Legislative Bulletin – Friday, December 20, 2019

 

The next legislative bulletin will be posted on Friday, January 10, 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

S.3031

The Significant Transnational Criminal Organization Designation Act

The bill would enable the federal government to bar members of certain transnational criminal organizations from admission to the United States. It would also prohibit providing financial and other support to these organizations. The bill is a companion to H.R. 5417.

Sponsored by Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) (10 cosponsors – 10 Republicans, 0 Democrats)

12/12/2019 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Cotton

12/12/2019 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

S. 1790

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), codifying military parole in place (PIP) for undocumented family members of military servicemembers and veterans, and providing a path to permanent status for Liberians with Deferred Enforced Departure status.

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

12/17/2019 Conference Report Agreed to in the Senate by a Vote of 86 to 8

S.3097

The bill would ensure that employment in the cannabis industry in a state that has legalized cannabis use would no longer be on the list of activities that automatically bar naturalization. It would prohibit United States Citizenship and Immigration Services from considering negatively cannabis employment in applications for naturalization.

Sponsored by Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) (1 cosponsor – 0 Republicans, 1 Democrat)

12/18/2019 introduced in the Senate by Senator Gardner

12/18/2019 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 5417

The Significant Transnational Criminal Organization Designation Act

The bill would enable the federal government to bar members of certain transnational criminal organizations from admission to the United States. It would also prohibit providing financial and other support to these organizations. The bill is a companion to S.3031.

Sponsored by Representative Mike Gallagher (R-Wisconsin) (17 cosponsors – 17 Republicans, 0 Democrats)

12/12/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative Gallagher

12/12/2019 Referred to the House Committees on the Judiciary, Foreign Affairs, Rules, and Financial Services

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

Both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives will be in recess on the week of Monday, December 23, 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

Federal

Congress Passes Spending Deal for Remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2020

Congress passed two spending bills to fund the federal government for the remaining nine months of fiscal year (FY) 2020. President Trump is expected to sign the two spending bills before current government funding expires on December 20. The spending bills, which cover $1.4 trillion in discretionary government funding, include a compromise on funding for physical barriers along the U.S. southern border, a major sticking point that threatened to stall spending negotiations. Congress provided $1.38 billion to build physical barriers along the southern border, the same amount of funding it provided in FY 2019. However, the spending bills do not include any provisions to prevent the Trump administration from transferring funds from other government accounts to build border barriers which some Democrats had been requesting. The spending bills also do not replenish military accounts the Trump administration drew from earlier this year to build additional border barriers.

Congress Passes NDAA, President Trump Expected to Sign Bill

The Senate passed a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 (S. 1790) on December 17 by an 86 to 8 vote, sending the bill to President Trump for his signature. The House passed the compromise defense bill 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. In addition, the bill includes a provision requiring counseling on naturalization for members of the Armed Forces who are not U.S. citizens.

The bill also includes an amendment to provide Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) recipients with protection from deportation and an opportunity to obtain permanent legal status in the United States. The provision would permit DED recipients from Liberia to adjust to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status if they have been continuously present in the U.S. since at least November 20, 2014, have not been convicted of certain crimes, and apply to adjust status no later than one year after the bill’s enactment.  The bill is expected to protect from deportation an estimated 800 to 3,600 Liberian DED recipients living in the U.S. On October 29, a federal judge ruled that President Trump has the authority to end DED protections for Liberians.

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 White House indicated on December 10 that President Trump would sign the bill.

Deal Reached in Senate to Tackle High-Skilled Worker’s Green Card Backlog

Senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) have struck a deal on a bill which seeks to make the green card backlog more equitable, the Wall Street Journal reported on December 18. Senator Lee’s Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, or S.386, seeks to phase out per country caps on green card applications, equalizing a backlog that has been shouldered predominantly by high-skilled Indian and Chinese workers. The current U.S. green card backlog stands at nearly 5 million, with the majority of the backlog made up of nationals from just a few countries. Some high-skilled Indian applicants currently face a wait time of over 50 years to access employment-based green cards.

Under the new compromise, immigrants waiting in the backlog – most of whom are already in the United States on temporary H-1B worker visas – would be allowed additional rights to travel and change employers as they wait for lawful permanent status. The bill would also protect child dependents of H-1B holders from “aging out,” and losing eligibility to adjust their status along with their parents. These additional freedoms would be combined with a longer phase out of the per country caps, ensuring applicants from other countries would not be as seriously affected. Finally, the deal would add a limitation to the number of H-1B visa holders a single company could employ.

Prior to the December 18 deal, Senator Durbin had blocked a Senate unanimous consent vote on the bill, stating that S.386 does not go far enough to tackle the backlog itself. It is not certain whether the new compromise will induce objections from other Senators. Durbin was not the first Senator to block a unanimous consent vote on the bill, as previous deals were struck with Senators Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and David Perdue (R-Georgia) on a carve-out for foreign nurses.

