Legislative Bulletin — Friday, April 16, 2021

BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED
LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR
UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS
THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK
GOVERNMENT REPORTS
SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED

S. 1070

End the Border Crisis Now Act

The bill would institute a number of limitations to the U.S. asylum system, including requiring certain asylum seekers to apply for protection through the refugee resettlement program before arriving at the U.S. border and requiring to migrants who travel through third countries en route to the U.S. to first apply for protection in those countries.

Sponsored by Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) (0 cosponsors)

04/12/2021 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Cotton

04/12/2021 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

S. 1075

No Bailouts for Illegal Aliens Act

The bill would withhold any funding authorized under the American Rescue Plan Act to any state or locality that provides economic stimulus payments to undocumented immigrants. The bill would require states and localities to certify they were not providing support to undocumented persons under such a program before receiving future funding authorized under the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 response package.

Sponsored by Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) (0 cosponsors)

04/12/2021 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Cotton

04/12/2021 Referred to the Senate Committee on Finance

S. 1080

The Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act

The bill would designate residents of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region as priority 2 (P-2) refugees, specifically Uyghurs and members of other predominantly Turkic or Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang. P-2 designations result in the likely qualification of individual members of a group for admission as refugees in the U.S. The bill would also exclude refugees from the Xinjiang region from the annual refugee admissions ceiling.

Sponsored by Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) (1 cosponsor — 1 Republican, 0 Democrats)

04/13/2021 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Coons

04/13/2021 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

S. 1100

The Immigrants’ Mental Health Act

The bill would direct U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to implement a training curriculum to address the mental health and wellness of arriving immigrants and of CBP officers. The bill would also require CBP to staff each detention facility with at least one mental health expert. The bill is a companion to H.R. 2480.

Sponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) (3 cosponsors — 3 Democrats, 0 Republicans)

04/13/2021 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Merkley

04/13/2021 Referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs

S. 1103

To suspend any funding authorized under the American Rescue Plan of 2021 from any State government that provides monetary payments to undocumented immigrants and to require States to reimburse the Federal Government for any such payments made since the date of the enactment of such Act.

Sponsored by Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) (0 cosponsors)

04/13/2021 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Daines

04/13/2021 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 2382

Veterans Pathway to Citizenship Act

The bill would grant green cards to any current or former member of the Armed Forces, and it would provide additional guidance and resources to assist members of the Armed Services in the naturalization process.

Sponsored by Representative Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-California) (1 cosponsor — 1 Democrat, 0 Republicans)

04/08/2021 Introduced in the House by Representative Senator Barragan

04/08/2021 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 2390

The Donument Act

The bill would designate barriers constructed on the Southwest border as a national monument, preventing future efforts to alter them. The term “Donument” is intended to honor former President Donald Trump.

Sponsored by Representative Madison Cawthorn (R-North Carolina) (0 cosponsors)

04/08/2021 Introduced in the House by Representatives by Representative Cawthorn

04/08/2021 Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources

H.R. 2536

The Prevention of Anti-Immigrant Violence Act

The bill would add hate crimes to the list of crimes that allow noncitizen victims to qualify for U visas. The bill would also increase the U visa cap from 10,000 to 12,000 and make at least 2,000 U visas specifically available to victims of hate crimes. The bill would also prevent the deportation of noncitizens until after the exhaustion of administrative and judicial review of an application for status.

Sponsored by Representative Mark Takano (D-California) (0 cosponsors)

04/14/2021 Introduced in the House by Representative Mark Takano

04/14/2021 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 2480

The Immigrants’ Mental Health Act

The bill would direct U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to implement a training curriculum to address the mental health and wellness of arriving immigrants and of CBP officers. The bill would also require CBP to staff each detention facility with at least one mental health expert. The bill is a companion to S. 1100.

Sponsored by Representative Grace Napolitano (D-California) (6 cosponsors — 6 Democrats, 0 Republicans)

04/13/2021 Introduced in the House by Representative Napolitano

04/13/2021 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate will be in session the week of Monday, April 19, 2021.

The U.S. House will be in session from Monday, April 19, 2021 to Thursday, April 22, 2021.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

There are no immigration-related hearings or markups currently scheduled in the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives.

