BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED
Freedom for Families Act
The bill would ensure that no federal dollars are used to operate family detention facilities. It would also transfer funds currently used for family detention to be used for alternatives for detention and community-based non-detention programs. The bill would also require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to review the feasibility of transferring case management programs out of the purview of ICE and DHS.
Sponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) (3 cosponsors — 3 Democrats, 0 Republicans)
4/29/2021 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Merkley
A bill to designate any alien who is or has been engaged in economic espionage or the misappropriation of trade secrets inadmissible and deportable.
Sponsored by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) (1 cosponsor — 1 Democrat, 0 Republicans)
04/28/2021 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Grassley
04/28/2021 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Families Belong Together Act
The bill would provide humanitarian parole to certain parents who were separated from their children under the Trump administration. The bill would also establish a process for providing these parents and their children with access to lawful permanent status.
Sponsored by Representative Joaquin Castro (D-Texas)
4/26/2021 Introduced in the House by Representative Castro
Syrian Partner Protection Act
The bill would provide special immigrant status to Syrian and Kurdish individuals who have assisted U.S. military efforts as interpreters, translators, intelligence analysts, or in other capacities. The visa would function similarly to the Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program.
Sponsored by Representative Jason Crow (D-Colorado) (1 cosponsor — 1 Republican, 0 Democrats)
04/26/2021 Introduced in the House by Representative Crow
04/26/2021 Referred to the House Committees on Foreign Affairs, and on the Judiciary
The Resist Executive Amnesty on Defense Installations (READI) Act
The bill would prohibit military installations and bases from being used by the government as emergency overflow facilities to house undocumented immigrants, including unaccompanied children.
Sponsored by Representative John Carter (R-Texas) (15 cosponsors — 15 Republicans, 0 Democrats)
04/28/2021 Introduced in the House by Representative Carter
04/28/2021 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary
LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR
The U.S. Senate will be not be in session the week of May 3.
The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session the week of May 3.
UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS
Date: Thursday, May 6, 2021 at 2:00 PM ET (House Homeland Security Committee)
Location: Virtual Hearing
Dan Restrepo, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
Shannon O’Neil, Vice President, Deputy Director of Studies, and Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Ariel Ruiz Soto, Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Institute
Steve Hinkley, Sheriff, Calhoun County, Michigan
THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK
Biden Calls for Immigration Reforms in Address to Congress
In an address to a joint session of Congress on April 28, President Biden called on Congress to act on immigration reform among a list of the administration’s key policy priorities. The president called for Congress to come together to pass the administration’s comprehensive immigration platform, the U.S. Citizenship Act, but he also signaled support for bipartisan efforts for incremental reform, including passage of permanent legislative solutions for Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status holders, and farmworkers. “If Congress won’t pass my plan — let’s at least pass what we agree on,” he said.
In the immigration portion of his speech, President Biden also highlighted the need to address the violence, corruption, hunger, and political instability that is pushing many migrants in Central America to flee to the U.S.-Mexico border. To emphasize the administration’s commitment to passing immigration reform, first lady Jill Biden invited Javier Quiroz, a Houston nurse and Dreamer, as a virtual guest to the event.
Earlier in the week, on April 26, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said that Republicans would not support a stand-alone bill providing legal status for Dreamers, and that legislation would not be taken up by the caucus unless it also addressed the current situation at the border. Democrats, including Senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) have agreed that bipartisan efforts would require a border security component to move forward. Durbin, who is leading bipartisan immigration negotiations in the Senate, said that “I think we’ve got to have a credible southern border effort to make it work.”
On April 25, Republican pollster Frank Luntz said that polls and focus groups show broad public support for a similar immigration compromise to the one the bipartisan group of Senators are contemplating. According to Luntz’s findings, “Republicans are more pro-immigrant than elites realize, and Democrats are more pro-border-security than elites realize.”
White House Again Considering 62,500 Target for Refugee Admissions
The White House is once again considering raising the refugee admissions ceiling to 62,500 this fiscal year, according to an April 27 Washington Post report. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that reaching such a ceiling would be “challenging,” but affirmed that the president would make a decision on a revised admissions target on or before May 15.
The administration had previously announced on February 6 that it would raise the refugee ceiling to 62,500, and it had held required consultations with Congress on the proposed cap. However, on April 16, after a prolonged delay, President Biden announced that his administration would keep the refugee ceiling at the historic-low of 15,000 designated by the Trump administration. After significant and immediate backlash from advocates, members of Congress, and others, the administration backtracked and said it planned to raise the ceiling by May 15.
