Speaking to reporters at the White House Thursday, President Joe Biden said he supports including immigration reform measures in the $3.5 trillion spending bill that Democrats hope to pass without any Republican support via the process of reconciliation.
Biden supports creating a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers or immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but said he’s unsure if it would be included in the bill, according to Reuters.
Biden’s remarks followed a meeting at the White House with Vice President Kamala Harris and a group of Democratic lawmakers to discuss the DACA program, which prevents the deportation of young immigrants.
Sen. Dick Durbin told reporters that Democrats have an opportunity to pass immigration reform measures and that Biden “made it clear to us, unequivocally clear that he stands with our efforts.”
The DACA discussions followed a ruling last month by a judge in Texas that found the program unlawful, causing the suspension of new applications.
Biden’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal advanced in the Senate Wednesday, with 17 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in supporting it. In addition to the bipartisan plan, which will likely have a final vote in the next week or two, Democrats are hoping to pass a bigger infrastructure bill through reconciliation.
Reconciliation is a legislative tactic that allows lawmakers to pass bills that concern government spending with only a simple majority, rather than the 60-vote threshold needed to avoid a filibuster.
The $3.5 trillion spending package Democrats have proposed would include new social initiatives that Republicans opposed in the bipartisan bill. The initiatives include a national paid-leave program and affordable childcare, among other items.
“Anytime there’s been a CBO examination on immigration reform, it produces a significant increase in the GDP without really costing much money,” he said, referring to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.
It’s unclear what immigration reform measures would be included in the bill.
In March, House Democrats passed two immigration measures to establish pathways to citizenship for Dreamers and migrant farmworkers. Neither has passed in the Senate, despite a Democratic majority, because they lack the 10 Republican votes needed to avoid a filibuster.
The reconciliation bill would need all 50 Democratic senators on board to pass, but Sen. Kristen Sinema of Arizona said Wednesday she would not support a bill with a $3.5 trillion price tag, setting up the bill to be scaled back.
The Biden administration is canceling two border wall contracts in the Laredo sector of the US-Mexico border that span roughly 31 miles, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said on Friday.
Shortly after taking office in January, President Joe Biden paused border wall construction projects that were initiated by former President Donald Trump, calling for “a review of all resources appropriated or redirected to construct” the barrier.
Friday’s announcement comes after the Biden administration last month returned to the military more than $2 billion in funding that the Trump administration had diverted for border wall construction.
The Biden administration’s handling of Trump’s border wall projects has unfolded at a slower pace due to funds having been allocated through different government agencies.
The contracts for the Laredo projects planned for 31 miles of border wall to be built along the Rio Grande, funded with DHS Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations.
However, construction on the projects had not yet started, nor had land acquisition been executed.
“DHS continues to review all other paused border barrier projects and is in the process of determining which projects may be necessary to address life, safety, environmental, or other remediation requirements and where to conduct environmental planning,” the DHS release said. “The Administration also continues to call on Congress to cancel remaining border wall funding and instead fund smarter border security measures, like border technology and modernization of land ports of entry, that are proven to be more effective at improving safety and security at the border.”
The Trump administration constructed roughly 450 miles of wall over four years, according to The Associated Press. However, only 52 miles of wall were built in areas where no barrier had previously existed.
The border between the US and Mexico stretches across more than 1,900 miles; some sections already had barriers prior to Trump taking office in 2017.
DHS is utilizing previously-appropriated funds to assess environmental issues that derived from previous wall construction, as well as reviewing land seizure cases to determine if those acquisitions are still necessary.
“Only Congress and the president can fix our broken border,” Abbott said at the time. “But in the meantime, Texas is going to do everything possible, including beginning to make arrests, to keep our community safe.”
The memo, signed by ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson, said officers should get permission from higher-up officials before detaining anyone who is nursing or pregnant.
“Generally ICE should not detain, arrest or take into custody for an administrative violation of the immigration laws individuals known to be pregnant, postpartum or nursing unless release is prohibited by law or exceptional circumstances exist,” the memo said.
GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas on Sunday said that deploying a state’s National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border using private funds sets “a bad precedent.”
During an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” anchor Dana Bash asked Hutchinson about fellow Republican Gov. Kristi Noem’s decision to use a donation from Tennessee billionaire Willis Johnson to send 50 South Dakota National Guard members to the border.
However, Hutchinson is not using private funding and chided Noem for doing so.
“Would you use a political donation to send your troops to the border?” Bash asked.
“Not for this purpose,” Hutchinson replied. “This is a state function. It is something that we respond to other states in terms of disaster.”
He added: “I would consider it a bad precedent to have it privately funded. Now, whenever you are looking at supplemental pay for some state employees, we use private foundation money, so it is not an across-the-board rule against that.”
In sending the troops to the border, the governor continues to raise her national profile among conservative voters.
“The border is a national security crisis that requires the kind of sustained response only the National Guard can provide,” she said last week. “We should not be making our own communities less safe by sending our police or Highway Patrol to fix a long-term problem President [Joe] Biden’s Administration seems unable or unwilling to solve.”
Last month, GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, another possible 2024 presidential aspirant, deployed state law enforcement officers to the border.
Aazar had just turned 18 back in 2013, when he signed up to work with Western forces in Afghanistan, perhaps not fully understanding that it would place a clear target on his back.
For 11 months, Aazar – a pseudonym we are using to protect his identity – worked as an interpreter for U.K. troops in Helmand Province. But when he later sought asylum, believing he could fall prey to a vengeful Taliban that saw interpreters as traitors, Aazar learned he was ineligible because the asylum threshold required that Afghan interpreters had worked for at least one year. Aazar fell shy of that by a single month.
He managed to find refuge in New Delhi, India, but he still holds out hope of getting to the U.K. He says the asylum rule is arbitrary and unfair. “If I work one day, [the Taliban] will cut my head,” Aazar said in an interview. “If I work 10 years, they will cut my head.”
Since the start of the US-led war two decades ago, the Taliban has targeted anyone it sees as “stooges” or collaborators. People like Aazar.
Now, as the last American and Western troops withdraw from Afghanistan – President Joe Biden set a deadline of Sept. 11 – Afghanistan’s security forces will soon be on their own.
Taliban fighters have meanwhile taken almost 20 districts over the past two weeks and staged increasingly audacious attacks across the country. A spate of targeted assassinations have killed dozens of journalists, rights workers, academics, religious leaders and other prominent figures over the last year. The majority of these attacks have gone unclaimed, but the Kabul government believes the Taliban are behind most, if not all, of these killings.
Interpreters fear that they could fall victim to such killings, and the effort to evacuate Locally Employed Staff, or LECs, who worked with foreign forces, has grown increasingly desperate.
In an unusual statement released earlier this month, the Taliban said that Afghans who had committed “treason against Islam and the country” would be left alone as long as they express remorse, and could “return to their normal lives.”
Sayed Jalal Shajjan, a Kabul-based researcher who has been studying the fate of Afghans who worked with foreign forces, says the statement will do little to reassure any of the Afghans who fear for their lives. “It’s not a clear statement. It just further problematizes everything. How exactly should someone show remorse, whom should they approach, and how would they provide adequate proof? A statement alone is not a guarantee.”
On June 4, a bipartisan group of US representatives, many of them veterans, sent a letter to President Biden, calling for the immediate evacuation of all Afghans who worked with American forces to the US territory of Guam, where their asylum applications could be processed in safety.
“If we fail to protect our allies in Afghanistan, it will have a lasting impact on our future partnerships and global reputation,” the letter concluded.
Earlier this week, Biden said, “Those [Afghans] who helped us are not going to be left behind,” but offered few details as to how he would evacuate thousands of people in a two-and-a-half month period.
In April, the British government introduced a new policy making it much quicker, and easier, for former interpreters to claim asylum. But, again, not everyone is eligible.
Similar cracks exist in the US asylum scheme. Only Afghans who served with American forces for at least two years can apply, leaving many out in the cold.
