Legislative Bulletin – Friday, September 1, 2017

September 1, 2017

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

BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED

There were no immigration-related bills introduced or considered on the week of August 28, 2017.

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate will be in session from Tuesday, September 5, 2017 through Friday, September 8, 2017.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

There are no relevant hearings or markups scheduled for the week of Monday, September 4, 2017.

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Federal

President Trump to Make Final Decision on Tuesday as Support Builds for DACA

President Trump is expected to make a final decision on the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) before the September 5 deadline imposed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and officials from eight other states who threatened to challenge the Trump administration in court if it does not rescind the program. President Trump’s decision will come as business leaders, Congressional Republicans and immigration advocacy groups urge the Trump administration to continue DACA until Congress passes a permanent, legislative solution for Dreamers.

On August 31, reports circulated that President Trump had decided to end DACA. The decision would reportedly leave the program’s nearly 800,000 young recipients susceptible to deportation and prevent them from renewing their two-year work permits, which for some recipients would start to expire immediately. However, later on August 31, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders noted that a final decision had not been made and the White House was still reviewing DACA.  On September 1, Sanders said the administration will make an announcement on the future of DACA on Tuesday, September 5.

In response to the reports of DACA’s potential demise, Speaker Paul Ryan said on September 1 that President Trump should not end DACA and noted that the issue “is something Congress has to fix.” In addition, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) released a statement urging President Trump to “not rescind DACA,” noting that ending the program would further complicate the issue. Hatch stated that he will work in Congress to pass a “workable path forward for the Dreamer population.” Other Congressional Republicans and media figures also urged President Trump to maintain the program.

With a decision coming shortly, Senator Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) is reportedly expected to introduce a Senate version of the Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act, a Republican-led bill introduced in the House by Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida) that would protect Dreamers and allow them to earn legal status. In addition, Representative Mike Coffman (R-Colorado) announced on August 31 that he will file a discharge petition to force a floor vote on the Bridge Act, which would provide Dreamers with a temporary, three-year protection from deportation and the ability work legally in the U.S.

In addition, on September 1, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery announced that he will no longer challenge the Trump administration if it does not rescind DACA by September 5, noting the “human element” of DACA. Slatery urged Tennessee’s Republican Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, to support a legislative solution for Dreamers.

Finally, more than 350 CEOs of major companies and industry groups signed a letter to President Trump urging him not to rescind DACA. The CEOs wrote in the letter that Dreamers are “vital to the future of our companies and our economy” and asked President Trump to “preserve the DACA program” while pushing Congress to pass a permanent, legislative solution. The letter was signed by the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Netflix, among other groups.

President Trump Pardons Sheriff Arpaio

On August 25, President Trump pardoned controversial former Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio had recently been convicted of criminal contempt on July 31 for intentionally disobeying a judge’s order to stop detaining people based solely on suspicion of an individual’s immigration status.

Previously, at a campaign-style August 22 rally in Phoenix, President Trump suggested that a pardon of Arpaio was likely, predicting that the former Sheriff will be “just fine.”

The pardon faced criticism from immigration and civil rights advocates, as well as Senators John McCain (R – Arizona), Jeff Flake (R –Arizona) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R – Wisconsin).

DHS Faces Criticism after Keeping Checkpoints Open During Run-Up to Hurricane Harvey

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies faced criticism after failing to close Border Patrol checkpoints in Texas during the run-up to Hurricane Harvey. In an August 25 announcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) indicated that Border Patrol checkpoints “will close as state highways close,” meaning that the checkpoints would remain open as residents evacuated the area.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) fiercely criticized the CBP announcement, noting that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and CBP temporarily suspended enforcement measures prior to Hurricanes Matthew and Isaac in 2016 and 2012. The ACLU argued, “By keeping checkpoints open, the Border Patrol is putting undocumented people and mixed-status families at risk out of fear of deportations.”

While the checkpoint announcement was cause for concern, the Trump administration sought to provide assurance that undocumented immigrants should not fear seeking aid or shelter. On August 25, ICE and CBP released a joint statement that “[r]outine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks.” The statement did note that “the laws will not be suspended” and the agencies would “be vigilant against any effort by criminals to exploit disruptions caused by the storm.” Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert echoed this position in an August 31 press briefing: “No individual human being should worry about their immigration status, unless they’ve committed a crime on top of coming here illegally, when it comes to getting food, water and shelter.  So the authorities won’t be conducting any routine swipes or searches inside those shelters.”

