Legislative Bulletin – Friday, April 17, 2020

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

H.R. 6481

The bill would rescind the $350 million appropriation made for migration and refugee assistance in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the third coronavirus stimulus package signed into law on March 27. The bill would redirect these funds to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Sponsored by Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) (0 cosponsors – 0 Republicans, 0 Democrats)

4/10/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Gaetz

4/10/2020 Referred to the House Committee on Appropriations

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

Federal

Taxpaying Immigrants Denied Coronavirus Checks

On April 10, the U.S. Treasury began sending out stimulus checks to U.S. workers and families, part of a $2 trillion federal relief package for individuals and businesses during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. While most American taxpayers are eligible for the $1,200 checks, undocumented immigrant taxpayers have been excluded from receiving the payments. Under the terms of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, individuals must have a valid Social Security number (SSN) to be eligible for the payment. Undocumented immigrants who file their taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of an SSN are not eligible for the payment. In addition, because of a requirement that everyone in a family possess a valid SSN, most mixed-status families in the U.S. are ineligible for the relief checks,  even if some in the family are U.S. citizens.

Faith leaders have argued that excluding undocumented taxpayers from the benefits of the package will prove “disastrous to them and their families and will have a significant negative impact on the economy.” Immigrant communities have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic.

ICE Releases Some Migrants, But Many Remain in Detention as Coronavirus Spreads

On April 13, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced it had released a number of immigrant detainees with demographic indicators or underlying health conditions making them particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. ICE said that the releases came after evaluating the migrants’ “immigration history, criminal record, potential threat to public safety, flight risk, and national security concerns.” The number of migrant family members in detention dropped 39% in the week leading up to the ICE statement.

Despite the recent releases, more than 32,000 people remain in ICE custody, and the virus continues to spread in detention facilities across the country. As of April 16, there were more than 90 ICE detainees and 20 detention center employees who had tested positive for COVID-19. Outbreaks have not been not limited to ICE detention facilities, as at least 19 detainees tested positive for the virus in one Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facility tasked with housing unaccompanied migrant children.

Detainees, lawmakers, medical professionals and immigration advocates have all called for the release of significantly more ICE detainees to protect them from the virus. On April 14, top evangelical leaders sent a letter to the administration requesting the release of all people in immigration detention who do not pose a threat to public safety during the pandemic. The faith leaders wrote that they would “encourage the many churches and ministries within our networks to provide any assistance they can” to help and protect released detainees.

U.S. Deportations Cause Spike in Guatemalan Coronavirus Cases

On April 14, the health minister of Guatemala stated that U.S. deportations to the country are increasing the spread of COVID-19. The minister noted as many as 75% of the deportees on one flight had tested positive for the virus, and that 70 total deportees had tested positive across just two flights. The numbers suggest that the number of positive COVID-19 detainees in U.S. immigration custody and in Guatemala is far higher than previously estimated. On April 16, Guatemala moved to indefinitely suspend deportations from the U.S.

The U.S. has continued deportations to numerous other countries, even as much of the rest of the world limits international travel. On April 10, the Trump administration threatened visa sanctions for seven Central American countries if they refused to accept U.S. deportees during the pandemic. The U.S. had temporarily halted deportations to Guatemala on at the country’s request on March 31, when three deportees tested positive for COVID-13, but flights resumed on April 13.

Public health experts have warned that continuing deportation flights risks spreading the virus globally.

Red Tape Continues to Block Essential Foreign Workers from Assisting in Coronavirus Fight

According to a New York Times report on April 13, bottlenecks in the U.S. immigration system continue to delay the processing of essential workers in high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. With widespread travel restrictions and consular visa processing delayed, many nurses and doctors on H-1B and J-1 visas have been unable to assist with the pandemic response. Some of these health care professionals have been prevented from travel despite receiving confirmed job offers from Intensive Care Units in U.S. hospitals. The report comes as coronavirus hot spots are facing severe health care labor shortages.

Essential foreign farmworkers on H-2A visas have also faced consular processing delays and suspensions, causing significant worker shortages on some U.S. farms. On April 15, the administration announced it would help combat farmworker shortages by issuing a temporary final rule easing restrictions on current H-2A recipients. Under the new rule, H-2A guest workers would be allowed to stay and work in the United States beyond the current three-year limit, and they would be able to switch employees before final approval from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

DACA Recipient Health Care Workers in Limbo as Supreme Court Decision Looms

As the Supreme Court weighs the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), 29,000 DACA recipient health care workers are helping combat severe labor shortages in hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. These DACA recipient nurses, physicians, and other health care professionals are left in limbo, unsure when the decision from the Supreme Court will come down or how will impact their protections.