Last month, a number of global charities, led by the International Refugee Assistance project, released a joint statement. “With the ongoing withdrawal, NATO member states must act urgently to guarantee the safety of present and past Afghan locally engaged civilians,” it read. “Time is running out.”
Time, is of course not on their side. As Shajjan, the researcher, points out, the process of vetting and physically evacuating people usually takes up to nine months.
“That amount of time is no longer feasible.”
“Was he working with the infidels?”
Afghanistan has been plagued by conflict since the communist coup d’etat of 1978. Four decades of war and violence have left a permanent imprint of millions of Afghans who, like Aazar, were born into war.
By 2001, the country, and its citizens had already seen a communist coup, Soviet occupation, a jihad, civil war and five years of Taliban rule. Then, just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a coalition of 40 nations, including the UK, Germany and Australia, invaded the country to topple the Taliban, whom they accused of harboring Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of al-Qaeda.
In 2014, the vast majority of foreign forces withdrew from the country and those that remained moved from a combat role to an advisory one. Since then, more than 26,000 Afghans, and their families, have been granted asylum in the US. But at least 18,000 LECs who worked with the Americans remain in Afghanistan.
It was around that time that Aazar managed to leave the country.
While still in Helmand Province, he got worrying news from his father back home in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. A distant cousin, who was believed to be linked to the Taliban, visited the family home, claiming he had seen Aazar on the frontline. “He came to my father, and he was asking, where is your son?” Aazar recalled. “Is he alive or dead? Was he working with the infidels?”
Fearing for his life and that of his family, Aazar resigned his post with the U.K. forces and returned to Kabul, where he worked briefly as an English teacher. “I was very afraid,” he said. “I would not go directly to my home. I would change my way. I would be looking back to see if they were following me.”
After a close friend who had worked as an interpreter was found dead, Aazar said he fled the country.
Shajjan, the Kabul-based researcher, says people like Aazar, most of whom were young men trying to provide money for their families, are easily identifiable by the Taliban.
“It’s the nature of their work, they are the ones standing next to the foreign troops and telling them everything that’s being said. They are highly visible and extremely vulnerable,” said Shajjan.
Adding to the dangers is the fact that these translators were also present – though their faces were concealed with masks – during the highly controversial night raids into people’s homes and the interrogations conducted by foreign forces.
“All these activities on behalf of the foreign forces made them easily recognizable to people in the community and even easier to pick out and track by the Taliban,” Shajjan said.
“Falling through the cracks”
As a Muslim refugee in India, Aazar’s position has been precarious, even desperate.
Before the pandemic hit, Aazar was working 18 hours a day in a restaurant, sometimes sleeping on tables between shifts. He says he is often underpaid for his work but he has no one to complain to. To Aazar, it all seems like a pitiful reward for his frontline service.
“I’m not blaming the Indian people,” he says. “But it’s very hard… You can’t even get a home, landlords won’t rent to you, because you are a refugee… you can’t get jobs, because you are a refugee.”
“I haven’t seen my family – my father, brother, mother, sister – in eight years,” he said.
In the meantime, he is getting support from the Sulha Alliance, a group founded by U.K. veterans of the Afghan war. Its representatives confirmed elements of Aazar’s story.
Dr. Sara de Jong, a professor of politics at the University of York and one of the group’s founding members, said too many LECs have “fallen through the cracks of the relocation policy.”
“The fact that the government failed to have an appropriate policy in place earlier cannot be a reason to exclude these guys,” she said.
But Aazar could be one of the lucky ones.
Farwan – also a pseudonym – is another LEC working with the Sulha Alliance, and he is still in Afghanistan. “I cannot go outside,” he said in an interview, “because if I go outside, I will be targeted by my tribe, targeted by the Taliban; I will be killed.” His voice is half a whisper over the phone.
Farwan was also working in Helmand, and he was dismissed from the military for fighting with a fellow translator. Because of this disciplinary breach he’s not able to claim asylum in the UK.
“I was an interpreter in a patrol base,” he says “I had a fight, one fight, with the other interpreter… then they told me my contract was terminated.”
