Legislative Bulletin – Friday, February 1, 2019

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. ____

Startup Act

This bill would create both entrepreneur and STEM visas for highly-educated individuals so they would be able to remain in the United States.

Sponsored by Senator Jerry Moran (R – Kansas) (3 cosponsors – 2 Democrats, 1 Republican)

1/31/2019 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Moran

S. 285

Sarah’s Law

This bill would require U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to take into custody certain immigrants who have been charged in the United States with a crime that resulted in the death or serious bodily injury of another person.

Sponsored by Senator Joni Ernst (R – Iowa) (16 cosponsors –16 Republicans)

1/31/2019 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Ernst

1/31/2019 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 928

This bill would require Secretary of Homeland Security to identify immigrants who have served, or are serving, in the U.S. Armed Forces when they apply for an immigration benefit or are placed in an immigration enforcement proceeding.

Sponsored by Representative Juan Vargas (D – California) (3 cosponsors – 3 Democrats)

1/30/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative Vargas

1/30/2019 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 891

This bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to make changes related to family-sponsored immigrants and to reduce the number of such immigrants.

Sponsored by Representative Jody Hice (R – Georgia) (7 cosponsors – 7 Republicans)

1/30/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative Hice

1/30/2019 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

S. Res. 32

This is a Senate resolution to recognize January 27, 2019 as the anniversary of the first refugee and Muslim ban, and to urge the President to demonstrate true leadership on refugee resettlement.

Sponsored by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D – Connecticut) (15 cosponsors – 15 Democrats)

1/28/2019 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Blumenthal

1/28/2019 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate will be in session the week of Monday, February 4, 2019.

The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Tuesday, February 5, 2019, through Friday, February 8, 2019.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

There are no immigration-related hearings or markups scheduled for the week of Monday, February 4, 2019.

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Federal

Government Reopens for Three Weeks; Immigration Deal Remains Uncertain

The record 35-day partial government shutdown came to an end after President Trump and members of Congress agreed to a short-term continuing resolution on January 25. Under the terms of the deal, federal agencies would be funded for three weeks until February 15 while a 17-member bipartisan, bicameral conference committee negotiates funding for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The deal, which followed the failure in the Senate of Republican-backed and Democratic-backed proposals to reopen the government on January 24, does not include any money for the President’s proposed border wall, although such funding is a subject for negotiation within the conference committee. At the outset of the conference committee meetings on January 30, both sides signaled an openness to a bipartisan agreement, but significant differences between Democrats and Republicans remained. Democrats offered significant new funding for border security, but continued to resist funding a border wall, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) stating “There’s not going to be any wall money in the legislation.” Republicans signaled a willingness to step away from their demand for a border wall, instead highlighting the need for physical “barriers” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) urged Republican negotiators to “get [a deal] done” and avoid another shutdown.

In the meantime, Trump renewed his demand that Congress fund a wall, but said that the probability that such a deal is reached was “less than 50-50.” Instead, Trump signaled that he intends to obtain border wall funding without approval from Congress by declaring an emergency, stating on February 1 that there is a “good chance” he will declare an emergency, a move certain to draw legal challenges.

Congress and Trump reached their deal to end the shutdown as polling indicated a growing number of Americans blamed Trump for the situation. A recent poll showed 53 percent of Americans blame Trump and congressional Republicans for the shutdown and public disapproval of Trump’s performance jumped to 58 percent between November 2018 and January 2019. Experts estimated that the shutdown hurt economic growth and cost the U.S. economy about $3 billion. About 800,000 federal workers went without pay during the shutdown, including essential employees who were required to work. Pursuant to an act of Congress, federal employees are receiving back pay, but impacted federal contractors will not.  The closure also caused chaos in the U.S. immigration system, with immigration judges going on furlough and thousands of hearings cancelled, sometimes leading to waits of an additional two years.

Trump Administration Begins Returning Asylum Seekers to Tijuana Under “Remain in Mexico” Policy

On January 28, the Trump administration started implementation of its “Migration Protection Protocols,” informally known as “Remain in Mexico,” at the port of entry near Tijuana. The policy allows the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers at the San Ysidro crossing to block asylum seekers from entering the U.S., requiring them to wait in Mexico while their requests for asylum move forward in the U.S. As of February 1, it is unclear to what extent the policy has been implemented, with the media reporting somewhere between one and twenty detained individuals have been returned to Mexico to wait while their cases are pending. Certain immigrants, such as unaccompanied immigrant children (UACs) and Mexican nationals, are excluded from the policy.

Although the Government of Mexico expressed a willingness to cooperate with the U.S. and receive some migrants, but said it disagrees with the policy. Mexico stressed that asylum seekers could overwhelm Mexican border towns like Tijuana, which is already hosting thousands of people seeking protection in the U.S.  The Migration Protection Protocols/Remain in Mexico has faced criticisms from immigration advocates, border specialists and even the leadership of the National Border Patrol Council National Border Patrol Council, which has strongly backed previous Trump administration initiatives. Immigration advocates are expected to challenge the policy in courts.