Lawyers representing DACA recipients have sent a letter to the Supreme Court, asking the court to consider the essential contributions of many DACA workers during the current health crisis. The decision is expected sometime this spring or early summer, likely as coronavirus hotspots continue to face severe health care labor shortages.

Legal

State AGs Ask Supreme Court to Halt Public Charge Rule During Pandemic 

On April 13, the Attorneys General of New York, Connecticut and Vermont asked the Supreme Court to temporarily pause the “public charge” rule implemented by the Trump administration during the COVID-19 pandemic. The attorneys general, joined by New York City’s legal representative, argued that the public charge rule poses a risk to both public health and the economy, discouraging immigrant communities from using essential medical and unemployment benefits.

The “public charge” rule, implemented nationwide on February 21, allows federal officials to reject immigrants applying for a green card, an immigrant visa, or a temporary visa if they have previously accessed or are deemed likely to rely on certain forms of public assistance. In March, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials said they would not consider use of public benefits for “testing, treatment, nor preventative care” related to COVID-19 as part of the public charge inadmissibility determination. But in their request to the Supreme Court, the state attorneys general said that the clarification doesn’t go far enough in assuring immigrants that they will not put their legal status at risk by requesting medical and financial assistance. They also argued that, “By revising its application of the Public Charge Rule during the current COVID-19 crisis, USCIS has effectively acknowledged the Rule’s deterrent effect on immigrants’ willingness to obtain necessary medical care,” highlighting the danger of the rule on the health of immigrants and their communities, especially during the pandemic.

The public charge rule has stoked fear and confusion in immigrant communities, and has led to declines in enrollment for public assistance and even some programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), that are exempt from the rule.

Immigration Attorneys Claim USCIS Mistakenly Denied Hundreds of H-1B Visa Lottery Registrations

More than 60 immigration attorneys have said that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) improperly denied their clients H-1B specialty occupation visa registrations, according to a report on April 13. The denials relate to USCIS’s new registration system for the H-1B lottery, which for the first time involves an online registration process that is distinct from previously required H-1B filings. USCIS announced approximately 900 of these online registrations were denied in an effort to prevent duplicates and “[maintain] the integrity of the system.” The agency denies duplicates in order to prevent companies from “gaming the lottery” by sending in multiple registrations for one petitioner. Immigration attorneys assert that many of the registrations were mistakenly identified as duplicates and denied, noting that “employers should at least have the opportunity to fix errors that are baked into the limitations of the system.”

In addition to these denials, USCIS has also been accused of improperly denying H-1B visa petitions by using an overly restrictive definition of “specialty occupation.” On April 16, a group of H-1B employers sued USCIS over “routinely and unlawfully” denying H-1B visa petitions for market research analysts. Federal judges in three previous court cases have ruled that USCIS was wrong to deny H-1B petitions by applying the definition of “specialty occupation” so narrowly.

State and Local

Arizona Loses Cross-Border Business Amid Coronavirus Crisis

Businesses on the Arizona-Mexico border are facing mounting economic losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With social distancing orders in place and restrictions on cross-border travel for tourists and shoppers, the pandemic has demonstrated the economic interdependence of Arizona and Mexican border businesses. While Easter holiday weekend (April 10-12), is typically one of the busiest for ports of entry along the Arizona-Mexico border, CBP urged visitors to stay away unless they had an essential reason for travel.

With hundreds of thousands of shoppers and tourists no longer crossing the border, Nogales, Arizona will lose out on the 65% to 75% of its sales revenue it collects from Mexican residents. The Mexican border town of Puerto Peñasco expects to lose nearly $10 million in revenue in April alone, due in large part to the absence of tourists from the U.S.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

There were no immigration-related government reports published the week of Monday, April 13, 2020.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Dreamer Advocacy Resources

This web page includes resources to help advocate for a permanent solution for Dreamers, including talking points, data on the economic benefits of Dreamers, and summaries of key legislation pending in Congress.

To Slow the Pandemic, Trump Should Release Nonviolent Immigrants from Detention Centers

This USA Today op-ed from the National Immigration Forum’s Larry Benenson and R Street’s Jonathan Haggerty argues that the Trump administration should release all nonviolent immigrant detainees from detention facilities. The piece lists the numerous public health benefits of releasing detainees, and describes the efficacy of various alternatives to detention.

Infographic: Coronavirus and Health Care Workers

This infographic breaks down the percentage of immigrants in America’s health care workforce. It lists the immigrant share of doctors, registered nurses, and health aides by state and nationally.

* * *

*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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