Legislative Bulletin – Friday, April 24, 2020



H.R. 6537

Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act

This bill would move the majority of individuals out of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention and halt immigration enforcement against individuals not deemed a public safety threat. The bill calls for the release of all “covered individuals” in immigration detention, including all those older than 49, younger than 22, or who have one of a number of health conditions including diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and a weakened immune system. Once the emergency is over, the bill requires the continued use of alternatives to detention (ATDs) for released detainees unless convincing, case-by-case evidence can be provided to demonstrate ATDs will not be effective.

Sponsored by Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) (29 cosponsors – 29 Democrats, 0 Republicans)

4/17/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Jayapal

4/17/2020 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary


Both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives will be in recess the week of April 27, 2020.


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



Trump Calls for Immigration Ban, Issues Proclamation Restricting Green Cards

Following an April 20 presidential tweet promising to “temporarily suspend immigration into the United States,” President Trump issued a proclamation suspending new immigrants outside the U.S. from travelling to the U.S. and seeking permanent status. The ban, which President Trump touted as a response to the economic effects of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, lasts for 60 days and applies to individuals who are outside the U.S. and who did not have an immigrant visa or other travel document on or before April 23. The ban includes pending green card petitioners, family members of permanent residents, and parents, adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens.

A number of individuals are exempt from the proclamation, including green card holders, workers deemed essential to combat the pandemic like nurses and doctors, and individuals seeing asylum, among others. The ban also does not apply to all temporary “nonimmigrant” visas, including but not limited to those obtained by guestworkers, students, and workers in specialty occupations.

The proclamation is the latest in a number of limitations on legal immigration implemented by the administration during the pandemic. Partial travel bans have been issued to multiple countries around the world, including March 17 restrictions on all 26 states in the European Schengen Area. On April 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a 30-day extension of an order which calls for the rapid deportation of asylum seekers and unaccompanied children arriving at the border. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices have also been closed and routine consular visa processing suspended during the pandemic. These measures meant that even before the April 22 proclamation, immigration to the United States has sharply declined. On April 22, the State Department announced that it issued 35% fewer immigrant visas in March than it did in February.

While other immigration restrictions and visa processing suspensions were made with a public health rationale, President Trump focused on the economy to justify this most recent suspension. The proclamation stated, “we must be mindful of the impact of foreign workers on the labor market.” Senior Trump administration officials reportedly told supporters that the proclamation is part of a “long-term” strategy to cut legal immigration.

Immigration advocates noted that immigrants are “essential, entrepreneurial, taxpaying, and job creating members of society.” The Attorney General of New York issued a response to the proclamation, stating, “immigrants are on the front lines of the fight to battle the coronavirus, and are providing the essential services that are keeping our nation and our economy moving forward.” Governor Larry Hogan (R-Maryland) called the proclamation “a distraction.”

ICE Test Results Suggest Health Crisis in Immigration Detention

On April 17, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Matthew Albence testified that 124 immigrant detainees in ICE detention have tested positive for COVID-19, out of 400 total tests. These numbers signal a growing health crisis in ICE facilities, as the number of positive cases per test far exceeds the national average, and less than 2% of the 32,000 total detainees have been tested. Once a detainee tests positive, ICE protocol has been to isolate everyone who has been in contact with the individual together, potentially increasing their exposure. ICE, which has faced several lawsuits over its detention practices during the pandemic, claimed it has released approximately 700 detainees who have underlying health conditions making them particularly vulnerable to the virus.

But as COVID-19 continues to spread in ICE facilities, calls have grown for more detainees to be released. On April 21, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued ICE demanding the release of an additional 400 migrants in two California detainment centers. On April 20, a federal judge in California ordered ICE to more thoroughly review the cases of every detained migrant in its custody who is over age 55, who suffers from one of a series of chronic medical conditions, or who is pregnant and to consider their release. The judge wrote, “the known cases are likely the tip of the iceberg,” and that ICE had “exhibited a callous indifference to the safety and wellbeing” of detainees in its custody.

Among the 32,000 detainees that remains in ICE custody, 5,500 are asylum seekers who have been determined to have a credible fear of persecution or torture should they be returned to their home countries.

According to an epidemiological report released by the ACLU on April 23, COVID-19 could cause approximately 100,000 additional deaths if detained populations are not dramatically and immediately reduced.

Administration Accused of Exporting Coronavirus as Deportations Continue

As the U.S. continues deportations amid the pandemic, an increasing number of deportees have tested positive for COVID-19 upon arriving in their country of origin. On April 16, Guatemalan officials suspended deportations from the U.S. after reports that approximately a quarter of the nation’s total positive cases came from U.S. deportation flights, including one flight in which as much as 75% of deportees were found to have the virus. Deportations still continue to other countries, however, with seventeen separate flights reported on April 21 alone.

