A separate aid bill for Ukraine likely will be doomed to fail because House Republicans would tie its passage to including several controversial immigration measures. An understanding of the House immigration bill’s provisions that passed in May 2023 explains why supporters of aid to Ukraine want it paired with aid to Israel. In effect, the House immigration provisions would act as “poison pills” designed to kill aid to Ukraine.
The House-Passed Border Bill And Aid To Ukraine
On May 11, 2023, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act, by 219 to 213, with no Democratic support and two Republicans voting against it. The Senate has shown no interest in the bill, but it is back in the news.
“[House Speaker] Mike Johnson is expected to press the president for tougher border policies in exchange for more Ukraine spending,” according to the Washington Times. “Those policies would come from the Secure the Border Act, which passed this year in the House but has not been taken up by the Democratic-run Senate.” The Washington Times quotes a letter to Speaker Johnson from Rep. Dan Crenshaw: “We believe that the House should not move an inch on additional funding unless we include in the package meaningful and effective border security reforms. Given the political realities we face, we believe that such reforms are only possible through the legislative vehicle of Ukraine aid.”
To improve the chances of passing aid to Ukraine, the Biden administration has proposed a legislative package that includes aid to Israel and increased border and migrant-related spending. The Senate may take up such a package. However, the House introduced a standalone Israel aid bill it may rush to a floor vote to forestall connecting aid to Ukraine and Israel.
House Republicans want to vote to support Israel but are split on aiding Ukraine. Several Republican House members want to leverage Ukraine aid for other purposes and do not support continuing military assistance to help Ukraine defend against Russia’s invasion.
The Controversial Measures In The House-Passed Border Bill
Including the most significant provisions of the Secure the Border Act in a Ukraine bill would likely kill aid to Ukraine. That might be a primary motivation among at least some House Republicans to connect the two measures, along with focusing media and political attention on border issues.
The most controversial provisions of the Secure the Border Act include mandatory nationwide E-Verify, narrowing the scope of asylum and ending its availability in many circumstances, preventing the federal government from using parole programs, such as those for Afghans and Ukrainians, and mandating the building of Trump’s border wall, including seizing private property to do it.
Mandatory E-Verify: The House bill (Section 801) requires Americans who change or start a job to seek permission and approval from the federal government via a database (either E-Verify or a follow-on employment verification system). The bill phases in the requirement, but within three years, every worker in America, including agricultural workers, must use the system to start or change jobs and prove work eligibility. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), who voted against the bill, tweeted, “Republicans are about to make a huge mistake.. . . . Not a single illegal immigrant will get deported due to E-Verify. Meanwhile, the federal government will accumulate more power over every legal citizen.”
Fiona Harrigan wrote in Reason that E-Verify is not effective in preventing unauthorized hiring and attempts to improve it will include “far more government funding, far more punitive enforcement, and potentially invasive biometric proof of identity—all of which would come back to bite American citizens.”
Ending Ways For People To Enter And Remain Legally: The House bill would end parole programs that allow people to enter the U.S. lawfully with a sponsor. Those programs have reduced illegal entry significantly. After the parole programs began, Border Patrol encounters at the Southwest border declined by 95% for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans as a group between December 2022 and March 2023. The bill would also force Afghans and Ukrainians to leave the United States a year after their current parole expires.
Barring Asylum: The House bill restricts asylum in so many ways that analysts and human rights advocates wonder who would remain eligible. For example, persecuting foreign governments are given the benefit of the doubt by making asylum applicants ineligible if “rogue foreign government officials [were] acting outside the scope of their official capacity.” Many individuals would be ineligible simply for passing through other countries, and nearly all would face detention and possible removal. The bill would bar border personnel from using an app to facilitate appointments at lawful ports of entry.
Building Trump’s Wall: The bill states, “Not later than seven days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall resume all activities related to the construction of the border wall along the border between the United States and Mexico that were underway or being planned for prior to January 20, 2021.” Eminent domain would be used to seize landowners’ property along the Southwest border.
