Legislative Bulletin – Friday, November 14, 2014

Assistant Director for Immigration Policy and Advocacy

November 14, 2014

Bills Introduced and Considered

H.R. 5688

Stop Ebola Act

To impose visa and admission restrictions on immigrants who are citizens or nationals of the countries affected by widespread transmission of the Ebola virus, as well as immigrants who traveled from or through an affected country.

Sponsored by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) (1 co-sponsor: Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-TX))

11/12/2014    Introduced in House by Rep. Johnson

11/12/2104    Referred to House Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 5693

Ebola Visa Safety Act

To prohibit the issuance of visas to and admission to the United States of immigrants during a 30-day period following their presence in Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone.

Sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX)

11/12/2014    Introduced in House by Rep. Poe

11/12/2014    Referred to House Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 5694

Contain Ebola and Stop the Epidemic Act of 2014

To prohibit the landing of flights with passengers who traveled through or from countries with an Ebola epidemic, as well as to prohibit the issuance of visas to immigrants who traveled through or from countries with an Ebola epidemic.

Sponsored by Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) (3 co-sponsors: Reps. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), John Duncan (R-TN), and Bill Posey (R-FL))

11/12/2014    Introduced in House by Rep. Ross

Nominations and Confirmations

By voice vote on November 12, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted to advance the nomination of Sarah Saldaña as Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Saldaña, who was nominated to lead ICE in September, testified in front of the committee on September 17. Senate Republicans have sought to delay a full Senate vote on the nomination in light of President Obama’s expected announcement of executive action on immigration, with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) pushing to refer the nomination to the Senate Judiciary Committee, prior to a full Senate vote on Saldaña’s confirmation. Also on November 12, the Committee voted to advance the confirmation of Russ Deyo to serve as undersecretary for management at the Homeland Security Department.

Immigration is also expected to take center stage in the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as Attorney General. Lynch’s nomination was announced by President Obama last week.

Legislative Floor Calendar

The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Monday, November 17 to Thursday, November 20.

The U.S. Senate will be in session the week of Monday, November 17.

Upcoming Hearings and Markups

Unaccompanied Alien Children: Pressing the Administration for a Strategy

Date: Tuesday, November 18, 2:00 pm

Place: 2172 Rayburn (House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere)

Witnesses: The Honorable Roberta S. Jacobson (Assistant Secretary, Bureau of the Western Hemisphere, U.S. Department of State), Elizabeth Hogan (Acting Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Latin American and the Caribbean, U.S. Agency for International Development), Robert N. Kaplan (President and Chief Executive Officer, Inter-American Foundation).

Themes in Washington This Week

Obama Administration Prepares for Administrative Action on Immigration; Congressional Republicans Opposed

Multiple media outlets reported that President Obama is likely to announce that he is taking broad administrative action to reform the broken immigration system by the end of next week. The immigration policy overhaul would temporarily protect as many as five million individuals with family ties to U.S. citizens and residents from the threat of deportation and provide many of them with work permits. The plan reportedly would also further prioritize deportations of those with criminal records and provide additional resources for border security and pay increases for Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers. It could also include additional fixes in the high tech and agricultural industries and expand eligibility for of the pool of young people eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The reports of impending action follow multiple statements from President Obama that he intends to move forward on administrative action before the end of 2014, including an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on November 9 where he said he welcomes immigration legislation from congressional Republicans, which would “supersede” whatever steps he takes administratively. Broad-based administrative reforms aimed at fixing the broken immigration system have gained the support of congressional Democrats, immigration activists, and religious leaders. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) urged the president to wait to act until  Congress passes government funding bills later this year, but other prominent Democrats have called for more immediate action.

Republicans have lined up against the president taking action on immigration, with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) warning that the president will get “burned” by acting alone and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), likely the next Senate Majority Leader, warning that such action would “poison the well” and discourage Congress from tackling immigration reform, and halt bipartisan cooperation on other issues. Republican officials and conservative activists have called for a strong congressional response to administrative action, including calls to use riders on must-pass spending bills to bar the administration from carrying out its policies (potentially causing a government shutdown), threats to block administration nominees, and raising the specter of impeachment.

Sen. Johnson Previews Border Bill; House GOP Leadership Talks Immigration Legislation

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who is likely to be the next chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told the Associated Press that he would be introducing “a very strong” border security bill next year. Although complete details have not been released, Johnson said that his bill would require that at least 90 percent of unlawful border crossers be stopped by border authorities and would include a significant guest worker provision to discourage illegal immigration.