Critics have argued that the U.S. is exporting the virus to vulnerable countries which lack the resources to adequately test and treat them. Deportations continue to Haiti, for example, even as the Haitian government has taken steps to shut down virtually all other international entrances to protect itself from the pandemic. After three Haitian deportees tested positive for the virus, Haitian officials asked the U.S. to administer tests to individuals before putting them on deportation flights. On April 23, the U.S. deported an additional 129 individuals, including minors, to Haiti. ICE acting director Matthew Albence said that, “ICE does not routinely test detainees before deporting them.”

According to an April 22 report, the U.S. is on track to deport significantly more individuals in 2020 than in 2019.

Despite Promises, ICE Has Access to DACA Recipients’ Personal Information  

On April 21, ProPublica published evidence that ICE has access to the personal information given on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications. Internal Trump administration emails, released as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the immigrant rights organization Make the Road New York, reveal that ICE has direct access to the USCIS databases where DACA recipients’ files are stored. The information suggests ICE is violating its promise dating back to the creation of the DACA program, that personal information like applicants’ home addresses would not be accessible for enforcement purposes.

The revelations come as the Supreme Court continues to weigh the future of the DACA program, leaving approximately 635,000 recipients in limbo. On April 17, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), ranking member of the Senate subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration, sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requesting further information about the confidentiality of DACA recipients’ information. The letter expresses concern that the information would be used to rapidly deport DACA recipients and their families if the program is ended. It also highlights the contribution of over 200,000 DACA recipient essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Essential Food Supply Workers Lack Access to Safe Working Environment

Highlighting the risks faced by a predominantly immigrant food supply workforce, a series of meat processing plants across the country have been forced to close due to outbreaks of COVID-19. Food supply companies have scrambled to contain the outbreaks and keep their farm and processing plants operational, instituting safety measures like social distancing and plastic barriers where possible. On April 18, one meatpacking plant in Michigan closed after 60 employees tested positive for COVID-19. The plant reopened three days later on April 21.

Legislators, workers’ union officials, and plant managers say the federal government has not provided enough assistance in keeping the food industry safe and operational during the crisis. In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, a group of Senate Democrats urged further action “to ensure the safety of our nation’s food supply and protect our essential federal and private sector food supply chain workforce.”


Supreme Court Makes it Easier for Federal Agencies to Deport Green Card Holders

On April 23, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Barton v. Barr to make it easier for federal agencies to deport lawful permanent residents who have committed certain crimes. Lawful permanent residents, also known as green card holders, are typically provided relief from removal if they have lived in the U.S. continuously for seven years. However, this case revolved around the “stop-time rule,” which stops the seven-year residency clock for green card holders who have been convicted of certain crimes that would render them inadmissible.

The plaintiff in the case, Andre Martello Barton, had arrived in the U.S. as a child and was convicted of a crime as a teenager. Barton committed the crime months before he had been present in the U.S. for seven years, and was convicted of the crime after the seven-year residency period. Barton argued that he could not have been convicted of a crime resulting in inadmissibility, as he had been present in the U.S. for more than seven years and was no longer seeking admission to the U.S. The Court ruled that the stop-time rule still applied in his case. Barton is now 42 years old with four U.S. citizen children.


Congressional Research Service (CRS): COVID-19: Restrictions on Travelers at U.S. Land Borders, April 23, 2020 

The report documents the restrictions affecting travelers coming by land from Mexico and Canada in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report describes the limitation on nonessential travel, describes various administration orders relating to the suspension of the introduction of certain persons, and notes the implications for migrants, including those without valid documents.

Government Accountability Office (GAO): Immigration Detention: Care of Pregnant Women in DHS Facilities, April 21, 2020.

The report analyzes Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data on the treatment of pregnant women. GAO embarked on this analysis in response to a policy change in 2017 in which the Department of Homeland Security altered a policy limiting the detention of pregnant women. The report found ICE complied more than 79% of the time with most of its pregnancy-related performance measures. The report also notes that over 100 complaints were filed about ICE and CBP care of pregnant women, although in most cases there was not enough information to determine whether proper care was provided.


Summary of President Trump’s Proclamation Suspending Immigration

This resource provides a summary of the April 22 proclamation suspending immigration and travel from outside the U.S. The resource describes who the proclamation applies to and lists the various exemptions to the suspension.

Logistics: Immigrants Are Indispensable to U.S. Workforce

This fact sheet focuses on immigrants in the logistics workforce, highlighting key facts about their demographics and contributions. These facts emphasize the role immigrants are playing as essential workers as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Special Episode: A Closer Look at Trump’s Immigration Proclamation

In this special episode of the Only in America podcast, National Immigration Forum President Ali Noorani and VP of Policy and Advocacy Jacinta Ma discuss the April 22 immigration proclamation in greater detail. They discuss the impact of the proclamation for immigrants and Americans and delve into alternative solutions we should be pursuing.

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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 dzak@immigrationforum.org. Thank you

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