With a new, albeit slight, majority in the House of Representatives, the Republican Party recently approved a rules package which will send a controversial immigration bill to the floor for a vote. The Border Safety and Security Act of 2023 seeks to upend the American immigration system and create new restrictions for those seeking asylum in the United States. As many human rights organizations have already opposed the measure, which is not yet scheduled for a vote, the bill is already exposing internal rifts within the Republican caucus.
What is Asylum?
With a history nearly as old as law itself, asylum is an ancient juridical concept that permits individuals to seek protection of another government when they are persecuted by their own government. Recognized by ancient societies, the universal right to asylum was formally adopted by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and later was extended by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
In the United States, federal law allows for refugees to seek protection from persecution on a protected ground, including race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Generally, an individual may file an application for asylum with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within one year after they enter the country. Additionally, asylum is often utilized as a defense for those in removal proceedings. For individuals in removal proceedings, an application for asylum will be handled through the immigration court, a subcomponent of the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which is itself part of the Department of Justice.
The Border Safety and Security Act of 2023
The House GOP has announced its intention to vote on the Border Safety and Security Act of 2023. On its face, H.R. 29 is quite simple – only a few pages long. Its impact, however, would be significant. The bill allows for the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to suspend the entry of all people without proper documentation at the border in order to achieve operational control of the southern border. The bill also requires the Department to prohibit undocumented individuals from entering the country if the Department cannot 1) detain individuals seeking asylum protection, or 2) place such individuals in a program in the country from which they entered. The bill goes on to empower state attorneys general to bring lawsuits against the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security if the Department fails to prohibit the entry of certain noncitizens seeking entry into the country.
Controversial Immigration Measure Spawns Uncertainty in GOP
With the immigration bill promised a vote by Republican leadership, members of the Republican caucus are expressing concern. Congressman Tony Gonzalez (R-TX), who represents the largest stretch of the southern border, remarked that “we can’t allow the Republican Party to be hijacked. Trying to ban legitimate asylum claims – one, it’s not Christian, and two, to me, it’s very anti-American. So a lot is at stake.” That said, the sponsor of the bill, Congressman Chip Roy (R-TX) has maintained, “no one’s trying to ban asylum.” It remains to be seen the extent to which the bill will be utilized to intentionally block asylum protections in the country.
Human Rights Organizations Oppose Bill
More than 250 local, state, and national human rights organizations joined together in opposition to H.R. 29. In a letter opposing the measure, these organizations explained that “requiring DHS to expel arriving migrants without any individualized screening for asylum or trafficking flouts long-standing international commitments to protect people fleeing political, religious, ethnic, racial, and other kinds of heinous persecution.”
With a democratic majority in the Senate, it is not anticipated that the legislation will become law in the current Congress.