Calls to raise the refugee ceiling continued into the week of April 26 as Biden neared his 100th day in office and a revised refugee ceiling remained unissued. On April 28, A group of former Trump and Bush administration national security officials sent a letter to the administration urging President Biden to raise the ceiling to 62,500. A day prior, on April 27, more than 30 Senate Democrats sent a similar letter to the White House.
In the April 16 memo, the administration did remove restrictive legibility categories set under the Trump administration that had limited refugees from predominantly African and Middle Eastern countries from being resettled.
Border Numbers Level Off as Number of Children Stuck in CBP Custody Drops Dramatically
According to an April 23 Washington Post report, preliminary Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data on unauthorized border crossings demonstrate that overall numbers of migrant arrivals are leveling off in April, after increasing dramatically in previous months. According to the report, the overall number of CBP encounters in April are projected to be close to the same as in March, when approximately 170,000 migrants were apprehended or encountered by CBP. The number of arriving unaccompanied children is projected to be down slightly from March, dropping from nearly 19,000 to about 17,000, while the number of arriving families is remaining steady.
Daily data released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also reveals that the administration is making significant progress in moving unaccompanied children out of CBP custody and on to the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 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 to ORR shelters. In February and March, the increase in arriving UACs resulted in ORR shelters reaching capacity and children getting backed up for far longer than 72 hours in severely overcrowded CBP holding centers, which are not meant to care for children. In response, the administration has opened at least 12 emergency intake sites under HHS to expand shelter capacity, and as of April 28, the number of UACs held in CBP custody has dropped nearly 84% since its peak in March. The average time spent in CBP custody has also fallen to under 48 hours, below the legal maximum.
Immigration advocates continue to express concern that the emergency intake sites are not suitable places for unaccompanied children to spend prolonged periods, either, and that the next challenge facing the administration is to move children on to licensed facilities, foster care, or their family members in the U.S. as their immigration court cases proceed.
U.S. to Send $310 Million in Aid to Central America to Address Root Causes of Migration
On April 26, Vice President Harris announced that the U.S. would send $310 million to Central America in humanitarian assistance and food aid. The announcement came hours after the vice president met with Guatemalan president Alejandro Giammattei to discuss strategies to address the root causes of migration and stem the flow of migration to the U.S.-Mexico border.
On the call with President Giammattei, the U.S. also reportedly committed to training members of Guatemala’s border protection agency, and to helping the country construct shelters for returned migrants. Vice President Harris is scheduled to meet next with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on May 7, where she plans to discuss responses to the increase in unaccompanied children fleeing through Mexico to the U.S.-Mexico border.
In addition to diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to address the increase in migration at the border, on April 27 DHS announced the launch of a new campaign targeting transnational criminal organizations that smuggle migrants. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said officials would target these organizations’ financial assets in the U.S. and would limit their ability to travel and engage in trade. The campaign, dubbed “Operation Sentinel,” will be conducted in collaboration with the FBI and the U.S. Department of State.
ICE Limits Immigration Arrests at Courthouses
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on April 27 that it will limit enforcement efforts in and around courthouses. In a statement, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that ICE agents will not be authorized to carry out routine arrests in courthouses, and instead will be authorized to arrest only those who are the subject of an active pursuit or who may destroy evidence related to a criminal case. Mayorkas reasoned that the use of civil immigration arrests at courthouses has “a chilling effect on individual’s willingness to come to court or work cooperatively with law enforcement.
The move marks a change from the Trump administration, during which ICE expanded and defended the practice of ICE courthouse arrests.
On April 23, ICE also ended a Trump-era policy that resulted in fines for undocumented immigrants who failed to leave the U.S. According to Secretary Mayorkas, “there is no indication that these penalties promoted compliance with noncitizens’ departure obligations.”
DOJ Repeals Trump-Era Policy that Withheld Federal Funding from “Sanctuary Jurisdictions”
On April 28, Attorney General Merrick Garland repealed a Trump administration policy withholding law enforcement grant funding from jurisdictions it deemed to be sanctuary jurisdictions. The funds at issue come from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) Program, which disperses $250 million annually for criminal justice-related activities. The funding typically goes toward initiatives ranging from correction programs to metal health treatment centers. The Trump-era policy sought to unilaterally impose additional immigration-related conditions on the funds and faced pushback from jurisdictions who argued that the policy was unlawful, was logistically impractical, and improperly sought to require local law enforcement to carry out federal immigration enforcement activities.
