Republicans Hold Ukraine Aid Hostage Over Donald Trump's Border Wall

Republicans are threatening not to approve additional U.S. support for Ukraine unless Democrats agree to a whole host of immigration law changes as well as the resumed construction of Donald Trump’s wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

A group of Senate Republicans on Monday released a list of proposals tightening immigration enforcement and putting sharp limits on who is eligible for asylum in the U.S., measures they said are aimed at “securing the border and stemming the flow of migrants immediately.”

GOP leaders have said that Democrats need to agree to some sort of concessions on the border in exchange for their support for billions of dollars for Ukraine, Israel and other national security priorities, as requested by President Joe Biden’s administration.

Though some Republicans in Congress support aid for Ukraine, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-Ky.), many in his party flatly oppose further assistance for the country despite its yearslong struggle against Russian aggression.

Democrats immediately rejected the GOP’s border demands, however, putting into further doubt continued U.S. assistance for Ukraine.

“Making Ukraine aid conditional on hard right border policies that can’t even pass in Congress is a huge mistake by our Republican colleagues. By tying Ukraine to the border, Republicans are sadly making it harder, much harder” to help Ukraine, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned on Tuesday.

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, noted that the GOP proposal included a provision that would “end relief for Ukrainians, Afghans and others who have found refuge in the United States” while Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) said it “would eviscerate our asylum system, endangering families and children fleeing violence and persecution ... and it would force construction of an ineffective and damaging border wall.”

Congress has struggled to reform the nation’s immigration laws for decades, and it’s hard to see lawmakers working out a major compromise on border issues now, particularly on the edges of a broader emergency spending package.

Under the GOP proposal, which looks similar to a bill House Republicans passed earlier this year, migrants would be ineligible for asylum if they transited through a third country without seeking refuge there before reaching the U.S., migrants would only be allowed to request protection at official ports of entry, and, in a major change, migrants fleeing persecution who are seeking asylum would need to meet a higher evidentiary threshold to avoid being quickly deported.

Democrats have signaled they would be open to making some changes, including on asylum and parole, but they stressed that they’d push for things in return, including a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

The injection of a perennially divisive issue ― immigration ― into the simmering debate over Ukraine could make things even harder for Congress to pass anything. Or, as Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a congressional dealmaker who has been hearing out Republicans on their border ideas, put it, it would be like successfully making a “triple bank shot” in a pool game.