BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED
Resolving Extended Limbo for Immigrant Employees and Families (RELIEF) Act
The bill would increase the number of available immigrant visas to eliminate the employment and family green card backlogs within five years, classify spouses and children of lawful permanent residents (LPRs) as immediate relatives, provide an opportunity for “aging out” children to qualify for LPR status based on a parent’s immigration petition, and lift the per-country visa caps, among other provisions. This is a companion bill to S. 2603.
Sponsored by Representative Donna Shalala (D-Florida) (1 cosponsor – 0 Republicans, 1 Democrat)
12/5/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative Shalala
12/5/2019 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary
New Way Forward Act
The bill would end mandatory immigration detention, end the practice of local law enforcement engaging in immigration enforcement, and repeal criminal punishments for illegal entry and reentry, among other provisions.
Sponsored by Representative Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-Illinois) (34 cosponsors – 0 Republicans, 34 Democrats)
12/10/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative Garcia
12/10/2019 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary
Farm Workforce Modernization Act
The bill would provide undocumented farmworkers and their families with an opportunity to obtain legal status, reform the H-2A temporary agricultural workers program to address employer and worker concerns, and impose mandatory employment verification (E-Verify) in the agriculture industry.
Sponsored by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-California) (62 cosponsors – 25 Republicans, 37 Democrats)
11/12/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative Lofgren
11/12/2019 Referred to the House Committees on the Judiciary, Ways and Means, Education and Labor, and Financial Services
12/11/2019 Passed the House by a vote of 260 to 165
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020
The bill would appropriate funding for FY 2020 national defense priorities, including authorizing an additional 4,000 Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) and the codification of military parole in place (PIP) for undocumented family members of military servicemembers and veterans.
Sponsored by Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) (1 cosponsor – 1 Republican, 0 Democrats)
06/11/2019 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Inhofe
06/11/2019 Referred to the Senate Committee on Armed Services
06/27/2019 Passed in the Senate by a Vote of 86 to 8
09/17/2019 Amended version passed in the House without objection
12/11/2019 Conference Report Agreed to in the House by a Vote of 377 to 48
LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR
The U.S. Senate will be in session on the week of Monday, December 16, 2019.
The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Tuesday, December 17, 2019 through Friday, December 20, 2019.
UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS
There are no immigration-related hearings or markups currently scheduled in the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives.
THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK
House Passes the Farm Workforce Modernization Act
On December 11, the House passed the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038). The bill seeks to reform and broaden the H-2A foreign agriculture worker program and would allow undocumented farmworkers to make restitution and access an earned path to legal status. It also includes an enforcement element, requiring a reformed E-Verify program for the agricultural sector. The bill represented a bipartisan compromise on the issue, with 23 Republican and 25 Democrat original co-sponsors and support from both farmers and farmworkers. H.R. 5038 passed the House with support from 34 Republicans and all but three Democrats.
The passage of the bipartisan bill represents a rare moment of compromise on immigration issues between both parties, and the first time in over thirty years that an agricultural workforce bill of similar scope has passed the House. Its passage is a testament to extensive negotiations between House members and between farmer and farmworker advocates that took place in the months leading up to the bill’s introduction. The building blocks of the bill could provide a template for future negotiations on immigration issues, as the compromise included an enforcement element, a pathway to legal status, and a reform to the legal immigration system. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-California), a champion of the bill, noted on the House Floor that “we ought to support enforcement for a system that works.” The Farm Workforce Modernization Act now moves to the Senate, where further negotiations will take place.
House Passes NDAA, Senate Vote Expected Next Week
The House passed a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2020 (S. 1790) on December 11 by a 377 to 48 vote. The bill, which authorizes $738 billion in defense spending, includes a provision to authorize 4,000 additional Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) for Afghan allies who served alongside U.S. service members and diplomatic personnel as translators, interpreters, and other support staff during the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. The bill also includes conference report language to codify the use of military parole in place (PIP), a policy that protects undocumented family members of active-duty military and veterans from being deported and allows them to potentially adjust to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status without leaving the country, which the Trump administration was considering ending. The defense bill does not include a provision to block future transfers of military funds to construct physical barriers along the U.S. southern border. House Democrats attempted to block such fund transfers in the bill, but their attempts were unsuccessful due to opposition from the White House.