U.S. Sends First Asylum-Seeking Migrant Families to Guatemala, Bypassing the U.S. Asylum System 

On December 12, the United States sent Honduran and Salvadoran families seeking asylum at the U.S. southern border to Guatemala for the first time as part of the Asylum Cooperative Agreement with Guatemala. In the November 19 agreement, Guatemala agreed to accept non-Guatemalan asylum seekers sent by the U.S. if they passed through the country on the way to the U.S. border without first requesting, and being denied, asylum there. The agreement primarily impacts Honduran and Salvadoran migrants who cross through Guatemala en route to the U.S. and is meant to reduce the number of Central Americans seeking asylum in the U.S. after an increase in the number of Central American migrants who arrived at the U.S. southern border in May 2019.

Critics of the agreement point to high homicide rates, widespread poverty, and corruption in Guatemala that is similar to the situation asylum seekers were fleeing. Guatemala’s interior minister reported on December 12 that only two of the 24 migrants Guatemala has received so far have applied for asylum in the country, with the rest preferring to return to their countries of origin. Similar agreements have been made with Honduras and El Salvador, but they have not yet been implemented.

Trump Administration Proposes New Rule Blocking Asylum for Individuals Convicted of Certain Crimes

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) jointly published a new proposed rule on December 19 that would expand the list of crimes, including some misdemeanors, that would prevent individuals from receiving asylum in the United States. The proposed rule would bar individuals  convicted of misdemeanor offenses such as driving under the influence, possession of fake identification, and drug possession, including having more than 30 grams of marijuana, from receiving asylum in the U.S. The rule would also bar any individuals convicted of a felony under federal or state law, as well as immigration-related crimes such as illegal re-entry to the U.S., from asylum. In addition, asylum seekers who had a prior conviction expunged or modified would be subject to the proposed rule. The agencies argue the convictions, including those for misdemeanor offenses, should be disqualifying because they “undermine public safety or government integrity.” Immigration advocates stated the rule would significantly expand the list of offenses that bar individuals from asylum, which has typically been reserved for those with “particularly serious” crimes. The rule will have a 30-day public comment period that ends on January 21.

Ken Cuccinelli Continues to Act as Head of USCIS While Taking on New Role at DHS

According to a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) spokesperson, Ken Cuccinelli is the senior official performing the duties of the deputy secretary of DHS and retains his title as acting director of USCIS, as reported in the Washington Post on December 13. The immigration hawk had been President Trump’s top choice to take over as head of DHS after Kevin McAleenan announced his decision to resign in October, but the position was ultimately given to current acting Secretary Chad Wolf on November 13. Cuccinelli was concurrently promoted to deputy secretary of DHS, and it appeared had left his leadership role with USCIS to deputy director Mark Koumans.

But a court filing from November 25 concerning a lawsuit challenging USCIS has raised confusion about Cuccinelli’s continued role at the subsidiary agency. The government had initially replaced Cuccinelli’s name with Koumans’, but then filed a “notice of correction” declaring that the change was not necessary. Cuccinelli’s name has also been restored to official USCIS documents, with officials noting that both Koumans and Cuccinelli’s signatures are still valid.

Multiple lawsuits have challenged the legality of Cuccinelli’s new appointment at DHS. Some experts believe his continued role at USCIS is an effort to avoid those challenges to his DHS appointment.

State and Local

More Governors Consent to Continued Refugee Resettlement

Three more governors announced their states will continue to accept refugees on December 18 and 19, meaning more than half of the 50 states have now consented to refugee resettlement. Tennessee governor Bill Lee, Wisconsin governor Tony Evers, and Illinois governor JB Pritzker have now signed letters of consent following President Trump’s September 26 executive order requiring both state and local governments to consent to continued resettlement. On December 20, Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt announced his state will continue o resettle refugees as well. The governors who have consented to-date include a mix of Republicans and Democrats, with the republican governors of Tennessee and Oklahoma joining ranks with conservative consenting states such as Arizona and Utah.

Over 2,600 hundred evangelical Christians have called for consent from their governors, including over 300 in Texas and over six hundred in Tennessee precipitating the governor’s announcement. Local sources in Tennessee (paywall) and Illinois have pointed to the vocal evangelical support in the lead up to the governors’ decisions. Under the executive order, local jurisdictions must provide written consent in addition to states, setting the stage for potential tensions between localities and governors. Many local jurisdictions across the country have already signed on to continue resettlement, including Missoula County in Montana on December 19.

Some of the states that have resettled the largest number of refugees are still deciding whether to consent before the initial deadline of December 25, including Texas and Florida.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

There were no immigration-related government reports published on the week of Monday, December 9, 2019

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act

This is a bill summary for the version of the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants act, H.R. 1044, that passed the House. The bill would eliminate the per country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrant visas and raise it for family-based immigrant visas.

Factsheet: Deferred Enforced Departure

This factsheet defines and describes Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), a form of relief from removal currently only delivered to Liberians living in the United States. The factsheet also provides answers to frequently asked questions about the DED program.

Analysis: Executive Order on Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement

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 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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