Happenings in Immigration Policy (April)

Director of Policy and Advocacy

May 16, 2016

U.S. Supreme Court Argument in Executive Action Case

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on April 18 in United States v. Texas, the case in which Texas and other states are challenging Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The executive actions, which would provide temporary deportation relief and employment authorization for approximately five million undocumented immigrants, were blocked by a federal judge after 26 states sued the Obama administration. Thousands of immigration advocates rallied outside while the oral arguments were occurring.

Legal analysts note that the eight justices appeared evenly split along ideological lines during the oral arguments, but cautioned that it is difficult to predict the Supreme Court’s ruling based on the oral arguments. A 4 to 4 tie by the Supreme Court would keep in place the lower court’s decision blocking the executive actions. We’ll be looking for the court’s decision in late June.

Legislation in Congress

House Passes a Southwest Border Assessment Bill

By voice vote on April 13, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4482, the Southwest Border Security Threat Assessment Act of 2016. The bill would direct the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a full analysis of current and potential security threats in the southwest border and require Border Patrol to design a new strategic plan based on that analysis. Representative Martha McSally (R – Arizona) sponsored the bill. H.R. 4482 enjoyed bipartisan support in the House, including from co-sponsor Representative Kyrsten Sinema (D – Arizona).

House Committee Rejects DACA Amendment on Defense Bill

On April 27, the House Armed Services Committee rejected an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2017 that would allow undocumented immigrants to enlist in the military if they have employment authorization under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Representative Ruben Gallego (D – Arizona) introduced the amendment, which was met with strong opposition by House Republicans. After the Gallego amendment was defeated, however, Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry’s (R – Texas) amendment passed that would reaffirm the defense secretary’s ability to enlist anyone who is determined to be “vital to the national interest,” which could include those who fall under the DACA program.

Other Bills Introduced

We continue to see a mix of bills introduced in the House ranging from Representative Ruben Gallego’s (D-Arizona) H.R. 5012, Restoring Respect for Immigrant Service in Uniform Act that would prevent the deportation of veterans or allow them to return and reunite with their families if they meet certain requirements to Representative John Culberson’s (R – Texas) H.R. 5102, The Interior Enforcement Act, which would establish a criminal penalty for an individual who lacks lawful immigration status and is present in the United States.

Speaker Ryan Joins Americans Supporting Legal Status

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R – Wisconsin) participated in a town hall on April 27, where he objected to the idea of mass deportation and supported the opportunity for undocumented immigrants to “get right with the law” and earn legal status. Ryan’s opinion is consistent with those of a majority of Americans. A new report by the Public Religion Research Institute states that a majority of Americans have a favorable view of immigrants in the U.S. and six in ten support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements. The report also notes that public support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants has remained steady at around 62% throughout 2015, while an additional 15% support legal residency without citizenship. Among Republican voters, 52% support a pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants, compared to 30% who support identifying and deporting the 11 million-person undocumented population.

Actions of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made numerous arrests in April. Authorities with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 1,133 people during a nation-wide, five-week operation called Project Shadowfire. Officials characterized the operation as part of an enforcement campaign against illicit gangs known for trafficking guns, drugs and people across the United States border. The majority of the individuals arrested were American nationals, but about 240 people were natives of countries in Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. Of those, more than 130 were accused of immigration violations.

Also, DHS received many complaints in April. For example, DHS received a complaint from civil and immigrant rights organizations on April 6 claiming that U.S. Border Patrol agents along the southwest border took the personal belongings of undocumented immigrants before deporting them to Mexico. The complaint alleges that 26 immigrants suspected of being in the country without authorization were returned to Mexico without their belongings. In one case, agents allegedly seized and did not return $400 from a 23-year-old woman after detaining her near a land port-of-entry in El Paso, Texas. Other belongings seized by agents included wedding rings, glasses and identification papers, including documents needed to travel and work in Mexico. DHS said that it will investigate the complaint and that it has a policy of protecting detainees’ property and returning their belongings when they are deported. DHS officials were further accused, as two undocumented immigrants in Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center are refusing food in a protest against their prolonged detention.

An attorney with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was sentenced to 30 days in jail on April 20 for forging a document to make Ignacio Lanuza ineligible to have his removal proceedings cancelled. Lanuza, a Mexican immigrant in the United States, was stopped by an ICE officer in 2008 and put in removal proceedings. Lanuza was eligible to contest his deportation because he had been living in the United States for over 10 years, showed good moral character and had a family made up of U.S. citizens. Evidence suggests that even though DHS was aware of the allegations of this employee’s misconduct, they did not investigate the allegations for almost two years.