The House passage of the NDAA comes after months of negotiations between the House, the Senate, and the White House to develop a compromise version of the legislation. The Senate is expected to take up the bill next week. President Trump is expected to sign the bill.
Congress Reaches Spending Deal After Agreement on Border Wall Funding
Top Democratic and Republican lawmakers reached a tentative spending deal on December 12 to fund the federal government for the remaining nine months of FY 2020 before current government funding expires on December 20. The agreement, which covers $1.4 trillion in discretionary government funding, reportedly includes a compromise on funding for barriers along the U.S. southern border, a major sticking point that threatened to stall spending negotiations. Under the deal, Congress would reportedly provide $1.38 billion to build physical barriers along the southern border, the same amount of funding it provided in FY 2019, far short of the $8.6 billion requested by the White House. However, the bill would not include any provisions to prevent the Trump administration from transferring funds from other government accounts to build border barriers as House Democrats requested. The spending bills would also not replenish military accounts the Trump administration drew from earlier this year to build additional border barriers.
The negotiated bill text is expected to be released on December 16. The House may vote on the packages of spending bills as early as December 17, followed by the Senate before the December 20 deadline.
New Data Details Fewer Migrant Arrests and Fewer Deportations
Arrests of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border have dropped for the sixth straight month, according to U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement (CBP) data released on December 9. Just over 33,000 people were arrested in November, a sharp decline from the 13-year high of 132,000 in May. There are a number of reasons for the decline, including normal seasonal migration patterns, increased enforcement from Mexican officials, and the Trump administration’s controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy. While overall numbers declined in November, there was an increase in the number of apprehensions of unaccompanied children. Also, more Mexican nationals were arrested, as recent administration asylum restrictions and return policies do not apply to them.
The fall in border arrests come as CBP continues to struggle to carry out and resource restrictive administration policies on the border. The administration’s expansion of migrant detention, for example, has resulted in the agency coming under criticism from advocates for failing to provide for the basic health and well-being of detainees. The agency recently decided to create new civilian jobs to handle migrant intake and welfare.
Non-border immigration arrests also fell in FY 2019 compared to FY 2018, according to statistics released on December 11th by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE deported 10% fewer people in FY 2019, despite a public push by the Trump administration to focus on interior enforcement. Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence suggested the cause of the decline was that some agency resources were being diverted to the border throughout much of the year.
The administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, a reason experts credit for the decline in border arrests, has come under increasing criticism for putting migrants in serious danger as their asylum applications are processed. The policy requires migrants, including migrant families, who request asylum in the U.S. or at a port of entry to be sent back to wait in Mexico while their cases move forward in the U.S. immigration court system. A report released on December 6 details 636 instances of violent attacks against these asylum seekers as they wait in Mexico along the border. Reuters reported on December 12 the murder of a Salvadoran asylum seeker in Tijuana who was returned to Mexico under the policy. Even some of those who have been granted asylum in the U.S. have been forced to stay in Mexico while DHS appeals their cases, according to recent reports.
USCIS Proposed Fee Increases Include 500% Price Hike for Genealogists Seeking Immigration Records
The fee for accessing immigration records is set to rise almost 500%, the Washington Post reported on December 9. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) initially published the proposed fee rule on November 14. The rule proposes a new fee schedule in which most fees will increase, including an 83% increase in the cost of applying for U.S. citizenship and the establishment of a fee for asylum applications. The proposed fee rule was initially open for only a 30-day public comment period, but that period has been extended 15 days and will now close on December 30.
The proposed fee changes could have a significant impact on the little-known USCIS Genealogy Program, which provides access to historical immigration records. Were the fee increases to go into effect, professional genealogists and armchair family historians alike would have to pay over $600 dollars to access a single paper file from the Genealogy Program. On December 10, Senator Mitt Romney wrote a public letter protesting the increase, requesting that Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf provide a specific rationale for the proposed genealogy fee.
