BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED
The Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act
The bill would suspend the public charge rule, in-person U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) checks, and immigration detention and deportation for some vulnerable populations. It would also provide Medicaid coverage uncovered individuals, regardless of immigrations status, for novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing and treatment. The bill would allow immigrant taxpayers who used an individual tax identification number (ITIN) to access cash relief benefits. It would also provide additional funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide critical public health information in multiple languages to vulnerable communities.
Sponsored by Representative Judy Chu (D-California) (34 cosponsors – 34 Democrats, 0 Republicans)
4/3/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Chu
4/3/2020 Referred to the House Committees on Energy and Commerce, Transportation and Infrastructure, Ways and Means, and the Judiciary
LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR
Both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives will be in recess the week of April 13, 2020.
UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS
There are no immigration-related hearings or markups currently scheduled in the U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives.
THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK
Administration Ramps Up Deportations and Expulsions in the Midst of Coronavirus Pandemic
On April 7, Reuters reported that the United States has deported 377 migrant children since putting new border restrictions in place on March 21 in the wake of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. In that time frame, 10,000 total border crossers, including asylum seekers and unaccompanied children, have been either expelled to Mexico or put on deportation flights to their countries of origin. The reports confirm that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is following through with its March 30 statement that child border crossers who fear being returned to violence would still be deportable under the new restrictions. Under the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), unaccompanied children must be screened by CBP and quickly transferred to Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for further care.
The U.S. has also continued deportations of other migrants during the pandemic, including those who are not recent border crossers. On April 7, the U.S. deported 61 migrants to Haiti, despite the country closing its borders on March 19 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Representative Andy Levin (D-Michigan), said of the deportation, “if this leads to more cases, Haiti isn’t prepared to respond and our whole region remains at risk.” Deportations to Central American countries have continued as well. Flights have resumed to Guatemala after they were temporarily paused following three deportees testing positive for COVID-19.
The expulsions and deportations have left fewer than 100 migrants in CBP custody, although thousands of migrants are still detained in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities.
ICE Weighs Releasing Vulnerable Detainees as Lawsuits Continue
On April 7, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) identified 600 migrant detainees it considered vulnerable to COVID-19 and advised its offices to consider their release. The decision comes after a number of federal judges across the country have urged ICE and CBP to release detainees, particularly children, families, and those with underlying health conditions making them especially vulnerable to the virus. ICE has already released 160 detainees as a result of these cases.
Several more lawsuits demanding the release of migrants are still ongoing. A representative for the ACLU, which is coordinating over twelve lawsuits seeking the release of additional detainees, said that, “We are . . . deeply concerned about the health and welfare of all the detainees currently locked up in these facilities.” As of April 7, 19 detainees and 71 ICE agents have tested positive for COVID-19. ICE has disclosed limited information about its testing and quarantine procedures for those in custody.
As of April 7, approximately 36,000 people remain detained in ICE custody.
U.S. Immigration Policies Delay Essential Workers
According to multiple reports, bottlenecks in the U.S. immigration system have delayed the processing of essential workers in high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. Policies including travel restrictions, suspension of visa filings at consulates, and the closure of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices, have delayed the processing and arrival of scores of essential immigrant workers. On April 1, it was reported that travel restrictions may delay or prevent the arrival of over 4,000 foreign medical graduates scheduled to work in residency programs on J-1 visas. Many hospitals are relying on these additional workers to start by July 1. In addition, consulate processing delays have significantly reduced the number of agricultural guestworkers arriving to assist on American farms during the crisis. Some farms are operating without hundreds of expected temporary workers, even as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has worked to add flexibility to the system.
Nonimmigrant workers who are already working in the U.S., such as healthcare workers on H-1B visas, have also faced delays and difficulties renewing their work authorization and extending or adjusting their status due to USCIS office closures. With a number of filing deadlines looming, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has brought a lawsuit against USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) urging the agencies to postpone all deadlines for renewal and adjustment of status.
On April 1, the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM), which represents U.S. hospitals, wrote a letter to congressional leaders urging a number of policy changes to H-1B and J-1 visas in the wake of the processing delays. The SHM recommends faster adjudication of J-1 waivers and a relaxing of restrictions on J-1 applicants and workers, who now are often unable to move to hospitals to assist in care during the pandemic. For H-1B physicians, the letter also urges a 6-month work authorization extension as well as expedited and more flexible visa processing.
Pending federal action, a number of state governors facing health care labor shortages have already taken steps to welcome more foreign workers. Many states hardest hit by the virus have loosened certification requirements to allow foreign-trained physicians to assist in hospitals.