Last month, near his home in Laghman Province, in eastern Afghanistan, the Afghan National Security Forces managed to repel an attack by the Taliban, and Farwan said he lost his property.
The threats that sparked the war in Afghanistan remain, but methods of dealing with them have changed. Increasingly, the U.S. and other countries rely on local forces to combat extremists, instead helping to train and arm them. In Iraq and Syria, for example, troops from across the world trained local forces to fight the Islamic State.
But without relocation policies in place, the plight of local staff in Afghanistan is showing that working with the international community can have dire consequences.
“These are guys who have had to put bits of people in body bags,” Dr. de Jong said. “We also need to ensure that these people can build up a meaningful life. It’s not just about staying alive. It’s about the right to a life.”
At a military base in El Paso, Texas, hundreds of unaccompanied children who crossed the US-Mexico border to seek asylum are sleeping under one big tent. Some have been there for weeks – others were held there for months – as authorities worked to track down a relative who could take them out of government custody.
It was not supposed to be like this. President Joe Biden and his administration pledged to create a “humane asylum system” – one that abandoned images of kids in cages in favor of recognizing the legal right to seek protection from violence and repression.
Shaw Drake, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas, has twice visited the military base that now doubles as an emergency shelter. What he saw is too many children in one confined space, conditions that make it difficult for staff to keep track of what’s even happening.
“Children shouldn’t be held in those mass, dormitory-like situations,” he said. “We certainly observed firsthand the challenges and concerns about the lack of case management and the amount of time children were spending at the facility.”
Those conditions have led some children to attempt suicide and other forms of self-harm, according to testimony filed this month.
The Biden administration insists it is doing better – and in many ways it has, having reduced the number of kids in its custody and placing them in the care of family and friends. At one point, Fort Bliss housed around 5,000 children. This week, that number fell to fewer than 800, a product of the federal government ramping up efforts to place them with relatives and legal guardians.
By contrast, Drake said, the Trump administration allowed children to languish in Border Patrol facilities that were never intended to host them. At least five children died in them between 2018 and 2019.
“Border Patrol has a long history of holding people in inhumane conditions and abusing people in their custody, so it’s certainly not an environment that is conducive for unaccompanied children to spend any time in,” Drake said.
Emergency intake shelters like the one at Fort Bliss are an improvement, a fact that could have led to some complacency under the Biden administration – or at least a confidence that progress, amid a new surge in child asylum-seekers, was sufficient in the wake of the Trump administration, which itself had hollowed out the infrastructure for dealing with them.
“I think a big piece of it is a lack of commitment to the follow-through,” Drake said. “It’s very important to stand up these facilities and get kids out of Border Patrol, but the administration needed to move more quickly past to ‘how can we actually reunite these children with their loved ones?'”
There is a need to provide shelter. “The government does have to do its due diligence to ensure that they’re releasing the child to someone who is a bonafide relative or sponsor who’s going to take care for that child appropriately,” Drake said. But right now, that process can take days or weeks to even get started.
Beyond improving conditions at Fort Bliss and elsewhere, Drake said the search should begin as soon as a child is received by Border Patrol. On-site staff from the Department of Health and Human Services could even help some avoid further detention altogether.
“When children have – and many children do – direct parents or other immediate relatives waiting for them, they could be released directly without having to be transferred to an HHS facility,” he said. “And that’s something that, to this point, this administration and past administrations have failed to do.”
The upcoming border trip comes as Republicans have attacked the Biden administration for months over its handling of an uptick in migrants at the US-Mexico border.
“President Trump spent four years fixing the border. But the Biden administration broke it again, and we are now experiencing the worst border crisis in our history,” GOP Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana told Politico. “That’s why the RSC has made carrying on the Trump legacy on immigration our top priority this Congress and why we are heading to the border with President Trump to explain how we can end this national embarrassment.”
Trump announced last week that he accepted an invitation from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for an “official visit” to the southern border on June 30.
