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Chief of staff Zients joins border talks: report

White House chief of staff Jeff Zients is taking a seat at the table in negotiations over funding Ukraine aid and border policy, according to a report by Semafor.

The administration’s direct participation in the talks comes as the deadline to re-up military funding for Ukraine approaches, and with Senate negotiators apparently stalled on the border.

Administration officials had been hinting at an intensification of the White House’s role — deputy press secretary Andrew Bates told reporters Monday that President Biden had personally conveyed the urgency of funding Ukraine’s war effort to lawmakers.

The White House did not respond to multiple requests to officially confirm Zients’s participation in the talks.

The administration’s direct involvement comes as Democrats and their allies in the immigration advocacy world have become increasingly vocal about their opposition to the working principle of the negotiations: to bundle transient aid to Ukraine in exchange for permanent reforms to border management laws.

Advocates have for months been sore at the administration for bundling immigration with a must-pass priority, but that friction has ballooned into outright anger from advocates and warnings from Democrats that a bad deal will face opposition from within.

“Here we have a foreign aid package, it should remain just that. The White House should not be lumping [in] aid on the border, and certainly not having conversations about changes to immigration as part of a foreign aid package,” Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) told MSNBC on Tuesday.

“And I think it sets a dangerous precedent because then every time we have foreign aid, Republicans are going to come right back and demand something else on immigration policy changes.”

Senate negotiations, led by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.), have reportedly centered on raising the threshold for valid asylum claims, a proposal that many in the immigration advocacy world say would do little to reduce the number of people coming to the border.

Some immigration researchers, however, say more stringent asylum laws could create a deterrent in some cases and could help the asylum system more quickly process applicants with better claims.

But talks have also reportedly touched on other elements of immigration law, including expanding expedited removal powers from just areas near the border to the entire country.

There is broader agreement that interior enforcement moves have not been proven to act as a deterrent, though they do have a chilling effect on existing immigrant communities.

Those sorts of concessions have been discussed before in immigration talks, but in the past they’ve been paired with immigration benefits for existing undocumented populations or proposals to reform the legal immigration system to allow more foreign nationals to apply to immigrate to the United States outside the asylum process.

Regardless, immigration advocates see the Biden administration falling into a trap, making concessions that anger the Democratic base but won’t ease political pressure on the border in 2024.

“It’s really remarkable to see Republicans say no to our allies, and they’re doing it because of a political stunt. What they’re proposing — the extreme immigration changes they’re proposing — are not going to help solve the issues at the border,” said Barragán.

Source: The Hill

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