DHS faced further criticism after ICE actions left 50 women and children seeking asylum stranded at a San Antonio bus station as the storm approached on August 25. The women and children, whose bus rides were cancelled due to the hurricane, were eventually sheltered after Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D – Texas) and local nonprofit organizations worked to find a San Antonio church that would take them in. Doggett expressed his concern to the Rivard Report, stating “This is all really unacceptable. . . . We need greatly improved communication and more attention to genuine humanitarian concerns.”

USCIS to Require In-Person Interviews for Green Card Applicants, Others, Increasing Immigration Backlogs

On August 28, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it would require in-person interviews for all employment-based green card applicants, as well as for asylees and refugees petitioning for a spouse or child. The interviews will also apply to individuals applying for an adjustment of status on their employment based visa. USCIS explained that the policy change was taken to comply with President Trump’s executive order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” and is part of the agency’s plan to improve detection and prevention of fraud and security risks to the U.S. USCIS also announced that it is planning to expand the in-person interview requirement to other visa categories.

Prior to this change, applicants who fell in these categories were not required to attend an in-person interview with USCIS officers. Though the in-person interview is not new, USCIS normally waived the requirement for most applicants. With the implementation of the new policy, waivers will no longer be allowed. The new requirement has raised concerns that the in-person interview will lengthen the already long wait times for green card processing. The policy is set to take effect on October 1.

CBP Announces Contract Awards for Wall Prototypes

On August 31, as part of its effort to carry out President Trump’s long-promised wall on the U.S. and Mexico border, CBP announced that contracts to four different companies have been awarded to build concrete border wall prototypes. CBP announcement said that the agency expects construction of the prototypes “in the fall.”

The announcement of the contracts occurred amid uncertainty around its funding. Following repeated threats to shut down the federal government if Congress does not include $1.6 billion to build 74 miles of new wall and secondary fencing, the White House has indicated that the wall funding need not be included in a continuing resolution that will fund government operations through December.

White House officials estimated the entire project of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to cost between $8 and $12 billion, however DHS assessments suggest it could cost as much as $21 billion.

Trump Administration May Cut J-1 Visas

According to reports, the Trump administration is considering cutting the number of visas granted through U.S. cultural and work exchange programs, including for au pairs and summer workers. The administration is focusing on five employment categories under the J-1 visa exchange visitor program. The J-1 visa program also includes ten other categories that don’t involve work, including student visas.

The J-1 visa program helps facilitate education and cultural exchanges. Under the program, visitors are expected to return to their country of origin upon completion of the program’s exchange purposes, being education or employment based. The J-1 program currently provides opportunities for about 300,000 foreign visitors from over 200 countries.

State & Local

Federal Court Blocks Key Provisions of Texas SB 4

On August 30, a federal court temporarily blocked key provisions of Texas Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), a law that attempted to require local law enforcement in the state to carry out certain immigration enforcement activities.

The court’s preliminary injunction enjoined most of the bill two days before its scheduled implementation, indicating that the court is likely to hold that the provisions in question are unconstitutional. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed Texas’s appeal on August 31.

The legislation would force local jurisdictions to dedicate their resources to perform immigration enforcement activities that are the federal government’s responsibility. Local officials argue that it would interfere with their jurisdictions’ ability to maintain policies that promote trust between law enforcement and the communities they police.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

Congressional Research Service: Comparing DHS Component Funding, FY2018: In Brief, August 21, 2017 (by William L. Painter)

This report contains figures and tables illustrating the budget authority for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) enacted for fiscal year (FY) 2017 and requested by the Trump administration for FY2018, as well as the funding levels provided in H.R. 3355, the House homeland security appropriations bill, as reported out of committee.

Congressional Research Service: Department of Homeland Security Appropriations: FY2018, August 22, 2017 (by William L. Painter)

This report provides a summary and analysis of FY2018 appropriations for DHS. It focuses primarily on congressional direction and funding provided to DHS through the appropriations process, but also includes funding made available to DHS outside this process through user fees, trust funds and other sources.

Congressional Research Service: DHS Appropriations FY2017: Departmental Management and Operations, August 24, 2017 (by William L. Painter, Barbara L. Schwemle, Jerome P. Bjelopera)

This report examines appropriations for the components of DHS included in the first title of the homeland security appropriations bill. It summarizes the Trump administration’s FY2017 request for these components, the appropriations proposed by the appropriations committees in response, and those enacted in Division F of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017.

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*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.