Latino Democrats are shifting from quiet concern to open opposition to Biden’s concessions in border talks

WASHINGTON (AP) — Prominent Latinos in Congress looked on quietly, at first, privately raising concerns with the Biden administration about the direction of border security talks.

Democratic Senator Alex Padilla The Californian was constantly on the phone with administration officials asking why Senate negotiations It did not include any meaningful study to provide pathways to citizenship for immigrant veterans who lack proper legal documentation.

New Mexico Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján made similar arguments while trying to set up meetings with high-ranking officials at the White House.

But when it seemed that the talks were not making enough of a difference, influential lawmakers began to lead open opposition.

“Returning to Trump-era policies is not the answer,” Padilla said. “In fact, this will make the problem worse.”

Padilla even pulled the president Joe Biden aside during a fundraiser last weekend in California to warn him to “be careful” not to get drawn into “harmful politics.”

Latino senators have found themselves in a stymied position Changing Earth In the immigration debate, the Democratic president, who is reaching a border deal as part of a $110 billion package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security needs, is trying to reduce the historic numbers of people arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico. .

The negotiations, which intensified Saturday at the Capitol as negotiators raced to craft a framework by the end of this week, come as the Biden administration has come under increasing criticism over its handling of border and immigration issues — not just from Republicans, but from members of the president himself. The party as well. Democratic cities and states have been vocal about the financial toll they say immigrants are taking on their resources.

But pro-immigration changes, such as granting permanent legal status to thousands of immigrants brought to the United States, were not on the table for the talks. illegally as children, They are often referred to as “Dreamers,” based on the DREAM Act, which would have provided similar protections for young immigrants but was never approved.

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A few days after his conversation with the president, Padilla, Lujan and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., prominently expressed their concerns at a news conference for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in front of the Capitol.

They criticized Senate Republicans for demanding a change in border policy in exchange for aid to Ukraine, and they criticized Biden for making concessions that they say ultimately undermine the United States’ standing as a country that welcomes migrants.

Padilla said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., promised him and several other senators he would let them see Proposals before reaching a final agreement. But Latino lawmakers have been largely left out of the core negotiating group.

On Saturday, White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients spoke on a call with the Hispanic Caucus, and several lawmakers raised concerns, according to two people who requested anonymity to discuss the situation.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who participated in talks at the Capitol, also joined the call.

Biden is facing pressure from all parties. He has been criticized over record numbers of migrants at the border, and is also trying to address political vulnerability ahead of a potential re-election next year with Donald Trump, the former Republican president, promising to enact far-right immigration measures.

The issue is now linked to one of Biden’s most important foreign policy goals: providing strong support for Ukraine’s defense against Russia.

White House and Senate leaders are pushing to reach a framework for a border deal by Sunday, in preparation for a potential vote next week.

“We’re going to need some kind of framework by the end of the weekend,” Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, the lead Republican negotiator, said Saturday during a break in the talks.

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Most recently, during negotiations, the White House pushed to include provisions that would legalize young immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children, according to two people with knowledge of the closed-door talks. But others said Republicans quickly took that off the table.

Senators said they faced the complex nature of US immigration law. “Byzantine,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

“We’re not in agreement, but as we get closer to reaching an agreement, the details are really important,” Murphy said. “Crafting the script is really difficult and difficult.”

The bipartisan group negotiating the package has acknowledged that it expects to lose votes from the left and right wings of either party.

“Regardless of people’s political convictions, this is a crisis,” said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an independent from Arizona and a member of the core negotiating group. “There is nothing humane about having thousands of individuals sitting in the desert with no access to toilets, food, water, or shade, just waiting days to interact with a Border Patrol agent. This is what is happening in southern Arizona.”

But immigration advocates have been mobilizing opposition to the decision Proposed changes – Often compared to Trump-era actions.

Using words like “brutality” and “treason,” human rights advocates said during a Friday call with reporters that the proposals would undermine U.S. commitments to accept people fleeing persecution and would do little to prevent people from making the long and dangerous journey to the border.

One policy under consideration would allow border officials to easily return migrants to Mexico without allowing them to seek asylum in America, but advocates say that could put them in the hands of dangerous gangs that prey on migrants in northern Mexico.

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Advocates also say that when the Trump and Biden administrations previously used expulsion authority on public health grounds during the pandemic, migrants sent back to Mexico did not return home. Instead they repeatedly tried to enter the United States because there were no repercussions.

That will make the border region “more chaotic and more dangerous,” said Greg Chen, senior director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

It will also be difficult to implement the policies under consideration. Detaining migrants or their families would result in hundreds of thousands of people being detained – at great cost.

“These are all very troubling things,” said Jason Houser, former chief of staff at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Prominent Democrats in the House of Representatives are raising concerns. Reps. Nanette Barragán of California, chair of the Latino Caucus, and Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, chair of the Progressive Caucus, along with Veronica Escobar of Texas, co-chair of Biden’s re-election campaign, and Rep. Jerry Nadler. New York, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, joined the news conference.

Padilla warned that Biden’s concessions on border restrictions could have a lasting impact on Latino voters’ support for him.

“To believe that concessions will be made without benefiting one Dreamer, one farmworker, or one undocumented essential worker is preposterous,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Seung-Min Kim contributed to this report.

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