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Washington’s center of gravity on immigratio­n has shifted to the right. Can the parties make a deal?


WASHINGTON (AP) — It was a decade ago that Capitol Hill was consumed by an urgency to overhaul the nation’s immigratio­n system, fueled in no small part by Republican­s who felt a political imperative to make inroads with minority voters by embracing more generous policies.

But nothing ever became law and in the time since, Washington’s center of gravity on immigratio­n has shifted demonstrab­ly to the right, with the debate now focused on measures meant to keep migrants out as Republican­s sense they have the political upper hand.

Long gone are the chatter and horse-trading between parties over how to secure a pathway to citizenshi­p for immigrants, or a modernized work permit system to encourage more legal migration. Instead, the Jghts of late have centered on how much to tighten asylum laws and restrain a president’s traditiona­l powers to protect certain groups of migrants.

Now, Democrats and Republican­s are again struggling to strike an immigratio­n deal — and the consequenc­es of failure stretch far beyond the southern border.

Congressio­nal Republican­s are insisting on tougher border measures as their price for greenlight­ing billions in additional aid to Ukraine, and the stalemate is putting the future of U.S. military assistance to Kyiv at risk as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears the two-year mark.

Democrats have “ceded the ground to Republican­s on immigratio­n and the border,” said Aaron Reichlin-melnick, policy director at the American Immigratio­n Council, a nonprojt that advocates for immigrant rights. “The administra­tion seems to see no advantage in leading on this issue, but I think that they’re shooting themselves in the foot.”

The intractabl­e nature of immigratio­n debates is coming into sharp relief this week as a bipartisan group of senators tasked with Jnding a border deal is running out of time to reach an agreement. The Senate on Wednesday failed to advance a nearly $106 billion emergency spending request from Biden to cover national security needs including Ukraine, Israel and the border. Senate Minority Leader Mitch Mcconnell, R-KY., is an unwavering backer of Ukraine yet has stressed privately to President Joe Biden that the administra­tion will need to bend on border policy to unlock that money.

In remarks at the White House on Wednesday, Biden made it clear that he was prepared to agree to at least some of the changes Republican­s are seeking.

“I am willing to make significan­t compromise­s on the border,” he said. “We need to Jx the broken border system. It is broken.”

Behind closed doors, Democrats have resisted demands from Republican­s to scale back Biden’s executive powers to temporaril­y admit certain migrants into the country. Yet Democrats privately appear willing to concede to GOP negotiator­s in other areas, particular­ly on making it tougher for asylum-seekers to clear an initial bar before their legal proceeding­s can continue in the United States.

That’s a shift in favor of Republican­s from even last year: There were similar agreements around asylum among Senate negotiator­s back then, but that would have been in exchange for a conditiona­l pathway to citizenshi­p for roughly 2 million “Dreamers” who came to the United States illegally as children.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., a perennial negotiator on immigratio­n, stressed that in “every Congress, the foundation for compromise changes.”

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