Legislative Bulletin – Friday, May 27, 2016

Policy and Advocacy Associate

May 27, 2016

BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED
LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR
UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS
THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK
GOVERNMENT REPORTS

BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED

S. 2976

This bill amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to reform, streamline, and make improvements to the Department of Homeland Security and support the Department’s efforts to implement better policy, planning, management, and performance.

Sponsored by Senator Ron Johnson (R – Wisconsin) (1 cosponsor)

05/23/2016 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Johnson

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate will not be in session the week of Monday 30, 2016.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

There are no hearings and markups scheduled for the week of May 30, 2016.

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Federal

Homeland Security Appropriations Bill and Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill Move Forward

The Senate Appropriations Committee marked up and passed the Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2017 by voice vote on May 26. The bill, which received praise from members on both sides of the aisle, provides the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) $48.07 billion for discretionary programs. The bill includes $11.18 billion for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an increase of $125 million above the enacted levels for fiscal year 2016. The funding level supports hiring 21,370 Border Patrol agents and 23,775 CBP officers, which is the same as last year’s levels. The bill also includes $5.96 billion in funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a $132 million increase above the fiscal year 2016 enacted levels. The bill would fund 34,000 detention beds in immigration detention facilities, similar to the number of detention beds funded last year and 2,000 more beds than the requested in the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2017. Finally, the Homeland Security Appropriations bill includes level funding of $119 million for the E-Verify program at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee passed the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Act of 2017 by voice vote on May 24. The bill includes $457 million for the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), an increase of $34 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted levels. The proposed EOIR budget provides an additional 25 immigration judge teams to help process immigration reviews and reduce the backlog of pending cases. Although the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2017 requested no funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), the bill includes $274 million, which represents an increase of $64 million.

Both spending bills now await action on the floor.

NDAA Stalls in Senate, Over 300 Amendments Submitted

The Senate is expected to take up the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 (NDAA) when it returns from the Memorial Day recess on June 6. The bill includes an expansive section on border metrics that would direct the DHS to develop and report specific metrics to measure the effectiveness of security at the border. The metrics required to be reported would include an unlawful border crossing effectiveness rate, a consequence delivery system, and situational awareness at the border, among other provisions.

As the NDAA stalled in the Senate this week, more than 300 amendments to the NDAA were submitted. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D – New Hampshire) introduced an amendment co-sponsored by McCain that would reauthorize the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program and provide 4,000 visas for Afghans who served as interpreters to the U.S. military and other American officials during the war in Afghanistan. Currently, the State Department only has about 3,600 of those types of visas left to issue, but more than 10,000 Afghans are waiting in a backlog. Congress authorized additional visas for Afghan interpreters over the past several years through the NDAA, but some Republican Senators have blocked those efforts this year over security concerns. Supporters of the Afghan SIV program note that the U.S. should not turn its back on people who helped, at great personal risk, U.S. troops and officials in Afghanistan.

In addition, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D – North Dakota) introduced an amendment that would require DHS to conduct a “Northern Border Threat Analysis.” The analysis would report on the current and potential terrorism and criminal threats posed by individuals and organized groups seeking to enter the United States, improvements needed at and between ports of entry along the Northern Border, gaps in cooperation between federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement, and technology needs, among other requirements.

Onerous Visa Screening Bill Passes House Judiciary Committee

On May 25, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016 by a party-line vote of 14 to 10. The bill, which was introduced by Representative Randy Forbes (R – Virginia), would impose additional onerous screening procedures for processing immigrant and nonimmigrant visas. Among other provisions, the bill would require that additional background checks, including review of an individual’s social media activity, be conducted for most petitioners or applicants to determine whether an individual poses a national security threat or is ineligible for a visa or admission to the United States. Furthermore, the bill would require that, for most nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Yemen or other countries that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deems necessary, a security advisory opinion must be completed prior to issuance of all visas. The bill would also require DNA testing to approve applications based upon a biological relationship and in-person interviews with every person seeking any benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), with the exception of work authorization. Opponents noted that the bill would mandate costly and burdensome steps that could lead to serious delays, leading visitors and businesses to forego the United States.  Opponents also noted that the bill would target some people based on their nationality or race, which would hurt potentially refugees from those countries and, overall, is incompatible with the United States’ value of cherishing civil liberties.