Several jurisdictions had brought lawsuits against the policy, including the cities of New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. The New York Attorney General’s office reported that the city lost almost $30 million of their annual funding due to the policy. In February 2020, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Trump administration in support of the policy. Other federal courts – including the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Third, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits – ruled that the Trump policy was improper. The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, but the case was withdrawn after Biden took office in January.
Supreme Court Extends Immigration Protections for Longtime Residents
On April 29, in a 6-3 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court in Niz-Chavez v. Garland extended additional protections to nonpermanent residents who have lived in the country for at least ten continuous years. Typically, these immigrants are offered relief from removal. However, under the “stop-time rule,” the ten-year residency clock steps when they receive a notice to appear (NTA) in immigration court, formally starting removal proceedings. The decision centered on what constitutes an adequate NTA that would trigger the time-stop rule. The plaintiff, Augusto Niz-Chavez, received a document that specified the immigration charges against him, and in a separate document sent months later, he was informed of the time and place of his hearing. According to the Court, to trigger the stop-time rule, the government must issue a notice to appear in a single document that included all of the relevant information for the hearing. Because the initial document did not include a date and time of the hearing for Niz-Chavez, the Court ruled that the stop-time rule did not apply.
Supreme Court Rejects Republican State Governors Attempt to Defend Public Charge Rule
On April 26, the Supreme Court denied a request from several Republican governors to appeal a lower court ruling seeking to intervene to defend the Trump administration’s public charge rule. The public charge rule was blocked in the federal courts and the Biden administration announced in March that it will not defend the policy. Fourteen Republican governors attempted to intervene in litigation to defend the rule, arguing that the cost of eliminating the policy is a financial burden on their states.
The Supreme Court rejected the governors’ appeal seeking to intervene in the litigation, but permitted the states to continue legal challenges in the lower courts.
The public charge rule, published by the Trump administration in 2019, would redefine the meaning of the legal term “public charge” to prevent immigrants from obtaining green cards, if they have previously accessed or are deemed likely to rely on certain forms of public assistance in the future. Immigration advocates warned that the rule would have a chilling effect on immigrant families seeking assistance that they remained eligible for, with could pose a particular threat to public safety during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden Nominates Sheriff Ed Gonzalez to Lead ICE
On April 27, President Biden announced that he will nominate Ed Gonzalez, the Sheriff of Harris County, Texas, to direct U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
As head of the third-largest sheriff’s office in the U.S., covering the Houston metropolitan area, Gonzalez was a public critic of the Trump administration’s restrictive border and immigration enforcement policies. A co-chair of the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force (LEITF), Gonzalez’s nomination has garnered support from law enforcement officials around the country. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also expressed his support for the nomination, saying, “with a distinguished career in law enforcement and public service, Sheriff Gonzalez is well-suited to lead ICE as the agency advances our public safety and homeland security mission.”
As head of ICE, Sheriff Gonzalez would spearhead the Biden administration’s efforts to enforce immigration laws, and to focus resources on national security threats and threats to public safety. ICE has not had a permanent leader since 2017 and has been led by 6 different acting directors since then.
Government Accountability Office (GAO): Border Security: CBP Has Taken Actions to Help Ensure Timely and Accurate Field Testing of Suspected Illicit Drugs; April 26, 2021
This report is a review of Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) field testing of illicit substances. The report covers CBP’s policies for presumptive field testing of drugs at the border, the available data on tests, and how the agency ensures efficient and accurate test results. GAO found that CBP has been completing testing in a timely fashion, having decreased the average time for the process over the past five years despite the overall number of requests increasing during that time. GAO also found that CBP has worked to ensure accurate presumptive testing by building onsite labs, deploying mobile labs, and providing easy access to chemists.
SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES
This resource evaluates the Biden administration’s progress on a series of key immigration priorities over the first 100 days. The resource references the National Immigration Forum’s November 2020 Immigration Priorities for a Biden Administration.
This resource from the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force provides information about the Byrne-JAG grant program. The resource describes who is eligible, how funds are allocated, and discusses conditions and limitations on the uses of funding.
This resource from September 2020 provides key takeaways and additional context on the Supreme Court’s nine immigration-related rulings in its 2019-20 term. The resource details the mixed outcome of these cases, including high profile victories for immigrants and advocates, as well as decisions posing threats to immigrants.
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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.