So-called ‘Secure the Border Act’ (H.R. 2) turns immigration system into punitive anti-immigrant tool
By Cris Ramon, UnidosUS Senior Policy Advisor on Immigration
For months House Republicans have insisted that any agreement on border security include H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act that the House passed on May 11, 2023. The fact is that H.R. 2 contains extreme measures to which we have long and forcefully objected.
The bill includes some measures we have heard about—including completing a border wall, changes in asylum standards, and expansion of detention for families and children—along with other hardline policies that turn our immigration system into a punitive tool aimed at immigrants in the United States. In this piece, we examine three of the cruelest but less known consequences of an enacted H.R. 2 in the name of “securing the border.”
As we noted previously, the bill would “hurt the economy, do nothing to address our outdated immigration system or resolve the status of DACA recipients or other undocumented people with deep roots in the United States.” Our analysis of the bill finds it relentlessly targets vulnerable groups, harming undocumented residents seeking relief, child victims of abuse from their parents, and children seeking protection at the country’s borders.
HR 2 targets the most vulnerable
First, the bill would significantly limit immigration parole, a flexible executive authority that allows non-citizens to enter or remain in the United States and work legally. The Department of Homeland Security currently grants this protection to specific family members of certain members of the U.S. Armed Forces and long-term residents of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The United States has also used parole to admit non-citizens into country, including within the Biden administration’s program that allows Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans with family sponsors to enter.
Despite how critical a tool parole authority has been for administrations for decades, H.R. 2 would significantly curtail it. It would prohibit DHS from granting parole to non-citizens in the United States, limiting protection for undocumented individuals who have faced legal limbo for decades due to congressional inaction.
It also imposes new requirements on parole authority that completely constrict DHS’s ability to grant this protection to targeted humanitarian groups, derailing the creation of future parole programs that have helped reduce irregular immigration to the U.S.-Mexico border by offering viable alternatives.
HR 2 puts more children at risk
The bill also harms children eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) classification and those arriving to U.S. borders. The SIJ program allows individuals under the age of 21 to seek a green card if they cannot reunite with their parents due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect.
Children arriving to the U.S. border have unique protections that require DHS to transfer children detained at U.S. borders to the Department of U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) within 72 hours, and prohibit DHS from putting them in a fast-track deportation process known as Expedited Removal. H.R. 2 guts these protections for kids.
The bill makes it harder for SIJ applicants to secure a green card by requiring them to reunite with a parent or legal guardian. The bill also makes it easier to detain and deport children who arrive at U.S. borders. For instance, children who are the victims of trafficking or meet the credible fear standards for asylum must enter accelerated removal proceedings. It also extends the 72-hour CBP detention period to 30 days for individuals with humanitarian claims.
Finally, the bill also targets non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like UnidosUS Affiliates that serve migrants arriving at the border. It prohibits DHS from funding NGOs that provide services such as lodging or immigration legal services to “inadmissible aliens” who enter the country. It does the same for NGOs that are—in the bill’s wording—“facilitating or encouraging unlawful activity,” including “unlawful entry,” human smuggling, and drug trafficking.
This could threaten programs such as FEMA’s Services and Shelter Program that have allowed NGOs to support DHS’s reception of migrants. It would also target legal service providers whose advice has helped non-citizens navigate the asylum process, thereby improving its efficiency.
Lawmakers must reject HR 2
These examples show the more insidious and far-reaching threat of H.R. 2 to our communities and why it must never become law. Immigrant children—whether they live with mixed-status U.S. families or arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border—deserve protection and the support and services critical to their wellbeing.
Lawmakers should also protect immigration parole authority so the executive branch maintains its policy flexibility, and provide funding for NGOs and service providers to adjust to new migration challenges.
We agree on the need for broad and bold action so immigration will cease being an intractable long-term challenge. But H.R. 2 would be catastrophic for our country and should be rejected outright.