What to know about the GOP’s latest border sticking point

Senate negotiations over a border policy proposal tied to aid for Ukraine are snagged on the White House’s immigration parole authority, according to GOP senators who have publicly weighed in on the talks.

Parole, a key component of the Biden administration’s border management strategy, is the latest in a string of once-obscure immigration and border policies elevated to the political limelight amid wrangling over migration.

Parole is in essence the executive’s prerogative to allow a foreign national or a group of foreign nationals to enter the country and receive work authorization, bypassing the regular visa process.

But it’s also the issue that has most grated on Republicans throughout discussions.

For more than a month, GOP members have warned Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Biden administration officials involved in talks that negotiations with Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) must address the issue or the party will withhold its support for the burgeoning package.

“Not where things need to be,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said when asked how close negotiators are on the subject. “We’ve still got more work to do. That’s something that we should make really clear to folks. For us to be successful and to get a majority of our conference, we’ve got to deliver a little bit more on the parole front or we could have real challenges.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has been among the most prominent Republicans to beat the drum for parole changes, holding a press conference last week dedicated to the topic where he declared that without changes to the parole process, there will be no deal.

The South Carolina senator pointed to statistics showing a gargantuan spike in those who have been granted parole since Biden took office and claimed the White House is abusing the authority. Prior to Biden’s tenure, the average per year hovered north of 5,000, rising to nearly 800,000 during fiscal 2022.

As of Tuesday, Graham said that his concerns have not been alleviated, but that negotiators are trying to address them.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who appeared alongside Graham at the press conference, told reporters a day earlier that administration officials appear “more open” to parole changes, but that a strict cap on those granted that authority is unlikely.

“There are some changes that will be made in parole that I think will get at the abuse and misuse of it,” Thune said.

But administration officials, Senate Democrats, academics, immigration advocates and some labor leaders say culling parole would likely generate more chaos at the border and beyond.

“Working within the constraints of outdated immigration laws that Congress has failed to fix for decades, and that are directly contributing to the challenges we are facing at the border, this Administration has implemented a balanced approach that combines the largest expansion of lawful pathways in years with significantly strengthened consequences for those who cross unlawfully,” a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson told The Hill.

The talks, hosted by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), have included technical advice provided by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who instituted the Biden administration’s use of parole as a means to attract migrants toward legal avenues of entering the United States, including through the CBP One app, which channels them to ports of entry.

The administration’s use of parole has drawn attention as a pathway for certain otherwise ineligible migrants to enter and work in the United States, and as a means for the Border Patrol to release certain migrants, a practice derided by some Republicans as “catch and release.”

Yet parole’s uses go far beyond the border enforcement actions that have soured Republicans on the practice.

“Humanitarian parole is being used in really important ways,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), the No. 3 Senate Democrat, told The Hill, pointing to the use of the process to help Afghans who fled after the Taliban took control of the country in 2021. “It is a tool for any president that in some way has to be maintained. It would make absolutely no sense to do away with it.”

Recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are allowed to travel internationally under advanced parole, which gives them pre-authorization to reenter the country.

The same travel use applies for certain permanent residency applicants who have work permits but have not yet received their green cards.

“This is a critical tool to allow people that are here and contributing and paying taxes to be able to utilize until our Congress is finally able to get a federal immigration reform done. So it is an absolute critical, moral and economic tool,” said Rebecca Shi, executive director of the American Business Immigration Coalition.

On the humanitarian end, parole is also used to allow quick access to U.S. hospitals to foreign nationals without visas either for emergency or specialized medical care not available to them.

It’s also an important family unification tool — essentially the only available legal framework for undocumented immigrants married to U.S. citizens to regularize their paperwork.

While the Border Patrol has at times used significant public benefit or humanitarian parole in individual cases, its use of parole generally falls under a different statute that allows officers to release parolees out of custody.

Migrants paroled under those circumstances are not eligible for work permits and are put in deportation proceedings.

That use of parole has drawn the most heat for the Biden administration.

Yet a January analysis of apprehension and deportation numbers by the Cato Institute found that increased use of detention during the Trump administration did not increase repatriations — that released migrants are just as likely to be deported as detained migrants.

And the Biden administration is running a robust deportation machine: More than half of the border encounters since 2021 have resulted in removals, returns or expulsions.

“We have removed or returned more non-citizens without a basis to remain in the United States each day than at any time since fiscal year 2010. This includes over 482,000 individuals since May 12, who have been returned or repatriated and that includes more than 81,000 individual family unit members,” an administration official told reporters last week.

“In fact, through the end of 2023 removals and returns exceed the number of removals and returns each fiscal year from 2015 to 2019. And daily removals and enforcement returns are nearly double what they were compared to our pre-pandemic average from 2014 to 2019.”

And parole, which has been in place in some form since the early 1900s, has historically proven an effective geopolitical tool for both Republican and Democratic administrations.

According to a Cato Institute paper last year, the U.S. government has issued parole to categories or populations of foreign nationals 123 times since 1952, when parole was first codified under that name.

The first use of parole for a group was for Hungarians escaping the 1956 Red Army invasion that crushed the country’s anti-Soviet revolution.

It was also used to receive Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian nationals after the Vietnam War, and most recently by the Biden administration to manage arrivals from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Haiti, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Colombia.

“As a result of these efforts, hundreds of thousands of noncitizens have followed lawful pathways and orderly processes instead of crossing illegally between ports of entry,” said the DHS spokesperson.

“The fact remains that, for decades, Republican and Democratic Administrations alike have used parole authority on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.”

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.

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