Legislative Bulletin – Friday, April 3, 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

There were no immigration-related bills introduced or considered the week of March 30, 2020.

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

Both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives will be in recess the week of April 6, 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

U.S. Border Patrol Turns Back Unaccompanied Immigrant Children

On March 30, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confirmed that it was operating under new guidelines to deport child border crossers to countries where they feared violence. The Trump administration had issued new border restrictions on March 20, in the wake of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, under which CBP began to immediately return anyone who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border between ports of entry. Asylum seekers have been immediately expelled to Mexico or their country of origin as a result of the order, without being given due process or a screening for credible fear of return.

It was initially unclear whether the deportations would also apply to unaccompanied children, who are eligible for extra protections under the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). However, CBP has now confirmed that it is expelling all border crossers under the new restrictions, including unaccompanied migrant children (UACs) and other asylum-seeking children who have crossed without family members. CBP has said that it would exclude from expulsion only those children where return is not possible, when human trafficking is suspected, or when the child is exhibiting symptoms of illness.

On March 30, Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), demanding the agency follow legal guidelines protecting child border crossers. “Reports that DHS is not following the TVPRA are deeply troubling,” they wrote. “We request that DHS stop this practice immediately.” The TVPRA requires that 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.

Administrative Hurdles Block Many Immigrant Healthcare Workers from Helping with Coronavirus Fight

Despite growing need for healthcare workers to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, many immigrant healthcare workers have been prevented from assisting due to administrative hurdles and visa processing delays. On March 26, a Washington Post report revealed that immigrant physicians who signed up to provide care to the U.S military through a Pentagon program were unable to assist with coronavirus cases due to administrative delays and slow security checks. The report came shortly after the U.S. suspended routine consular visa processing on March 20, pausing the immigration process for thousands of critical health care workers applying for J-1 and H-1B visas. These delays come as areas hardest hit by COVID-19 are facing significant health care worker shortages.

Even with thousands of immigrant healthcare workers prevented from helping, immigrant workers continue to serve on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. Immigrants make up more than a quarter of all U.S. physicians and 16% of all registered nurses. Approximately 27,000 U.S. health care workers are DACA recipients.

At the state level, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-New York) and Governor Phil Murphy (D-New Jersey) both relaxed or eliminated state licensing requirements and other roadblocks to encourage more immigrants to assist in COVID-19 relief efforts.

Guatemala Asks U.S. to Stop Deportations to Prevent Spread of COVID-19

On March 31, Guatemala requested that the U.S. stop all deportations of Guatemalans in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 to the Central American country. The request comes in response to a Guatemalan deportee testing positive for the virus on March 30. As many commercial flights have been grounded during the pandemic, the Trump administration has requested funding from Congress for more chartered flights to continue carrying out deportations.

The Guatemalan government fears that receiving U.S. deportees could accelerate the spread of the virus in the country that, as of April 3, has had only 47 confirmed cases and one death. The United States has had over 258,000 cases as of the same date. The Trump administration has not yet responded to the request to cease deportations to Guatemala, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have set new guidelines to refer any detainee with a temperature over 100.4 degrees for a medical evaluation prior to deportation.

In an earlier effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 on March 17, the Guatemalan government suspended their agreement with the U.S. to accept asylum seekers from El Salvador and Honduras.

Wall Construction Continues on the U.S.-Mexico Border Despite Coronavirus Outbreak

As Arizona issued a statewide stay-at-home order on March 31, a New York Times report suggested that wall construction near the border town of Ajo, Arizona has not just continued, but intensified. All along the U.S.-Mexico border, the Trump administration has continued wall construction during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a reported 197 miles of additional walling currently under construction. These efforts have continued while other construction projects have been paused and construction workers around the country have been instructed to stay home.

Advocates have said that the administration should halt wall construction during the pandemic. Some have argued that continued construction puts the health and safety of construction workers and their families at risk. Others have argued that federal funds for border wall construction should be devoted instead to the COVID-19 response effort.