The Trump administration’s enforcement policies did not reduce illegal entry. (See here.) Southwest border apprehensions more than doubled between FY 2016 and FY 2019 (from 408,870 to 851,508). After the initial days of Covid-19, encounters on the Southwest border increased by over 300% between April and October 2020.
Statement Of Administration Policy
The House bill had no Democratic support, and the Biden administration issued a veto threat. “H.R. 2 does nothing to address the root causes of migration, reduces humanitarian protections, and restricts lawful pathways, which are critical alternatives to unlawful entry,” according to the Statement of Administration Policy. “The bill would cut off nearly all access to humanitarian protections in ways that are inconsistent with our Nation’s values and international obligations. In addition, the bill would make processing less efficient by prohibiting the use of the CBP One mobile application to process noncitizens and restricting DHS’s parole authority, such that successful programs, like ‘Uniting for Ukraine,’ would be prohibited.”
The current immigration flow to the U.S. border represents an unprecedented refugee crisis in the Western Hemisphere caused by political and economic crises in Venezuela and elsewhere in the region. Traditional border approaches designed to deter individual Mexican workers are unlikely to be effective.
A National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis of Border Patrol apprehensions over the past 100 years found “periods of reduced illegal entry occurred not because of enforcement but due to economic and demographic changes and the U.S. government opening legal pathways.” Providing legal work visas and moving more processing outside the United States for individuals, including refugee processing, is more likely to reduce illegal entry than treating people harshly.
A new immigration reform proposal takes this approach. Stephen Yale-Loehr, Randel Keith Johnson, Theresa Cardinal Brown, and Charles Kamasaki authored the proposal as part of a recent Cornell Law School conference. Yale-Loehr is an attorney, law school professor and NFAP advisor, and Johnson, Cardinal Brown, and Kamasaki are distinguished visiting immigration scholars at Cornell Law School.
The proposal advocates creating “alternatives to engaging smugglers and illegally entering the United States for those seeking protection and allow for decisions long before anyone comes to the border.” They recommend work visas, refugee processing centers, expanding humanitarian parole programs and other ways to increase legal pathways. This would be the opposite approach from the Secure the Border Act.
The proposal concludes, “Reform the asylum system for border arrivals to return it to its rightful place as the last resort for those that need protection, not the first option for those seeking to immigrate.” The authors also recommend state-based visa programs and protections for Dreamers.
The United States Forced Ukraine To Relinquish Its Best Defense Against A Russian Invasion
A revealing National Interest article by George E. Bogden lays bare a despairing tale about U.S. policy miscues after the fall of the Soviet Union. “Documents show conclusively how two American administrations, senior Pentagon leadership, and NATO, all pressured Ukraine into giving up its only deterrent against Russian aggression—nuclear weapons—despite the credible risk of Russian invasion,” writes Bogden. “In 1994, American officials browbeat Ukraine’s newly independent leaders into giving up the nuclear weapons they inherited from the Soviet Union—weapons which could have staved off future aggression from Moscow—in exchange for nebulous ‘security assurances,’ declared as part of the so-called Budapest Memorandum.”
Supporters of aid to Ukraine point to the morality of helping a democratic nation defend itself against an authoritarian leader’s invasion and America’s interest in preventing Russia, a U.S. adversary, from succeeding in Ukraine and threatening European allies. Security analysts note Russia’s success would likely mean increased defense spending and a greater U.S. military presence in Europe.
If Ukraine possessed nuclear weapons, it’s clear Russia would not have invaded and attempted to take over the country. U.S. officials knew about Russian coercion toward Ukraine even before the agreement was signed. Then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin threatened to cut off energy supplies to Ukraine if it didn’t agree to the pact. In exchange for Ukraine relinquishing its nuclear weapons, Russia made an unenforceable pledge—later broken—to respect Ukraine’s borders and sovereignty. The United States also promised security measures to defend Ukraine. Supporters argue supplying weapons to Ukraine fulfills part of the U.S. promise.
Using House immigration provisions as “poison pills” to kill aid to Ukraine could result in the United States once more depriving Ukrainians of the means to defend themselves.