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Biden Administration Backtracks after Backlash over Maintaining Refugee Ceiling at 15,000

On April 16, the Biden administration backtracked after announcing it would be keeping the fiscal year (FY) 2021 refugee ceiling at a record-low 15,000, a reversal from his previous pledge to increase the cap to 62,500. Following intense pushback from allies, the administration indicated that it would be issuing a new presidential determination on refugees in May with an increased admissions ceiling.

The episode followed the issuance of the long-delayed FY2021 presidential determination on refugees earlier on April 16. That determination kept the cap at the record-low level of 15,000 set by the Trump administration, but removed Trump-era restrictions that prevented most Muslim and African refugees from resettling in the U.S.

A White House official told the New York Times that the decision to maintain the 15,000 ceiling was due to concerns over increases in unaccompanied migrant children seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, which has strained the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is located within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Immigration advocacy and refugee groups harshly criticized the reversal and called it misguided, noting the refugee ceiling “has nothing to do with” the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border and that the resettlement system is entirely distinct from the processing of migrants and children at the border.

The release of the presidential determination — and the subsequent walk back of the 15,000 ceiling — followed mounting criticism and urgent questioning from lawmakers, faith groups, advocates, and resettled refugee families, with the White House previously declining to publicly articulate a reason for the delay. According to an April 14 report, some sources within the administration state that the presidential determination had not been signed due to “political concerns” associated with the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to an April 11 International Rescue Committee report, the Biden administration is on track to resettle fewer refugees in FY 2021 than former president Trump did in any of his four years in office. Despite early promises from President Biden to undo Trump-era restrictions to the resettlement program and raise the ceiling for resettlement, a mere 2,050 refugees have been admitted in the last six months, putting the administration on track to admit no more than 4,150 refugees in total this fiscal year. This figure would be less than half the number admitted in President Trump’s last full year in office, a number which itself represented a historic low. According to a representative for World Relief, which works with the government to help resettle refugees, “the program is effectively operating as if President Trump were still in office.”

A White House official told the New York Times that, after the presidential determination was issued, the administration intends to reach the 15,000 ceiling in FY 2021. The presidential determination itself also noted that the administration may issue a subsequent presidential determination to increase admissions if the 15,000 ceiling is reached prior to the end of the fiscal year. It now appears that the Biden administration will go forward with issuing a subsequent determination lifting the ceiling in the coming weeks.

Biden Administration Skinny Budget Sets Immigration Priorities

On April 9, the Biden administration sent an initial funding request to Congress for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022. The “skinny” budget proposal provides the administration’s discretionary funding priorities that allow Congress to begin the appropriations process, and it includes a number of immigration-related provisions.

The proposal includes $52 billion overall allocated for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Within that overall request, $345 million is allocated for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to tackle backlogs and expedite the adjudication of asylum and naturalization applications. Within the DHS request, there is also $84 million allocated to fund the investigation of workplace complaints at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Within the DHS request, there is no total amount specified for CBP or ICE or particular funds for wall or barrier construction on the Southern border. There is also funding for the U.S. Department of Justice to hire 100 additional immigration judges and staff to process asylum cases more quickly for migrants arriving at the border.

The section of the funding request for HHS includes $4.1 billion for ORR to help build resettlement capacity with the ultimate goal of resettling 125,000 refugees in FY 2022. There is also a request for $10 billion for the State Department to provide assistance to refugees and forced migrants around the world, with $861 million specifically earmarked for investment in Central America and to address root causes of migration in the region.

If enacted, the budget would also expand Pell grant eligibility to recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Pell grants help low-income students fund college and post-secondary education.

Biden Administration Makes Progress Moving Children out of CBP Custody, But Challenges Remain at the Border

According to daily data released by DHS, the number of unaccompanied children (UACs) held in CBP custody has dropped by 55%, due in part to declining UAC arrivals in recent weeks and the administration’s efforts to open additional HHS emergency intake facilities and shelter space. The reported number of children held in CBP custody has dropped from a high of 5,767 on March 28 to 2,581 according to recently reported data on April 15.