Federal Courts Block Transfer of $3.6 Billion in Military Construction Funds to Build Border Barriers
Federal judges in Texas and California issued separate permanent injunctions on December 10 and 11, respectively, blocking the Trump administration from using $3.6 billion in military construction funding to build physical barriers along the U.S. southern border. On December 10, U.S. District Judge David Briones in Texas ruled that the Trump administration cannot use the president’s emergency proclamation on border security to divert military construction funds to pay for additional border barriers. Briones indicated that the president’s proclamation violated Congress’ intent to limit funding for border barrier construction to $1.38 billion, as provided for in the FY 2019 spending bill. Briones stated that his permanent injunction does not conflict with a Supreme Court decision in July that allowed the Trump administration to use a separate $2.5 billion in drug interdiction funds to pay for border barrier construction while the case moves forward on the merits. The Department of Justice (DOJ) said it would appeal Briones’ ruling.
One day later, on December 11, U.S. District Court Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. in California issued a separate permanent injunction blocking the $3.6 billion in military construction funding to build border barriers. Judge Gilliam ruled that the Trump administration was attempting to circumvent congressional appropriations for military construction projects.
The rulings come after the Trump administration announced in September that it would divert $3.6 billion in military construction funding to build 175 miles of barriers along the southern border, transferring the funds from 127 military construction projects in 23 states, three U.S. territories and overseas bases.
Fourth Circuit Becomes Second Appeals Court to Lift Preliminary Injunction on “Public Charge” Rule
The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a preliminary injunction on December 9 that was blocking the Trump administration’s final rule broadening the definition of the term “public charge,” becoming the second appeals court within one week to find that the rule should be able to move forward. The three-judge panel voted, 2 to 1, to stay the preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge in Maryland. The ruling came after the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted two preliminary injunctions on December 5 that were blocking the “public charge” final rule. However, the “public charge” rule remains blocked nationwide because a federal judge in New York also blocked the policy before it went into effect in October and that decision is not impacted by the rulings from the Ninth and Fourth Circuits.
The Trump administration’s “public charge” rule, which was set to take effect on October 15, would allow 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.
State and Local
Governors of 18 States Consent to Resettle Refugees in FY 2020
Eighteen governors have signed letters of consent following President Trump’s executive order on September 26 requiring both the state and local government to consent to refugee resettlement. The executive order will prevent refugee resettlement throughout the United States except in those states and localities that have submitted written consent, setting the stage for potential tensions between localities and their governors. The 18 governors include a mix of Republicans and Democrats, including Republican governors of conservative states such as Arizona and Utah.
Over 2,600 evangelicals have called for consent from their governors including over six hundred in Tennessee and three hundred in Texas. Some of the states that resettle the largest number of refugees in the country are still deciding whether to consent.
Many local jurisdictions across the country have also consented to resettle refugees. For example, on December 9, Burleigh County North Dakota, home of the state capital, decided in a 3 to 2 vote to continue accepting resettled refugees, but capped the number at 25. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum previously consented for refugees to be resettled in the state on November 19. The cap is largely symbolic—the county only received 24 refugees in 2019 and 22 in 2018 but business owners, over a dozen church leaders, and members of the local immigrant community have criticized the cap.
States and localities have 90 days from when the White House issued the executive order to consent. This deadline falls on December 25—Christmas Day.
There were no immigration-related government reports published on the week of Monday, December 9, 2019.
SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES
This is a bill summary of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 (H.R. 5038), which seeks to reform the process by which temporary foreign workers come to the United States to work in agriculture. The bill includes a pathway to legalization for certain undocumented agricultural workers and reforms to the existing H-2A temporary agricultural workers visa program.
This document is an analysis of President Trump’s “Executive Order on Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement,” issued on September 26, 2019, that will prevent refugee resettlement throughout the United States except in those states and localities that have submitted written consent to have refugees resettled.
This fact sheet provides a summary of current border security resources and recent migration trends along America’s Southern border.
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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.