The former president made immigration and the creation of a “border wall” a central issue of his campaign and his administration. Since leaving office, he’s kept that rhetoric alive. The trip is another break from the modern precedent that former presidents step back from public life and don’t politically attack the current office holder, especially outside of an election year.
“The Biden Administration inherited from me the strongest, safest, and most secure border in U.S history and in mere weeks they turned it into the single worst border crisis in U.S history,” Trump said last Tuesday in a statement released through his leadership PAC, Save America. Details of the trip’s exact location have not yet been announced.
Trump’s ex-spokesperson Jason Miller previously teased in March that the former president was considering a trip to the border at some point, but was waiting for President Joe Biden to “fail on his own” first.
Many Republicans have blamed the rise in migrants at the border on Biden’s rollback of Trump-era immigration policies. Yet Biden has pushed back on the criticism, previously saying that the surge happens “every year” and pointing to factors like natural disasters, violence, and poverty as reasons behind it. He has warned prospective migrants not to come to the border as his administration works on reforming the US’ immigration policy.
More than 50 House Republicans have called on President Joe Biden to remove Vice President Kamala Harris from leading the effort to address the root causes of the surge in migrants at the US-Mexico border, accusing her of “inaction.”
In a letter to Biden, 56 Republicans, led by GOP Rep. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin, have expressed “serious concerns” about Harris’s role in handling what they deem a “crisis” at the southern border.
The group cited recent figures released by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which revealed 180,034 migrant encounters at the southern border last month.
“Despite being in the midst of a border crisis this country has not seen in two decades, Vice President Harris has not yet shown adequate interest in observing this crisis first-hand,” the letter said.
They added: “In the 85 days since the Vice President has been tasked with solving this crisis, she has yet to visit the border and meet with Border Patrol agents, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, and local law enforcement officials.”
In March, Biden tapped Harris to work with Central American nations to address the root causes of the surge in migrants seeking to come to the US.
Addressing Biden, the members of Congress found fault in the president’s selection of Harris.
“At the time of her appointment, you stated, ‘I can think of nobody who is better qualified to do this.’ We disagree,” the letter said.
Harris and her staff have stressed that their diplomatic work is focused on Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. However, Republicans have sought to shift broader concerns about the US-Mexico border onto Harris, despite the administration emphasizing that she is not a “czar” in charge of managing the border.
As a former US Senator from California, she represented a state with a 140-mile border with Mexico.
“It is my firm belief that if we care about what’s happening at the border, we better care about the root causes and address them,” she said. “And so that’s what I’m doing.”
Harris said she would personally go to the border “at some point” and stressed other administration officials had already paid visits.
“At some point, you know, we are going to the border,” Harris said. “We’ve been to the border. So this whole, this whole, this whole thing about the border. We’ve been to the border. We’ve been to the border.”
“You haven’t been to the border,” Holt responded, calling out Harris’s lack of a visit since taking office as vice president.
“And I haven’t been to Europe,” Harris said. “I don’t understand the point that you’re making. I’m not discounting the importance of the border. … I care about what’s happening at the border. I’m in Guatemala because my focus is dealing with the root causes of migration.”
Continuing former President Donald Trump’s raucous tone and hardline narrative on immigration, GOP lawmakers at the state and federal level are leaning into his signature tactic of centering on fear of the southern border.
Under Trump, political stunts at the border – including Trump signing a metal slat of the border wall – and drumming up fear of migrant caravans were part of a strategy of fear he began employing from the moment he announced his 2026 candidacy. The tactic was also used during the 2018 midterms.
The recent outrage optics revolve around repeatedly referring to immigration at the southern border as a “crisis,” or “surge” – which immigration experts told Insider was a largely untrue characterization of the typically higher number of border crossings in the spring and summer, along with the added numbers of immigrants unable to cross due to pandemic border closures in 2020.
As The New York Times’s Jonathan Weisman reported, the perception of crises has been and continues to be a central part of GOP messaging given its effectiveness in ginning up support from Trump’s base. As Weisman points out, the GOP is cycling through a series of crises, including immigration.
