Legislative Bulletin – Friday, November 7, 2014

Assistant Director for Immigration Policy and Advocacy

November 7, 2014

Bills Introduced and Considered

There were no new bills introduced or considered this week.

Nominations and Confirmations

On November 7, reports circulated that President Obama would nominate Loretta Lynch as Attorney General. Lynch currently serves as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

At an upcoming committee Business Meeting on November 12, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will consider the nomination of Sarah Saldaña, to serve 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.

Legislative Floor Calendar

The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Wednesday, November 12 to Friday, November 14.

The U.S. Senate will be in session the week of Monday, November 10, with the exception of Tuesday, November 11 (Veterans Day).

Upcoming Hearings and Markups

Postal Service Legislation and Nominations Business Meeting

Date: Wednesday, November 12, 5:30 pm

Place: S-216, Capitol Building (Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs)

Witnesses: Sarah Saldaña (nominated to be Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of Homeland Security), Russel C. Deyo (nominated to be Under Secretary for Management, U.S. Department of Homeland Security), and Mickey D. Barnett (nominated to be a Governor, U.S. Postal Service).

Themes in Washington This Week

Republicans Win Resounding Victory in 2014 Mid-Term Elections

The Republican Party won a resounding victory in November’s mid-term elections, winning control of the U.S. Senate, increasing its margins in the U.S. House of Representatives and picking up governorships and state legislatures across the nation. Currently, election results show that the GOP will gain at least seven Senate seats, with seats in Alaska (too-close-to-call) and Louisiana (December run-off) still not decided. In the House of Representatives, Republicans have their largest majority since the 1928 election, picking up at least 12 seats, with 11 races not yet decided.

Republican control of the Senate stands to have major implications on the policy agenda of the Obama Administration, including budget and immigration policies, and will place significant limits on the administration’s ability to confirm executive branch and judicial nominees.

Citing narrow defeats in the North Carolina and Colorado Senate races, as well as an unexpectedly close Senate race in Virginia, many have faulted the Obama Administration’s delay in taking administrative action on immigration until after the election. While the White House reportedly delayed taking action at the request of the several moderate Senate Democrats facing close re-election races, nearly all of those candidates lost.

On November 6, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) criticized Republicans who campaigned against immigration reform, venting that “I get really frustrated with people on my side of the aisle who say that anything you do on immigration is amnesty.” Corker, a co-author of a key compromise that won Republican support for the Senate’s 2013 immigration bill, also noted his opposition to President Obama taking administrative action on immigration.

Obama Signals Moving Forward on Administrative Action over Republican Objections

While the GOP victory has led some to doubt whether the Obama Administration will have the stomach for a major immigration fight, President Obama made clear that he intends to move forward on administrative action before the end of 2014. Such action could provide up to five million people with temporary relief from deportation, and would likely consider the individual’s family ties to U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, and DACA recipients, as well as the amount of time the individual has resided in the United States.

Leading Republicans urged the president against 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. At a tense bipartisan White House lunch on November 7, Obama and congressional Republican leaders clashed over administrative action, with the president signalling that he intended to move forward on the issue.

While some prominent media outlets and administration allies have urged the Obama Administration to again delay taking administrative action, others, noting the GOP’s repeated failures to deliver on immigration, urged the president to use his executive power to take aggressive steps to address the broken immigration system.

Agency Updates

On November 7, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will be highlighting service members, military spouses and veterans in naturalization ceremonies this week across the country. Over the next week, USCIS will welcome 3,000 new citizens at nearly 40 ceremonies. Over the last 12 years, USCIS has naturalized more than 102,000 service members.

This week, the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) announced that many of the unaccompanied children currently in immigration court proceedings still lack legal representation. Between July and October of this year, there have been over 1500 removal orders issued with over 90% of them being in absentia. However, children with lawyers appeared for their court hearings more than 90% of the time.

Government Reports

Congressional Research Service: Border Security: Immigration Inspections at Ports of Entry, October 31, 2014 (by Lisa Seghetti)

This CRS report focuses on the issues surrounding U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) ability to individually screen travelers to the United States to determine admissibility while facilitating the flow of lawful travelers. CBP’s Office of Field Operations (OFO) is tasked with conducting immigration inspections at the United States’ 329 Ports of Entry (POE). In order to facilitate this process, screenings are conducted at multiple stages in the immigration process to help differentiate between low-risk and high-risk travelers, with the latter requiring additional screening.

In addition to existing screenings, DHS has been tasked with implementing a biometric entry-exit system that would track both admissions and departures of non-citizens at all POEs. Congress first mandated such a system in 1996, but logistical and funding issues have prevented its implementation. Currently, the system in place collects the biographic data of almost all non-citizen entries. Through agreements with airlines and sea carriers, as well as a partnership with Canada to swap each country’s entry data, DHS is able to collect biographic exit data of many non-citizens leaving through air and sea ports, or otherwise exiting across the US-Canadian border. Such exit data is not available for those exiting through the US-Mexico border.

The report noted Congress’s continuing role to support implementation of a biometric entry-exit system, as well as additional related challenges at POEs, including screenings for infectious diseases like Ebola, unauthorized immigration through POEs, and whether or not POEs have adequate personnel and infrastructure for diligently inspecting with the volume of people entering the United States.

Congressional Research Service: Immigration Legislation and Issues in the 113th Congress, November 4, 2014 (by Andorra Bruno, Jerome P. Bjelopera, Michael John Garcia, William A. Kandel, Margaret Mikyung Lee, Alison Siskin, and Ruth Ellen Wasem)

CRS published this report on the 113th Congress’s consideration of immigration related bills. A variety of bill related to immigration reform were introduced in the 113th Congress, although the majority of those bills either saw no legislative action or passed one house of Congress but not the other. In June 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive reform bill known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744), which included provisions on border security, interior enforcement, employment eligibility verification, legalization of undocumented immigrants, immigrant and nonimmigrant visa, and humanitarian admissions. In contrast, the House promoted a piecemeal approach, considering several immigration bills that separately addressed many of the same issues included in the Senate bill. None of the major House bills received votes before the full House.

In addition to working on bills specifically focused on immigration reform, Congress considered various bills with immigration-related provisions. The 113th Congress passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, which contains provisions for non-citizen victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. Congress additionally extended the Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa programs, amended the Accuracy for Adoptees Act, and defunded the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Public Advocate Office.

U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General: Report Regarding Investigation of Improper Hiring Practices by Senior Officials in the Executive Office for Immigration Review, November 2014

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) published this report on nepotism in the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP). The report detailed instances where students hired had relatives working in the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) at the time they were hired. It was determined that 32 students with relatives working at EOIR were hired into STEP positions between 2007 and 2012. The OIG found that hiring relatives was a standard practice within EOIR.

The investigation determined that the involvement of three senior EOIR officials in the process of hiring their relatives for STEP positions violated several federal regulations, including federal prohibitions against nepotism and the prohibition of direct reporting relationships between employees and a relative employed in a STEP position. Additionally, the report determined that these instances not only demonstrated poor judgment on the part of the senior officials involved but also helped perpetuate a culture of nepotism and favoritism in the hiring practices at EOIR.

The findings of this report will be referred to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General for review and determination of appropriate disciplinary action.

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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.