When children at the border are determined to be unaccompanied, they are required by law to be transferred within 72 hours from CBP holding cells — which are not built to properly house or care for children — to ORR shelters. With a record number of UACs arriving in March, ORR shelters reached capacity and children were backed up in severely overcrowded CBP holding centers. The Biden administration has opened at least 12 HHS emergency housing sites around the country to expedite the processing of children out of CBP custody.

However, the Biden administration continues to face challenges in its attempts to safely and securely process arriving unaccompanied children. According to an April 12 CNN report, children are still being held for an average of 122 hours in CBP custody, beyond the legal maximum of 72 hours. In working to expand federally-funded shelter capacity and reduce the time UACs are spending in CBP holding facilities, the Biden administration has made requests of state governments to use convention centers and other state-run buildings around the country to temporarily house migrant children. However, as of April 15, Governors Kim Reynolds (R-Iowa), Henry McMaster (R-South Carolina), Pete Ricketts (R-Nebraska) and Kristi Noem (R-South Dakota) have publicly expressed opposition to housing unaccompanied children in their states.

After a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border by the House Problem Solvers Caucus, the group of moderate representatives from both sides of the aisle called for bipartisanship to address the complex ongoing challenges brought about by the current situation.

VP Harris Works Towards Regional Migration Management Agreements with Focus on Enforcement, Root Causes

On April 12, multiple White House officials confirmed that the U.S. had secured agreements with Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala to increase enforcement at their borders and reduce migration flows to the U.S. The agreements come as Vice President Harris continues her role leading the diplomatic and regional response to the ongoing situation at the southern border.

On April 13, the Guatemalan government released a statement disputing that an agreement had been signed, noting that it had already sent addition troops to its border in January to respond to an influx of migration then. Subsequently, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei clarified on April 14 that he is engaged in conversations with Vice President Harris and that the two countries are likely to come to an agreement on migration issues upon the vice president’s upcoming visit to the country.

Harris has scheduled visits to both Guatemala and Mexico, with a focus on addressing regional migration management and specifically the need to “deal with root causes.” In addition to engaging diplomatically, on April 6 the Biden administration deployed an Agency for International Development Disaster Assistance Response team to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The U.S. has also launched a media messaging campaign to discourage prospective migrants and asylum seekers, and it is planning to invest in other ways in the region to fight corruption and to address the economic and security reasons that may lead people to migrate.

House Committee Advances Bill to Prevent Future Discriminatory Bans

On April 14, the House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that would prevent the White House from barring immigrants from entering the U.S. based on their religion. The National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants (NO BAN) Act was initially introduced in early 2019 as a response to numerous Trump administration executive orders limiting visas for multiple countries, many with majority Muslim populations. The bill will now be brought to the House floor for a vote the week of April 19.

The House Judiciary Committee also advanced a bill that would guarantee access to counsel for certain noncitizens who had legal status but have been detained for secondary investigation upon entry into the United States. That bill, the Access to Counsel Act, will also be taken up by the House the week of April 19.

Separately, on April 13, a group of Democrats from the House and Senate sent a letter to President Biden urging him to include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented essential workers in the administration’s proposed two-part infrastructure package that may be advanced through the budget reconciliation process in the Senate.

Legal

Texas Sues Biden for Rescinding Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy

On April 13, Texas filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration in an attempt to reinstate the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy. The policy, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” forced more than 60,000 migrants to wait in northern Mexico while applying for asylum, where many faced extremely dangerous conditions. In his first days in office, President Biden directed DHS to stop enrolling newly arriving migrants into MPP, and in February, DHS announced that those who had been removed to Mexico under the policy and still had active asylum cases would be slowly processed back into the U.S. So far, DHS has processed up to 300 of these asylum seekers per day.

Texas claims that these actions by the Biden administration violated the Administrative Procedures Act in failing to sufficiently consult with the state before implementing new policies that impact them. The case also asserts that Texas bears the burden of “illegal immigration” as a result of the Biden administration rolling back MPP, although U.S. law and recent judicial decisions make clear it is legal for migrants to present themselves anywhere along the border and apply for asylum.

As of April 15, 7,200 asylum seekers who were in MPP have been processed back into the U.S.

