BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED
The Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act
The bill would authorize the Attorney General to provide grants to various entities to report, process, and identify missing persons and unidentified remains. It would also provide for the implementation of up to 170 self-powered “rescue beacons” in isolated border regions to prevent migrant deaths.
Sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) (3 cosponsors – 2 Democrats, 1 Republican)
07/18/2019 Introduced by Senator Cornyn in the U.S. Senate
07/18/2019 Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary
11/17/2020 Passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent
11/18/2020 Introduced in the House of Representatives as H.R. 8772 by Representative Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas)
11/18/2020 Referred to the House Committees on Homeland Security and the Judiciary
12/16/2020 Amended and Passed the House under Suspension of the Rules
LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR
The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives will not be in session the week of December 21, 2020.
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
Administration Finalizes Agreement to Send Asylum Seekers to El Salvador
On December 15, the Trump administration announced it had finalized an agreement to send certain individuals seeking asylum or other similar humanitarian protection at the U.S. border to El Salvador to seek protection there. The deal, known as an Asylum Cooperative Agreement (ACA), is one of three such agreements originally brokered in 2019 with the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
In the announcement, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said the ACAs represent “a truly regional approach to migration.” Asylum advocates have noted that the three Central American countries do not have robust asylum systems and are not capable of providing protection to asylum seekers sent to them under the agreements. El Salvador has the highest homicide rate of any country in the world. As recently as December 2019, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele said, “We don’t have asylum capacities.”
Prior to the finalization of the ACA with El Salvador, the U.S. had only implemented the agreement with Guatemala, sending approximately 939 Hondurans and Salvadorans fleeing persecution there to apply for protection in 2019 and 2020. As of May 2020, only 2% of the 939 asylum seekers sent to Guatemala were able to apply for protection, and none had yet received asylum status.
It is not clear yet whether, in the final month of the Trump administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will actually act on the agreement and send arriving asylum seekers to El Salvador. Currently, DHS is summarily expelling most arriving asylum seekers to Mexico or their home countries under a pandemic-era Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rule. DHS argues the rule gives it the authority to expel any individuals arriving at the border, regardless of whether they pose a particular risk for spreading the virus or were intending to seek asylum in the U.S.
Border Crossings Tick Up as Some Experts Predict Sustained Increase
According to a December 13 report, unauthorized border crossings into the United States have increased in the past few weeks after steadily declining throughout the year. Some experts are predicting the uptick will continue in the coming months due to a variety of factors, including increasingly difficult economic conditions throughout Central America and the widespread damage caused by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. The incoming Biden administration’s promises for a more welcoming approach to those arriving at the border seeking protection from persecution may also be contributing to some of this increase.
The increase in border crossings is also due in part to the nature of the Trump administration’s border restrictions implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under these restrictions, unauthorized migrants apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the border are brought back to border stations rather than being deported, and they are able to attempt re-entry without additional penalties or prosecutions. These rules are resulting in an increasing recidivism rate, and CBP reported in August that the percentage of apprehensions involving repeat crossers was over 30%.
IG Report: ICE Kept Detainees in Solitary Confinement for 300 Days
According to the draft of a DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) report obtained by Buzzfeed News on December 17, two immigrants detained by ICE were held in solitary confinement for more than 300 days. The report also noted several other immigrants were kept in solitary confinement for over two months and that detainees were fed expired and moldy food. The report is the result of an OIG investigation into the treatment of detainees at the Imperial Regional Detention Facility in Calexico, California.
According to the report, the Calexico facility falsely reported it was providing detainees recreation time when, in fact, individuals held in solitary confinement were restricted from leaving their cells for 22 to 23 hours a day.
The news of the draft report comes after a series of scandals and additional reporting criticizing the treatment of detainees in ICE custody. A separate OIG report from October documented how an immigrant detention center in Maryland was in violation of several standards that threatened the health, safety, and rights of detainees. An August report found Muslim immigrants detained in a facility in Florida were required to choose between eating expired meals or eating pork-based products which went against their religious beliefs. Investigations continue into a September 14 whistleblower complaint alleging that numerous detainees at an ICE detention center in Georgia were subjected to medical negligence and neglect, including detained women receiving unwanted invasive surgeries.
Third Court Rules Against Administration’s Restrictions on H-1B Workers
On December 14, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled against a Trump administration rule that restricts the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program for high-skilled “specialty occupations.” The Department of Labor (DOL) rule sought to significantly increase minimum wage requirements for H-1B workers. The rule would have raised required salaries by an average of 50-60%, and some occupations would have seen required wages double or even triple.
The judge ruled that DOL did not have “good cause” to bypass required public notice and comment rulemaking procedures when it attempted to expedite implementation and issue the regulation as an interim final rule. The judge further ordered DOL to reissue any wage determinations that had been issued under the rule while it was in effect.
The case was the third such successful challenge to the rule, with federal courts in San Francisco and New Jersey previously rejecting the government’s defense. This most recent challenge was led by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).
While it was in effect, the rule had applied to new H-1B applicants and to those seeking to renew their H-1B status, which may have resulted in a number of employers suddenly unable to afford to pay workers on whom they have relied for many years. Had it remained in effect, the rule might also have cut out many junior-level and early career applicants from the H-1B program.
State and Local
San Diego Sheriff’s Department Ends Policy of Posting Release Dates of Those in Custody
On December 10, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department announced it will end a policy of publicly posting the release dates of individuals in its custody. Immigration advocates had argued that the policy provided Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with information it could use to apprehend and deport immigrants shortly after their release. The policy had been in effect since the 2017 passage of the California Values Act, which limits the use of state and local resources in federal immigration enforcement functions.
The decision comes after ICE launched a series of raids and crackdowns targeting undocumented immigrants in multiple California jurisdictions with robust “sanctuary” policies in early October. Sanctuary jurisdictions are not defined under federal statute, but the term generally refers to state and localities that limit officials’ involvement in federal immigration enforcement functions. Advocates and local officials argue that requiring local law enforcement to play a role in all federal immigration enforcement activities undermines public safety and community trust.
D.C. Closer to Making Sanctuary City Status Permanent
On December 15, the District of Columbia Council unanimously approved a permanent version of the Sanctuary Values Act. The legislation would limit local agencies involvement in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) functions, including limitations on jails, police, and other city officials sharing information with ICE. The current “emergency” version of the Sanctuary Values Act was passed in 2019 as a temporary measure. Despite approval by the city council, the measure will need to be voted on again in 2021 during the next legislative session and pass through a further two rounds of votes before being enacted.
There were no immigration-related government reports published the week of December 14, 2020.
SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES
This paper explores how the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program bolsters national security and provides a number of recommendations to strengthen our resettlement program and re-engage with international allies to address global forced migration. Elizabeth Neumann, former DHS Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention during the Trump Administration and senior advisor to the National Immigration Forum on national security matters, authored the paper.
This resource summarizes and provides context for the Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Act, which would take steps to prevent migrant deaths on the Southwest border and help border counties and nonprofit organizations locate and identify missing migrants.
This working paper provides a set of short-term and long-term policy recommendations that can be implemented to better manage and process the increase in Central American migrants at the Southern border.
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The next legislative bulletin will be published January 8.
*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 email@example.com. Thank you.