Legislative Bulletin – Friday, December 11, 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. 8883

The REPAIR Academia Act

The bill would require colleges, universities, and other sponsors of international students, exchange visitors and trainees to notify the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when they participate in federally funded research. The bill allows DHS to revoke visas for individuals whose research is deemed a risk.

Sponsored by Representative Ralph Norman (R-South Carolina) (0 cosponsors)

12/07/2020 Introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Norman

12/07/2020 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

H.R. 8876

The Shadow Wolves Enhancement Act

The bill would allow the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to reclassify technical enforcement officers in tactical units on Tohono O’odham Nation lands as special agents. This would give the officers, commonly known as “Shadow Wolves,” more authority to investigate and track cross-border criminal activity. The bill is a companion to S. 3435.

Sponsored by Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) (0 cosponsors)

12/04/2020 Introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative King

12/04/2020 Referred to the House Committee on Homeland Security

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives will be in session the week of December 14.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

Supporting Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Movement Through United States Refugee Policy

Date: Wednesday, December 16, 2020 at 2:00 pm E.T. (Senate Judiciary Committee)

Location: Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room G50

Witnesses: TBD

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Administration Finalizes Regulation to Dramatically Restrict Asylum

On December 10, the administration finalized a regulation that will dramatically restrict the availability of asylum in the U.S. The rule, which is set to take effect on January 11, 2021, includes sweeping limitations that will impact almost everyone seeking protection from the U.S. government. Among other changes, the rule will curtail the opportunities asylum seekers have to make their case before an immigration judge, raise the threshold of proof at a number of stages in the asylum process, and limit what kinds of persecution constitute grounds for receiving protection.

Included in the regulation is a section that interprets the Convention Against Torture such that any torture committed by a “rogue government official” does not count towards an individual’s claim to protection. Another clause precludes protective status if an asylum seeker has not applied for asylum in “at least one country through which [they] have traveled in route to the United States.”

The regulation was initially published as a proposed rule on June 15, after which it received over 88,000 comments from individuals and organizations. In its 419-page response to the comments — the vast majority of which were opposed to the proposed reforms — the administration agreed to only five substantive changes to the rule. The alterations include narrow changes to the scope of various provisions and the clarification of certain effective dates.

The final rule is the latest in a long list of asylum restrictions implemented by the administration, and it comes as the administration makes a late push to finalize additional immigration restrictions in the weeks leading up to Inauguration Day on January 20.

Coronavirus Cases Increase Among Children in Immigration Detention

According to federal records, a total of 1,061 minors in U.S. immigration custody have now tested positive for coronavirus as of December 7, an increase of 35 percent since mid-November. A spokesman for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) stated that while the majority of these unaccompanied migrant children (UACs) have recovered and have been released to a parent or guardian, 118 active cases are being monitored to ensure the “safety and care” of the children.

The number of UACs reaching the U.S.-Mexico border has doubled since October, with an average of 153 young migrants seeking entry per day. A number of factors may be contributing to the recent increase in UACs at the border, including the physical and economic devastation caused by hurricanes Eta and Iota in Central America.

ORR has introduced COVID-19 safety protocols to ensure that adequate distancing is possible even in congregate shelter settings. According to a monitor who reports on conditions inside the shelters, there are “several discussions going on” to safely prepare for ongoing increases in UACs arriving at the border.

Whistleblowers Allege that Border Wall Contractors Hired Undocumented Immigrants as Guards

According to a whistleblower complaint unsealed on December 4, two contractors hired to construct barriers along the Southwest border hired unauthorized workers from Mexico as security guards in 2019. The complaint, filed by two employees contracted to provide security at the construction sites, alleges that a contractor called Ultimate Concrete “constructed a dirt road that would allow access from the Mexican side of the border in to the United States,” and blocked the road from security cameras using construction equipment. The complaint further alleges that the contractors overcharged for construction costs and misrepresented their actions in a report to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The president of Ultimate Concrete dismissed the allegations, stating that “everybody can allege whatever they want to, and that does not make it correct.” The two employees who filed the complaint were a former deputy sheriff of San Diego County and a former F.B.I. special agent who had been detailed to provide security for border wall construction.

Report: Administration Awarded $58 Million to Companies with Checkered Records to Care for Migrant Children 

According to a bipartisan report released on December 8 by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) put unaccompanied migrant children at risk by awarding a total of $58 million in grants to two companies with records of improper care and neglect. The grants were for opening or reopening shelters designed to care for migrant children. HHS is the parent department of ORR, the federal agency tasked with caring for UACs. The report was released by Senators Tom Carper (D-Delaware) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

The report details multiple transgressions made by the two companies, VisionQuest National, Ltd. and New Horizon Group Home, LLC, prior to receiving the HHS grants. These included multiple “confirmed instances of child abuse” resulting in the removal of children from programs for troubled youth run by VisionQuest in Pennsylvania. The report also notes that a North Carolina residential facility run by New Horizon was found to have violated state regulations, including failing to hire sufficient medical personnel.