Legal

Federal Judges Nationwide Urge ICE to Release Immigrant Detainees

Several federal judges from across the country ordered or urged the federal government to release immigrants in ICE or CBP custody. The rulings were issues in a number of separate cases and generally focused on at-risk populations, particularly those with underlying health conditions who are particularly vulnerable to an outbreak of COVID-19 in confinement, as well as children.

On March 31, United States District Judge John Jones ordered the release of 11 immigrant detainees with underlying health conditions held in a prison in York County, Pennsylvania. The ruling followed a similar decision by U.S. District Court Judge Analisa Torres in New York on March 26, who ordered the release of 10 ICE detainees in New Jersey with underlying conditions. Both judges ruled that holding these at-risk detainees during the COVID-19 pandemic constituted “irreparable harm.”

On March 30, in a separate case, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg of Washington, D.C., urged ICE to release 1,350 members of migrant families being held in custody in Texas and Pennsylvania, although the ruling stopped short of ordering their immediate release. Previously on March 28, as part of her oversight of the Flores settlement agreement, which governs the treatment of children held in immigration detention, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee of California ordered that ICE either provide for the safe release or justify the continued confinement of 3,600 children who had crossed the border alone or been separated from their parents.

As reports of detainees and detention facility officials testing positive for COVID-19 continue to mount, additional pending lawsuits have been filed demanding the release of immigrant detainees. Medical professionals have warned of a “tinderbox scenario” in which the virus could spread rapidly in crowded detention facilities where it is not possible to follow social distancing guidelines.

Groups Sue Administration for Keeping Immigration Courts Open During Coronavirus 

On March 30, several immigration advocacy groups, including the National Lawyers Guild, the Immigration Justice Campaign, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), filed a lawsuit seeking to close federal immigration courts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit against the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) seeks to suspend immigration court hearings for health and public safety reasons. While most federal courts across the country have significantly limited in-person hearings, the EOIR has only suspended in-person hearings for migrants who are not in detention. Some immigration courts have been closed following positive COVID-19 cases by judges, lawyers, and immigrants, but the majority of immigration courts remain open.

The lawsuit argues that, “EOIR is effectively forcing attorneys to choose between adequately representing their clients and jeopardizing their health.” They added that continuing in-person detained-docket cases amounts to, “forcing detained immigrants to choose between their health and safety and their statutory, regulatory, and due process rights.” The lawsuit also notes that ICE is requiring legal advocates to bring their own personal protective equipment when meeting with clients.

On April 1, a separate federal lawsuit seeking to close the immigration court system was filed in Oregon by the Southern Poverty Law Center, CLINIC, Innovation Law Lab and other groups.

Previously, on March 15, the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ), the ICE Professionals Union, and AILA called for the emergency closure of the immigration courts.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO): H-2B Visas: Additional Steps Needed to Meet Employers Hiring Needs and Protect U.S. Workers, April 1, 2020

This GAO report examines trends in H-2B temporary non-agriculture worker visa demand and explores how the H-2B visa cap has influenced employer performance. It also discusses steps taken by the government in responding to H-2B employer needs. The report documents a sharp increase in demand for H-2B workers over the past several years, and notes that the low H-2B cap has had a significant, negative impact on H-2B employers. The report recommends federal agencies adjust the program to better consider employers’ hiring needs.

U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO): Temporary Protected Status: Steps Taken to Inform and Communicate Secretary of Homeland Security’s Decisions, April 3, 2020

This report reviews the process by which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designates and reviews countries for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The report found that DHS does not consistently provide guidance regarding how to communicate automatic extensions of TPS employment authorization documents. The report notes instances in which employers terminated the employment of some TPS recipients, wrongly assuming that their work authorization had expired. The report recommends DHS provide more consistent guidance on how they plan to communicate notice of automatic extensions to the public.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Healthcare Sector: Immigrants are Indispensable to the U.S. Workforce

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.

 COVID-19 Policy Principles

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. 

Infographic: Who Are American Farmworkers

This infographic provides demographic and population statistics on American farmworkers, 78% of whom are foreign-born. This resource provides information about the approximately 70% of farmworkers who are undocumented, and also provides details about the temporary agriculture workers on nonimmigrant H-2A visas.

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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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