In the House of Representatives, members of House Republican leadership have stated that House Republicans could move immigration reform legislation sometime in the next Congress, if the Obama Administration holds off taking administrative action on the issue. Pointing to Boehner’s failure to allow votes on any significant immigration reform legislation in the 113th Congress, some have characterized Boehner’s announcement as an effort to shift blame for future inaction on the issue.

Updates on Border Security, Immigration Detainers, and Visas

The Associated Press reported this week that the federal government now uses drones to patrol almost half of the U.S.-Mexico border. Using high-resolution video cameras, drones are used to film border regions to identify changes in the terrain that may be attributable to unlawful border crossings.

According to a report by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), the number of immigration detainers issued by ICE has fallen dramatically since the end of FY 2012, coinciding with a growing number of states and localities refusing to honor such immigration holds. According to TRAC, the number of ICE detainers sent to local, state and federal law enforcement officials fell 39% over this time period. Last month, federal officials reported that thousands of undocumented immigrants have been released after state and local authorities refused to honor ICE immigration detainers.

In remarks before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) chief executive summit on November 10, President Obama announced plans to extend student and tourism visas for visitors from China, as part of an effort to improve U.S.-Chinese ties and create jobs in the U.S. Previously, student, business, and tourist visas have only been available on a year-to-year basis. Under the agreement, student visas will be valid for entry for five years, with business and tourist visas being valid for a decade. The plan also includes reciprocal changes applying to U.S. citizens visiting China.

Government Reports

Congressional Research Service: Executive Discretion as to Immigration: Legal Overview, November 10, 2014 (by Kate M. Manuel and Michael John Garcia)

This CRS report discusses the various forms of discretion that the Executive can utilize with respect to immigration policy. The three broad categories of discretion highlighted in the report include express delegations of discretionary authority, discretion in enforcement, or prosecutorial discretion, and discretion in interpreting and applying statutes.

There are various instances where the Immigration and Nationality Act gives the Executive discretionary authority to grant certain benefits or relief to immigrants. For example, the Executive has statutory authorization to grant relief like Temporary Protected Status, as well as the authority to grant work authorization to certain immigrants who may not have lawful immigration status. In terms of prosecutorial discretion, the Executive has some autonomy in determining whether or not to charge a person for immigration violations. A well-known example of the Executive’s use of prosecutorial discretion is deferred action. The Executive may also affect implementation and enforcement of immigration policy by using its discretion to interpret and apply statutes. When a statute is “silent or ambiguous with respect to a specific issue,” the Executive has some discretion to interpret the statute itself. It is important to note, however, that the Executive must employ a reasonable interpretation of the statute.

Government Accountability Office: Alternatives to Detention: Improved Data Collection and Analyses Needed to Better Assess Program, November 2014

GAO published this report detailing the results of its study on the Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program. The ATD program, which was originally created in 2004 as a more cost-effective way of dealing with immigrants awaiting deportation, currently contains two components: full-service and technology-only. The full-service component is run by a contactor who maintains in-person contact with the immigrants, in addition to tracking them via GPS or telephone calls. The technology-only component, which is cheaper than the full-service program, involves Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) monitoring immigrants with either GPS provided by a contractor or telephone calls.

ICE’s plan was to increase the number of immigrants enrolled in and terminated from the ATD program and to use the program in a more cost-effective manner by transitioning immigrants between the full-service and technology-only components. GAO found that ICE did increase the number of immigrants enrolled in and terminated from the ATD program, however, it failed to monitor the extent to which field offices implemented the directive to use the program more cost-effectively. The number of immigrants who participated in the ATD program increased from 32,065 in fiscal year (FY) 2011 to 40,864 in FY 2013. Specifically, between FY 2011 and FY 2013, the number of immigrants enrolled in the technology-only component of the ATD program increased by 84 percent, while the number of immigrants enrolled in the full-service component of the program increased by 23 percent. Similarly, the number of immigrants terminated from the full-service component increased by 82 percent between FY 2011 and FY 2013, and the number of immigrants terminated from the technology-only component increased by 299 percent in the same period. Since ICE does not have complete data identifying why immigrants were terminated from the ATD program, it is not possible to discern whether the field offices were implementing the directive to use the program cost-effectively or removing people from the program for other reasons. Therefore, ICE needs to collect more complete, reliable data in order to better assess the cost-effectiveness of the ATD program.

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