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Congressional Latinos Express Concerns Over Biden Administration’s Border Security Talks

In a significant development, prominent Latino members of Congress have voiced their reservations regarding the Biden administration’s approach to border security talks, raising questions about the exclusion of pathways to citizenship for long-term immigrants without proper legal documentation. Democratic Senator Alex Padilla of California and Senator Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico initially raised concerns privately, engaging in constant communication with administration officials to seek clarification on the absence of meaningful considerations for citizenship pathways in Senate negotiations.

Despite their efforts, when the talks failed to address their concerns, these influential lawmakers shifted to open opposition. Senator Padilla emphasized, “A return to Trump-era policies is not the fix; in fact, it will make the problem worse.” Notably, Padilla took the opportunity to caution President Joe Biden personally at a fundraiser in California, urging him to be wary of adopting harmful policies.

The Latino senators find themselves in a complex position amid ongoing debates over immigration, particularly as President Biden aims to address border challenges as part of a broader $110 billion package for Ukraine, Israel, and national security. The negotiations, crucially timed as bargainers race to draft a framework by the weekend, have come under scrutiny from both Republicans and members of the Democratic party.

While criticism has been directed at the administration’s handling of border and immigration issues, pro-immigration changes such as providing permanent legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, commonly known as “Dreamers,” remain off the negotiating table. Senators Padilla, Luján, and Bob Menendez voiced their concerns prominently at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus news conference, condemning Senate Republicans for linking border policy changes to Ukraine aid and criticizing Biden for concessions that, according to them, undermine the United States’ welcoming stance toward immigrants.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has assured Senator Padilla and others access to proposals before a final agreement, but Latino lawmakers have largely been excluded from the core negotiating group. During a call with the Hispanic Caucus, White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas engaged with concerned lawmakers.

The Biden administration faces pressure from various angles, including criticism over border management, the looming threat of far-right immigration measures promised by former President Donald Trump, and the connection of the issue to the broader goal of supporting Ukraine’s defense against Russia. With the White House and Senate leaders aiming for a border deal framework by Sunday, the complexity of U.S. immigration law adds challenges to the negotiations.

While recent discussions hinted at the inclusion of provisions legalizing young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, progress has been hindered by the intricate nature of immigration law. The bipartisan group acknowledges the likelihood of losing votes from both ends of the political spectrum. As the negotiations intensify, immigration advocates rally against proposed changes, likening them to Trump-era measures and emphasizing potential negative consequences for individuals fleeing persecution.

Key considerations include policies that may allow border officials to send migrants back to Mexico without asylum opportunities, a move criticized for potential exploitation by dangerous cartels. Advocates argue that such measures could make the border region more chaotic and dangerous, with implications for the large-scale detention of migrants at a substantial cost. Leading House Democrats, including Representatives Nanette Barragán, Pramila Jayapal, Veronica Escobar, and Jerry Nadler, have joined the chorus of concerns, highlighting the potential lasting impact on Latino voter support should concessions be made without benefiting Dreamers and essential workers.