DHS Reiterates Its Harsh Stance Against Central Americans Seeking Refuge

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson repeated the Department’s strict stance on border crossings by Central Americans. After his trip to Central America, where he met with Honduras’  President Juan Orlando Hernández and El Salvador’s President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the Secretary issued a statement warning that “if you have been apprehended at our border, have a final order of removal, and have no pending claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief under our laws, we must send you home.”

Besides the clear message to both countries, the Secretary also confirmed that U.S. immigration agencies have deported over 11,000 El Salvadorians and Hondurans since October. That is a ten times more than the 1,100 individuals, who have been permitted to stay in the country through the Central American Minors Program (CAMP), which focuses specifically on asylum-seekers from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. According to Johnson, DHS has received more than 7,000 applications under the CAMP so far.

New Immigrant Detention Facility To Include Unit for Transgender Detainees

The newly built detention facility for immigrants, which is expected to open this fall in Alvarado, Texas, will contain a special unit devoted to transgender individuals, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said in a statement.

With 36 beds held for transgender detainees, the privately-run Texas detention center will be the second of its kind in the federal system. The only other such place is located in Santa Ana, California. However, ICE didn’t release any further details about how is the Texas facility for transgender detainees differs from other centers.

Legal

Immigrant Advocacy Groups File Lawsuit to Increase Transparency around H-1B Visas

Two DC-based Immigrant advocacy groups jointly filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on May 20, attempting to increase transparency of the H-1B visa lottery and asked for a more detailed description of the visa selection process.

Every year, the USCIS chooses up to 85,000 highly skilled foreign professionals, applying for the H-1B visa through their U.S. employers. For more than ten years, the demand for H-1B visa has exceeded the limit, forcing the agency to select the “winners” based on a computer-generated random selection. Details about that process, software used, and maintenance of that software have not been made public.

State & Local

San Francisco Legislators Uphold Revised “Sanctuary City” Policy

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors upheld a revised “sanctuary city” policy maintains the city’s policy of keeping clear lines between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement activities, but allows law enforcement to assist federal immigration authorities in certain circumstances. Specifically, the measure permits the San Francisco sheriff to contact and communicate with ICE in cases in which an undocumented individual has been convicted of a felony. The lawmakers approved the legislation in a unanimous vote on Tuesday, May 24.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

CRS: A Resurgence of Unaccompanied Alien Children?, May 20, 2016 (by William A. Kandel)

This report summarizes the latest data on apprehensions of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) at the U.S.-Mexico border. After a review of the latest figures, the report shows from where the UAC originate and describes roles of U.S. federal agencies involved in the apprehension process. It concludes with a summary of the latest steps taken by the Administration to address the issue.

GAO: DHS Surveillance Technology Unmanned Aerial Systems and Other Assets, May 24, 2016 (by Rebecca Gambler)

In this report, the GAO addresses its findings on DHS’ efforts to implement the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan and refers to initial observations related to DHS’ ongoing work on Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP’s) use of unmanned aerial systems and tactical aerostats.

GAO: Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen DHS Management of Short-Term Holding Facilities, May 26, 2016 (by Rebecca Gambler)

This report examines DHS’ management and supervision at its holding facilities. Particularly, it analyzes the extent to which the agency follows its standards for short-term custody of undocumented individuals and monitors compliance with established standards. The report also studies processes that DHS uses to obtain and address complaints from undocumented individuals held at the facilities.

GAO made the following recommendations: DHS should set up a process of assessing time in custody data for all who are held in the facilities, release a guidance on complaint mechanisms for individuals in short-term custody, incorporate a classification code valid for all complaint tracking systems at its holding facilities, and start analyzing trends in holding facility complaints.

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*This Bulletin is not intended to be comprehensive. Please contact Zuzana Jerabek, National Immigration Forum Policy and Advocacy Associate, with comments and suggestions of additional items to be included. Zuzana can be reached at zjerabek@immigrationforum.org. Thank you.