Biden Administration Refuses to Release DOJ Documents Relating to Trump-Era Family Separation Policy

According to an April 12 report, the Biden administration has refused to disclose a number of documents related to widespread instances of family separation in 2018 during the Trump administration. Specifically, the documents at issue were sought in a civil lawsuit filed by lawyers representing the separated families and relate to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the Southern border that resulted in the separation of thousands of migrant families. The Trump administration had previously also withheld the documents, citing executive privilege. The Biden administration unredacted some previously redacted material, but it chose not to disclose other documents, citing the need to protect the government’s right to keep certain planning documents confidential.

A January 14 DOJ Office of Inspector General (OIG) report concluded that in 2018, DOJ leadership and the attorney general’s office were aware that the zero-tolerance policy would result in widespread family separation prior to implementation. According to an August 2020 report, senior White House officials at the time voted by a show of hands on whether to follow through with separating families.

The zero tolerance policy, which was met with widespread criticism from Members of Congress, faith groups, and the general public, resulted in the separation of more than 3,000 children from their parents in 2018.

Nominations and Personnel

Biden Taps Police Chief, Former State Department Official to Key DHS Posts

On April 12, President Biden announced that he will nominate Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus to lead Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and immigration expert Ur Jaddou to head U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), two key immigration agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

As the chief of police in an Arizona city near the U.S.-Mexico border, Magnus has dealt often with immigration issues and had criticized Trump administration border policies. A member of the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force, Magnus’s nomination is supported by other law enforcement officials around the country. “Chris Magnus is a dedicated law enforcement leader and a longtime advocate for fair and humane immigration policies,” said  Sheriff Margaret Mims of Fresno County, California. “He would lead [CBP] in ensuring public safety while treating all immigrants with care and compassion.”

As head of CBP, Chief Magnus would be tasked with securing and protecting U.S. borders, managing and processing arriving migrants and asylum seekers, and securing the initial transfer of unaccompanied minors from Border Patrol stations to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Jaddou served as USCIS chief counsel during the Obama administration and previously had positions on Capitol Hill and in the State Department. Leon Rodriguez, the director of USCIS in the Obama administration said, “she is the most substantively prepared nominee in the history of the agency.” If confirmed, Jaddou will lead on addressing the agency’s many challenges, including working through lengthy visa and naturalization backlogs and budgetary issues that led to furloughs in the summer of 2020.

State and Local

South Carolina Advances DACA Licensure Legislation

The week of April 5, the South Carolina House of Representatives passed legislation that would allow qualified DACA recipients and victims of trafficking to obtain state licensures. The bill now awaits a vote in the state Senate.

Currently, DACA-recipients are permitted to study in fields such as nursing and cosmetology in South Carolina. However, upon graduating, they are unable to apply for certain licenses required to practice in their field because of their legal status, leading many to move to other states to find work. Sponsors of the bill say that the current policy is exacerbating critical workforce shortages — particularly in the nursing sector — and that this bill will allow the state to retain the skilled workers it needs.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

Government Accountability Office (GAO): Assessment of the Department of Homeland Security’s Border Security Improvement Plan; April 12, 2021.

This report focuses on the DHS Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Border Security Improvement Plan. DHS is required to submit this plan each fiscal year to detail how it intends to use personnel, barriers, and technology to improve border security. The GAO found that the report for FY 2019-2020 was submitted late by the Trump administration and provided incomplete information. The plan DHS submitted did not include elements such as a planned obligation of funds for 2019-2027, or an implementation schedule for services and program management capabilities. DHS said that information gathering necessary for a comprehensive plan was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

What’s Happening at the Southern Border, Explained

This explainer breaks down what is happening at the U.S.-Mexico border, analyzing CBP data on recent apprehensions, describing the impact and use of Title 42 expulsions as well as the treatment of arriving UACs. It also provides additional context on reports of increased migration to the U.S. and the treatment of migrant families seeking entry at the border.

Explainer: Migrant Protection Protocols

This explainer describes the Migrant Protection Protocols, including providing information about the conditions faced by those returned under the program and the actions taken by the Biden administration to roll it back.

Fact Sheet: U.S. Refugee Resettlement

This fact sheet summarizes basic facts and statistics about refugee resettlement in the United States. It describes the refugee screening process and provides basic information about refugees in the U.S.

* * *

*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 dzak@immigrationforum.org. Thank you.

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