More than 400,000 People Could Be Barred from Becoming Citizens
According to an April 6 Boundless Immigration report, an estimated 441,000 people could be barred from becoming citizens by October 2020, as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has paused naturalization ceremonies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. If they are not naturalized through alternative procedures, these would-be citizens would be unable to vote in the November presidential election. As of March 18, when the agency closed local offices, 126,000 people who have otherwise completed the naturalization process have been unable to recite the 140-word oath and become citizens. USCIS offices are currently set to be re-opened by May 3, but given the prevalence of the virus, large gatherings for naturalization ceremonies may be delayed much longer than that. Advocates argue that the agency must offer alternative pathways for people to complete the citizenship process, including remote procedures.
Federal Courts Reject USCIS Reasoning for H-1B Visa Denials
Federal judges in three separate court cases ruled that USCIS was wrong to deny H-1B visa petitions by applying an overly restrictive definition of “specialty occupation.” USCIS had denied the petitions by arguing the positions in question did not qualify as “specialty occupations” because they did not require a degree in a particular subspecialty.
On March 26, a Rhode Island district judge ruled in India House v. Kevin McAleenan that a USCIS denial of a petition for a restaurant manager with a degree in Hospitality and Management was “arbitrary and capricious.” On March 31, a D.C. district judge ruled in two additional cases that USCIS was wrong to conclude that “computer systems analyst” was not a specialty occupation because some similar analysts “have liberal arts degrees and gained experience elsewhere.” H-1B visas are available only to applicants who hold a U.S. bachelor’s degree or the equivalent, and who have a job offer in an occupation that requires a bachelor’s or higher degree or requires application of a specialized body of knowledge.
The rulings could curtail USCIS denials of H-1B petitions based on a finding that a position fails to qualify as a specialty occupation moving forward. H-1B denial rates have more than quintupled in the past five years, rising from 6% in 2015 to 32% in 2019.
State and Local
Continuing Border Wall Construction Causes Influx to New Mexico Towns, Coronavirus Anxiety
The Trump administration has continued border wall construction during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a large influx of out-of-state construction workers to small New Mexico border towns. Residents from one border village sent a letter to New Mexico state leaders protesting the construction continuing despite an emergency state-wide stay at home order issued by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-New Mexico). The residents voiced public health concerns that the construction would result in the further spread of COVID-19 as the workers crowd towns while visiting grocery stores and other local businesses.
The residents joined calls from New Mexico’s Lieutenant Governor, the ACLU of New Mexico, and other advocacy groups to put wall construction on hold in order to protect public health. Lt. Gov. Howie Morales (D-New Mexico) emphasized the need to prioritize health care funding during the crisis, stating, “The national emergency right now is not building the border wall. The national emergency is the health crisis that we’re dealing with.”
There are a reported 197 miles of border wall under construction along the southern border, with the Trump administration setting a goal of completing 500 total miles by early 2021. These efforts have continued while other major construction projects have been paused and construction workers around the country have been instructed to stay home.
Government Affairs Office (GAO): Border Security: U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Management of a Temporary Facility in Texas Raised Concerns About Resources Used, April 9, 2020
The report examines how U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) used and managed a temporary facility in Tornillo, Texas. The facility, with a capacity of 2,500 detainees, was built in July 2019 and was designed to relieve overcrowding and difficult humanitarian conditions in other CBP facilities. The report found that CBP held far fewer apprehended individuals in the Tornillo facility than its capacity – holding no more than 68 adults at a time while it was in use from July 2019 to January 2020. The report also details $5.3 million in CBP spending on unneeded food services for the facility due to miscommunications between stakeholders. The report concludes that CBP should conduct an assessment of the use of the Tornillo facility.
SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES
This fact sheet provides an overview of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and provides a state of play for the program in light of the coming Supreme Court decision. This resource also describes how DACA recipients strengthen the country and explains why a permanent, legislative solution for Dreamers is needed.
This resource states the National Immigration Forum’s policy principles in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Forum has called for lawmakers and federal agencies to provide for the health and safety of all people, including vulnerable immigrant populations.
This fact sheet focuses on immigrants in the U.S. healthcare sector, highlighting key facts about their demographics and role in our workforce. These facts emphasize the role immigrants are playing as first responders as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information about the contribution of immigrants to the healthcare sector, see this recent National Immigration Forum infographic on immigrants in the home health care industry.
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*This Bulletin is not intended to be comprehensive. Please contact Danilo Zak, National Immigration Forum Policy and Advocacy Associate, with comments and suggestions of additional items to be included. Danilo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you