The long-awaited bipartisan border security bill has finally been released. The bill was negotiated by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), and James Lankford (R-OK).

Before details of the bill were even released publicly, Donald Trump came out against it. His main objection seems to be a fear that the bill might improve conditions at the Southern border, which would potentially harm his chances for re-election. As a result of his opposition, many House Republicans--including Speaker Mike Johnson--have labeled the bill "dead on arrival." It is even questionable whether the bill can pass the Senate. While the chances for passage seem low, the bill could still have an effect. If Republicans are seen as opposing reasonable border reform, it might just come back to haunt them in the upcoming election.

Politics aside, let's discuss the provisions of the bill, and how it might affect asylum if it happens to become law.

The biggest single chunk of change for the border ($14.366 billion) goes to enforcement. That amount is divided between ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and CBP (Customs and Border Protection). This money will cover such costs as hiring more officers, more overtime, shelters for migrants, expanded capacity for detention and alternatives to detention, improved technology, drug interdiction, and transportation costs (i.e., deportation flights).

There is an additional $3.99 billion for USCIS to hire 4,338 Asylum Officers--which is more than five times as many officers as we have at the moment! The bill would also increase Asylum Officers' pay, which should help with retaining officers, who have traditionally suffered from high turnover. In addition, the bill provides $440 million for more Immigration Judges.

The bill expands the use of Asylum Officers to conduct credible fear interviews (CFIs), which are initial evaluations of asylum eligibility, and which the bill renames "Protection Determinations." These should be completed within 90 days of the migrant's arrival. Immigrants who "fail" the CFI can request review by a new appellate body--the Protection Appellate Board, which consists of three Asylum Officers. If this Board upholds the negative Protection Determination, the person will be deported. The standard for a CFI is also being made more stringent, and certain bars to asylum will be applied. If, for example, the Asylum Officer determines that the migrant can safely relocate within the country of feared persecution, the CFI will be denied. During the 90-day Protection Determination period, the bill anticipates that most asylum seekers will be released and supervised under an "alternatives to detention" program.

As I read this bill, migrants who "pass" the credible fear interview will have their case reviewed by an Asylum Officer, who determines whether the person qualifies for asylum or some other relief, or should be removed from the United States. Currently, asylum determinations are usually made by Immigration Judges, who are generally more experienced, and so the new bill places significant additional responsibility on Asylum Officers.

The bill also caps the number of people who can enter the United States through the U.S.-Mexico border. If 4,000 people arrive at the border every day for seven days, DHS has the option to bar access to asylum and rapidly expel anyone apprehended between ports of entry. If 5,000 people arrive per day for seven days, or if 8,500 people arrive on any given day, DHS must implement this exclusion provision. Once implemented, the exclusion provision remains in effect for 90 to 270 days. How this will work in practical terms at the border (and whether the Mexican government will agree), we do not know.

In the spirit of bipartisan compromise, parts of the Senate bill are pro-immigrant. For example, people who receive a positive Protection Determination will get a work permit more quickly than the current 180-day waiting period. Each year for five years, the bill allows for an additional 32,000 Green Cards for family-based immigration and 18,000 for employment-based immigration. The bill maintains the president's ability to parole migrants unto the United States for humanitarian reasons, provides for legal representation of unaccompanied minors, and gives additional assistance to certain people from Afghanistan.

The bill is largely targeted at the border, but how would it affect asylum seekers in the interior?

If passed, the bill would increase the number of Asylum Officers from the current level (about 760) to 4,338. That is a very significant increase--assuming, of course, that USCIS can hire, train, and retain new officers, which has long been a challenge. At the same time, the bill would increase Asylum Officers' duties. Whether the end result will be more resources available to address the affirmative asylum backlog, we do not know. But with so many new officers, it seems likely that they could make a real dent in the backlog.

The increase in funding is less significant for Immigration Court, but if the new Asylum Officers take over responsibility for asylum cases at the border, they will free up judges' time to work on other matters.

Overall, the bipartisan bill is a mixed bag. It should reduce the number of migrants eligible to seek asylum at the Southern border, and deport those who are ineligible more quickly. It also offers some limited improvements for certain immigrants and asylum seekers. Notably, the bill does nothing to assist Dreamers, a long-suffering population that is in desperate need of relief. Nor does it refine the out-dated definition of who is eligible for asylum. But I suppose as immigration bills go, this one is not bad--it could reduce chaos at the border while largely preserving our humanitarian asylum system. Whether it has any chance of becoming a law, we shall have to wait and see.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: