Legislative Bulletin – Friday, May 5, 2017

Policy and Advocacy Associate

May 5, 2017

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

BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED

H.R. 2141

Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act

The bill would extend and expand the Conrad 30 Waiver Program, which permits foreign doctors to remain in the U.S. upon completing their residency under the condition that they practice in underserved areas for at least three years.

Sponsored by Representative Brad Schneider (D – Illinois) (1 cosponsor)

04/25/2017 Introduced in the House by Representative Schneider

04/25/2017 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 2213

Anti-Border Corruption Reauthorization Act of 2017

The bill would provide the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with discretionary authority to exempt existing law enforcement officers and veterans who meet certain requirements from undergoing a polygraph examination as part of the CBP hiring process.

Sponsored by Representative Martha McSally (R – Arizona) (6 cosponsors)

04/27/2016 Introduced in the House by Representative McSally

04/27/2016 Referred to the House Committee on Homeland Security

05/03/2017 Marked up and passed unanimously by the Homeland Security Committee

H.R. 2146

Unaccompanied Alien Children Placement Transparency Act of 2017

The bill would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide governors or other state-level officials with information about unaccompanied migrant children being placed within their states.

Sponsored by Representative Phil Roe (R – Tennessee) (6 cosponsors)

04/26/2017 Introduced in the House by Representative Roe

04/26/2017 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 2233

American Jobs First Act of 2017

This bill would reform the H-1B visa program by implementing new visa requirements and would end the diversity visa program.

Sponsored by Representative Mo Brooks (R – Alabama) (2 cosponsors)

04/28/2017 Introduced in the House by Representative Brooks

04/28/2017 Referred to the House Committees on the Judiciary and on Education and the Workforce

H.R. 2346

Support and Defend Our Military Personnel and Their Families Act

This bill would facilitate the naturalization process for non-citizen service members, veterans and their families.

Sponsored by Representative Mike Thompson (D – California) (1 cosponsors)

05/03/2017 Introduced in the House by Representative Thompson

05/03/2017 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 2353

A Bill to Reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006

This bill would reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, which aims to increase the quality of technical education for all Americans, including immigrants.

Sponsored by Representative Glenn Thompson (R – Pennsylvania) (7 cosponsors)

05/04/2017 Introduced in the House by Representative Thompson

S. 1034 

Agriculture Worker Program Act

This bill would provide undocumented farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in each of the past two years the opportunity to earn a lawful “blue card” status. Farmworkers who maintain blue card status for the next three or five years, depending on the total hours worked in agriculture, would be eligible to adjust status to legal permanent residency.

Sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D – California) (4 cosponsors)

05/03/2017 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Feinstein

05/03/2017 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

S. 1040

Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017

The bill would permit state legislatures to create state-based nonimmigrant guest worker visa programs to meet their individual workforce needs. The programs would need to be approved by Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

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

05/04/2017 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Johnson

05/04/2017 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate will be in session the week of Monday, May 8, 2017.

The U.S. House of Representatives will not be in session the week of Monday, May 8, 2017.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

There are no immigration-related hearings or markups scheduled for the week of Monday, May 8, 2017.

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Federal

Trump Signs Compromise Omnibus Bill with $1.5 billion in Supplemental Funding for DHS, But No Money for New Wall

President Trump signed a $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill on May 5 to fund the government for the remaining five months of fiscal year (FY) 2017.

The compromise bill overwhelmingly passed both houses of Congress after weeks of high-profile negotiations over the White House’s request to include $3 billion in supplemental funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The White House sought supplemental funding to start construction on a border wall along the Southwest border, hire additional Border Patrol agents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and increase immigration detention. While the spending bill includes about $1.2 billion in supplemental funding for DHS, none of the funds are allocated to construct new barriers in the U.S.-Mexico border. The spending bill includes $341 million to repair approximately 40 miles of existing primary and pedestrian fencing along the Southwest border, about $148 million in additional funding for immigration detention and $65 million to improve hiring processes for Border Patrol agents and ICE officers. The spending bill also includes language increasing the total number of H-2B worker visas, providing an additional 2,500 Afghan Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) and extending the EB-5 regional center investor program.

Senator Johnson Unveils State-Based Visa Pilot Program Bill

A new bill introduced by Senator Ron Johnson (R – Wisconsin) on May 3 would permit each state to create visa pilot programs to sponsor up to 5,000 temporary guest workers to come to their state. The bill, known as the Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017, would allow state legislatures to manage the visas, allocate them to specific industries and set prevailing wage rate. Unlike the H-1B visa program, state visas would not be tied to a particular employer, permitting workers to change jobs. However, participants would be barred from federal welfare and health care benefits, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and other programs. Johnson said that the bill would allow states to meet their individual workforce needs by catering to their industry and economy.

Congressman Ken Buck (R – Colorado) will be introducing counterpart legislation in the House.

Secretary of Agriculture Says Trump Will Not Deport Undocumented Farm Workers; New Bill Would Provide Farm Workers Legal Status

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said on April 28 that he believes President Trump will not focus on deporting undocumented farm workers and that the president may be open to creating a way for some undocumented workers to remain in the U.S. Although Perdue said he could not talk about “a path to citizenship or anything like that,” he said the president has no desire to remove “long-term immigrants, sometimes undocumented immigrant laborers” who are contributing to the economy. Perdue also noted that he recently hired a new staffer to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help design a program to separate and divide “the immigrants that are contributing to American society” from immigrants who are “committing crimes.”

Subsequently, on May 3, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D – California) introduced a bill that would protect undocumented farmworkers from deportation and provide them with a pathway to legal status. The Agriculture Worker Act of 2017 would provide a lawful “blue card” status to undocumented farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in each of the past two years. Recipients who maintain their blue card status for the next three or five years, depending on the total hours worked in agriculture, would be eligible to adjust status to lawful permanent residency. Currently, federal officials estimate that more than half of agricultural workers in California are undocumented.

Farm groups have raised concerns in recent months that deporting undocumented immigrants who work in the agriculture industry could destabilize farming operations and increase food costs.

Report Claims Border Officials Are Turning Away Asylum Seekers in Violation of U.S. and International Law

A Human Rights First report released on May 3 claims that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and officers are rejecting asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border without the protection screening required under U.S. law and international agreements. The report documents 125 people or families who were turned away at entry points along the Southwest border from November 2016 to April 2017. Under U.S. law, asylum seekers are referred to an asylum officer, who determines during the credible fear interview whether the individual has a significant chance of proving a fear of persecution in their home country. If so, they are allowed to apply for asylum before an immigration judge. However, border officials are alleged to be turning away asylum seekers without providing them the opportunity to claim credible fear. The Human Rights First report notes that asylum seekers who are denied entry into the U.S. often face ongoing dangers and lack of protection in Mexico and other countries.

Meanwhile, reports emerged that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials apprehended and detained young asylum seeker Erik Javier Flores Hernandez from a children’s shelter on his 18th birthday. Flores Hernandez fled northern Mexico in 2016 to escape his abusive father and drug traffickers who abducted and killed his mother. He was subsequently apprehended by immigration officers, designated as an unaccompanied minor and placed in a children’s shelter. ICE stated that individuals housed in facilities designed to hold unaccompanied children may not remain in those facilities once they reach 18 years of age.

New Screening Measures Delay Naturalization of U.S. Military Service Members

The New York Times reports that at least 4,300 military service members are awaiting the completion of their background checks to become U.S. citizens, but face long delays as new screening measures are taking longer than expected. The new measures, which started to go into effect during the Obama administration, could require up to 10 years of background information on an individual’s finances, education and professional activities, as well as interviews by an investigator and references from close relatives, employers, neighbors and colleagues. Without clearance, aspiring applicants cannot enter basic training or be deployed oversees. By November 2016, the legal status of up to 1,500 people who enlisted in active duty or the reserves had expired while they waited for clearance. The Army said that it is granting extensions, but the individuals could eventually be subject to deportation. About 10,000 immigrants have joined the military with the promise of an expedited path to citizenship for their service to the country.

Former FAIR Executive Director Named USCIS Ombudsman

On May 1, President Trump selected Julie Kirchner to serve as ombudsman to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Kirchner previously worked as the executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an immigration restrictionist group that advocates for reduced legal and undocumented immigration to the U.S. The USCIS Ombudsman office is responsible for helping improve the quality of citizenship and immigration services by providing case assistance and by making recommendations to improve the administration of immigration benefits.

State & Local

Texas Legislature Sends SB 4 to Governor

On May 3, the Texas Senate passed the Texas House of Representatives’ version of Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) which threatens cities, counties and law enforcement agencies that elect not to carry out immigration enforcement beyond what federal laws require, while permitting local law enforcement officers to demand proof of an individual’s immigration status for any reason during a stop or arrest and, if warranted, immediately report them to immigration agents. SB 4 proceeds to Governor Greg Abbott (R – Texas), who stated on twitter that he will sign the bill.

Among other provisions, SB 4 would require local jurisdictions to honor federal immigration detainers, which are voluntary requests to hold a person in a local jail beyond the person’s scheduled release. The requirement could create legal liability for localities, since multiple federal courts have questioned their legality or found them unconstitutional. SB 4 would also bar policies that prohibit or discourage law enforcement officers from inquiring about the immigration status of any person arrested or detained by law enforcement, including during traffic stops, and create a Class A misdemeanor criminal offense for elected or appointed officials who limit their locality’s involvement in federal immigration enforcement, which could result in up to a year in jail and removal from office.

Law enforcement leaders across Texas have explained their opposition to the bill in the Dallas Morning News, USA Today and Austin American Statesman. The bill is likely to have significant implications on law enforcement and community trust. Because the law permits police officers to question the immigration status of people who are detained, undocumented immigrants may conflate the roles of local law enforcement with federal immigration enforcement, thereby discouraging immigrants from contacting local law enforcement to report or help resolve crimes. Faith leaders have also expressed concerns that the bill will have a negative impact on those who work with undocumented immigrants in their communities.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General: DHS Tracking of Visa Overstays is Hindered by Insufficient Technology, May 1, 2017

This OIG report examines Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s visa tracking operations for investigating in-country visa overstays. The report finds that, despite efforts to improve information sharing, the DHS Chief Information Officer  did not provide the oversight and centralized management needed to address problems. The report also notes that DHS lacks a comprehensive biometric exit system at ports of entry to capture departure information on nonimmigrant visitors.

* * *

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