Pentagon Plans to Send Additional 3,500 Troops to Southwest Border

On January 29, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced that the Pentagon planned to send an additional 3,500 active-duty troops to the Southern border per request of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). With 2,400 troops already at the border since October 2018, the new deployment number will reach close to 5,900 troops. Pentagon officials estimate that the cost of these efforts will be more than $600 million for all of fiscal year (FY) 2019.

While the Posse Comitatus Act prohibits American troops from engaging in law enforcement activities within the U.S., the Defense Department has noted that the troops are serving in a “support role” aiding civilian authorities. Among other duties, the troops assist with tasks including conducting mobile surveillance and installing concertina wire along the border. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Washington) has expressed concern about sending more troops to the border. The mission was originally supposed to end on December 15, 2018 but has been extended first until the end of January and now until the end of September 2019.

DHS Introduces Rule to Benefit H-1B Visa Applicants with Advanced Degrees

On January 31, DHS posted a final rule modifying how U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will operate the H1-B visa lottery. Under the new system, applicants with advanced degrees will be first entered into a general lottery, allocating 65,000 H-1B visas, and if they aren’t selected, they will have another chance through a second H-1B lottery only for advanced degree holders, which will allocate 20,000 visas. Currently, the 20,000 spots reserved for advanced degree holders are selected first, and any applicants with advanced degrees who are not chosen in that round are passed into the general pool to compete for the 65,000 available spots. DHS claims that the change will result in a 16 percent increase in the number of H-1B recipients with a masters’ degree or higher. The rule is part of the Trump administration’s effort to grant H-1B visas to the most-skilled workers, a provision in the president’s 2017 “Buy American and Hire American” executive order.

Another anticipated change – a requirement that employers seeking H-1B visas for their employees pre-register prior to the lottery, is not part of the final rule, which will go into effect on April 1, 2019.  That requirement would require employers to electronically register for a visa number and only permit them to submit an H-1B petition after their visa number is selected in the lottery. A pre-registration requirement for employers will instead be the subject of a separate notice and that requirement will not go into effect at this time.

Since USCIS receives more H-1B petitions than the allotted 65,000 visa cap and the additional 20,000 visas set aside for those with advanced degrees, the agency runs a H1-B lottery to select applicants. USCIS projects that the proposal would create a more efficient and cost-effective H-1B cap petition process.

State & Local

Report: ICE Operations at New York State Courthouses Increased by 1,700 Percent

A new report by Immigrant Defense Project’s (IDP) released on January 28 revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in New York arrested 1,700 percent more individuals at the state’s courthouses in 2018 than two years earlier. In 2018, ICE arrested 202 people at the courthouses, compared to 172 in 2017 and 11 in 2016. In recent years, ICE has increasingly conducted arrests in courthouses, drawing criticism from advocates and judges.

In addition to the increase in courthouse arrests, the report highlighted additional concerns with ICE operations, including allegations of excessive use of force during arrests. In response to the IDP report, a group of New York legislators introduced the Protect Our Courts Act, which would limit civil immigration arrests in courthouses and protect immigrants’ access to the courts.

ICE Sets Up Fake University in Michigan to Target Fraudulent Student Visa

On January 30, federal prosecutors revealed that the University of Farmington, in Farmington Hills, Michigan, was a fake university set up by ICE as part of an undercover operation to expose immigration fraud. The sham institution targeted foreign students who knew the scheme was illegal, but nonetheless paid to maintain their F1 student visa and remain in the United States. The authorities charged eight ‘recruiters’ who are accused of collecting more than $250,000 from the fake university to help at least 600 foreign citizens stay in the U.S. illegally. The indictment said the fake university was set up in 2015, but its operations intensified in February 2017 when Homeland Security agents began posing as university officials.

The federal government had previously conducted similar operations. In 2016, the Northern New Jersey University was set up to uncover immigration fraud, and it led to the indictment of 21 people accused of visa fraud-related charges.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

There were no immigration-related government reports published during the week of Monday, January 28, 2019.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Fact Sheet: U.S. Asylum Process

This fact sheet provides background on the U.S. asylum process.

Explainer: Congressional Conference Committees

This explainer provides an overview of conference committees, a mechanism used by Congress to reconcile differences between versions of legislation passed in each respective chamber.

 

* * *

*This Bulletin is not intended to be comprehensive. Please contact Zuzana Cepla, National Immigration Forum Policy and Advocacy Associate, with comments and suggestions of additional items to be included. Zuzana can be reached at zcepla@immigrationforum.org. Thank you.

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