for Republicans to leverage in their push for these immigration measures.
"The Biden administration is desperately looking to give money to the wars in Ukraine, and to give money to Israel, and to give funds to Taiwan. And what the Republicans are saying - 'you want that money in the budget? Well, give us all of these different things that we want on immigration.'" Matos said.
How raising the credible fear standard might impact people seeking asylum at the border
"The idea is that making it more difficult at the very preliminary stages will make it easier to reject and turn away many more people than we currently do right now," Matos explained.
Now that Congress has passed a budget resolution, what’s next?
Immigration advocates are asking Connecticut US Senator Chris Murphy to negotiate with Republicans on asylum reforms.
"The issue that we're talking about is all connected to the supplemental bill, which is the funding for next year," Matos said. "What we're going to do is continue to engage in advocacy until the supplemental budget is passed."
She said because Murphy is the lead negotiator on the Democratic side, advocates are watching him.
"He is somebody that I have known to be a champion for issues of justice," Matos said. "We want him to be a champion on these sets of issues."