In late March, Sen. Ted Cruz organized a delegation of GOP representatives to take a boat ride with machine guns aplomb along the Rio Grande, which separates Mexico and Texas.
“On the other side of the river we have been listening to and seeing cartel members – human traffickers – right on the other side of the river waving flashlights, yelling and taunting Americans, taunting the border patrol,” Cruz said in a late-night Twitter video post.
Weeks before, at a press conference along the border, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy claimed people registered to the terrorist watch list were infiltrating the southern border, a claim Customs and Border Patrol quickly pushed back on, with a spokesperson saying at the time that, “encounters of known and suspected terrorists at our borders are very uncommon.”
It’s a line Trump’s former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also peddled in 2019.
Freshman Reps. Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene argued that Vice President Kamala Harris, who Biden appointed as immigration czar, is failing at her job – especially during her immigration-focused trip to Guatemala in June.
Boebert, in early June, took the stunt to a new level, carrying a cutout of Harris to the border. “Now Kamala, I want you to stand here and look at what you’ve done”, Boebert said at her press conference.
Greene repeated that sentiment and a push for Harris to visit the border in a press conference in the Capitol on Thursday. “She is failing in her job. You know what happens when someone fails in their job? They need to be fired.” Greene said.
Ironically, Harris and other administration officials have taken a harder line on immigration and have been critiqued by the progressive wing and advocates who say it is not doing enough to prioritize compassionate immigration reform.
Speaking to Guatemalans in their home country, Harris told listeners, “Do not come,” to the US. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ has repeated that the US-Mexico border is “closed,” while the US declines to repeal Title 42, a CDC regulation which, with exceptions for unaccompanied minors, has effectively brought border crossings to a standstill since the pandemic started in March 2020.
Those with possible 2024 ambitions, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have leaned into the southern border and culture war flash points.
DeSantis said he would send Florida law enforcement to the border in Texas and Arizona.
Abbott has blamed migrants for spreading COVID-19 and fentanyl and deployed state troopers and the national guard to an already militarized border. He also announced that the state would finance $250 million of border wall construction, alongside crowdfunding efforts.
(A previous crowdfunding effort for the border wall endorsed by Trump built zero feet of wall and ended in an indictment.)
This week, Trump accepted Abbott’s invitation for an “official” visit to the border.
And according to a prodding fundraising text message sent out by the National Senatorial Republican Committee, the group is hyping up the visit.
As Republicans try to win back the House, Senate, and in 2024, the presidency, they’re relying on Trumpian campaign tactics and his base – and the former president himself at the border as the best political prop of all.
The country’s 500 immigration judges feel overburdened and under pressure to deport as more than 1.3 million cases have been backlogged at the end of the last administration and crossings into the country keep rising, NBC News reported.
While federal trial judges are appointed for life, making it easier to make independent decisions, immigration judges are appointed and answer to the attorney general.
The ability for the judges to rule independently on asylum cases has also been compromised by a move from former Attorney General Bill Barr to decertify the National Association of Immigration Judges.
“We are in the legal fight for our life to ensure that our decisional independence is valued and maintained,” Judge Amiena Khan told NBC.
Sixty Democrats in the House and some on the Senate Judiciary Committee have also called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to recertified the union and allow judges to speak freely about immigration cases, The Hill reported.
As the union fights to be recertified, judges have said they are fighting to be able to make rulings independently.
“We should not be used as a tool of law enforcement,” Judge Dana Leigh Marks told NBC. “That is not how Congress envisioned the immigration courts should play a role in the immigration system.”
In a press release, the American Immigration Lawyers Association said the wait time for the backlogged cases was more than four years, including “cases that require urgent attention, such as those seeking asylum and humanitarian relief.”
Additionally, cases keep rising. In May alone, Customs and Border Protection reported more than 180,000 migrants at the Southern border, the largest number in a month in more than 20 years.
Marks told NBC quotes were imposed to get cases through faster but the measure threatens to ensure every case has due process and doesn’t allow migrants time to find a lawyer. Migrants aren’t given court-appointed lawyers and without a lawyer, they will most likely lose their case.