The report criticized HHS’s failure to research past disciplinary histories of the two companies. Due to their records, the companies have had difficulties getting zoning and licensing approval to open the new shelters. HHS has now discontinued grants to both companies, but only after it had distributed over $32 million for their facilities. HHS has also implemented reforms to limit funding to unlicensed companies and require disclosure of abuse allegations.

As of December 4th, ORR has 3,150 unaccompanied minors in its care.

Migrant Caravan Fleeing Aftermath of Hurricanes Sets Off from Honduras

On December 9, a caravan of over 1,000 migrants from Honduras began their journey attempting to reach the United States, fleeing mass destruction in the Central American country following back-to-back hurricanes.

Hurricanes Eta and Iota struck Honduras two weeks apart in November, leading to severe flooding that destroyed homes and key infrastructure, affecting millions of people. The hurricanes have also severely damaged Honduras’s economy, one that was already suffering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guatemalan officials have warned that the Honduran migrants will need to provide negative coronavirus tests and passports in order to enter Guatemala, criteria that most members of the caravan will be unable to meet. The Mexican government has also increased security at its border with Guatemala to prevent unauthorized immigration into Mexico. Several recent caravans have been stopped by Guatemalan or Mexican border officials before reaching the United States.

Legal

Administration Fully Restores DACA Protections Following Court Order

Days after a federal judge in New York ordered that a July 28 memorandum limiting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) must be set aside, DHS began accepting new applications on December 7, issuing an update on the DHS website. The July 28 memorandum from acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf, which followed the U.S. Supreme Court permitting DACA to survive, barred new DACA applications and limited existing recipients to renewing their protections for one year.

In the update, DHS stated that it is now accepting new applications as well as renewal requests, and that it is automatically extending one-year grants of protection and work authorization that were issued under the memorandum to two years, in compliance with the court order. The change restores DACA to its status before September 2017, providing access to protection to hundreds of thousands of eligible individuals who are not currently protected by the program.

The statement stated that, “DHS will comply with the order while it remains in effect, but DHS may seek relief from the order,” Indicating that DHS may still appeal the order. A separate case challenging the legality of DACA is also being actively litigated in the Southern District of Texas. A hearing for that case has been scheduled for December 22.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, over 1.3 million U.S. residents are eligible for DACA, including those who would be first-time applicants and those who have recently turned 15 and “aged in” to eligibility.

DHS Extends Temporary Protected Status (TPS) For Six Countries

On December 9, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a 6-month extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for more than 300,000 individuals from six countries until October 4, 2021. TPS protections for individuals from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan. Protections for each of those countries were set to expire in January.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is granted to eligible foreign-born individuals living in the U.S. who are unable to return home safely due to violence or other circumstances in their home country. The Trump administration has spent years attempted to end TPS for a majority of recipients, but multiple lawsuits have been filed challenging the terminations on procedural and discriminatory grounds. In Ramos, et. al., v. Nielsen, et al. in 2018, and in Bhattarai v. Nielsen in 2019, two district courts issued preliminary injunction orders preventing the termination of protections for the six countries.

On September 14, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the Ramos case that DHS has the authority to end the TPS program. However, the Ninth Circuit has not yet issued a directive to the district court to carry out the order, so the preliminary injunction remains in effect. The additional six-month extension of status was granted in continued compliance with the district court injunction.

Administration Files Lawsuit Against Facebook for Use of H-1B Program

On December 3, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against Facebook alleging the company discriminated against U.S. workers by hiring high-skilled H-1B workers for specialty occupations. The complaint alleges that Facebook engaged in discrimination by inadequately advertising certain positions to U.S. workers that were subsequently filled by H-1B recipients. The complaint acknowledges that Facebook followed Department of Labor (DOL) hiring regulations that are designed to protect the interests of U.S. workers, but argued that Facebook still discriminated against U.S. workers.

Under DOL guidelines, prospective H-1B employers are required to utilize the permanent labor certification program (PERM) process, which includes setting a minimum prevailing wage for the position and demonstrating that they could not find a qualified American worker to fill the opening. Facebook followed these guidelines with DOL’s approval for the positions in question, but the lawsuit argues that Facebook advertised the positions differently from other openings, including requiring U.S. candidates to mail-in their applications.

Immigration advocates and lawyers have raised concerns about the lawsuit, noting that, “the most concerning part is that the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section of DOJ is asserting that an employer following the rules laid out by another agency . . . has engaged in citizenship discrimination.”

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

There were no immigration-related government reports were published the week of December 7, 2020.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Fact Sheet: Unaccompanied Migrant Children (UACs)

This resource provides information on unaccompanied children arriving at the border. It describes why these children come alone to the border, the particular challenges they face, and the legal protections offered to them.

Fact Sheet: Temporary Protected Status

This fact sheet provides an explanation of what Temporary Protected Status is and who is eligible to receive it and includes a summary of how many immigrants living in the U.S. have TPS. The fact sheet also provides an overview of current ongoing litigation and policy changes surrounding TPS.

Fact Sheet: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

This resource provides information about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. It also describes how DACA recipients strengthen the United States and why Dreamers are still in need of a permanent solution.

* * *

*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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