Legislative Bulletin — Friday, February 12, 2021

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. 256

The Southern Border Communities Reimbursement Act

The bill would authorize $30 million for the following three fiscal years to fund future costs incurred from providing humanitarian relief at the U.S.-Mexico border. The funds would be allocated under the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP), which reimburses localities and non-profit, non-governmental organizations that provide humanitarian care to migrants. The bill is a companion to H.R. 924.

Sponsored by Senator Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) (2 cosponsors — 1 Democrat, 1 Republican)

02/04/2021 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Heinrich

02/04/2021 Referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs

S. 260

The Protecting Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence Act

The bill would expand protections to immigrant victims of domestic violence under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to spouses and children who entered the U.S. on a temporary visa. Currently, certain VAWA protections are only available to spouses of permanent residents or U.S. citizens.

Sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) (3 cosponsors — 3 Democrats, 0 Republicans)

02/04/2021 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Klobuchar

02/04/2021 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

S. 306

The Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency (SECURE) Act

The bill would provide a pathway to legal permanent residency to all temporary protected status (TPS) recipients who are qualified under the most recent TPS designation and who have been present in the U.S. for at least three years.

Sponsored by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) (23 Cosponsors — 23 Democrats, 0 Republicans)

02/08/2021 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Van Hollen

02/08/2021 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 863

The Arrest Statistics Reporting Act

The bill would require the publishing of certain demographic and other information related to the arrests of noncitizens in annual crime reports produced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Sponsored by Representative Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) (5 Cosponsors — 5 Republicans, 0 Democrats)

02/05/2021 Introduced in the House by Representative Brooks

02/05/2021 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 864

The No Social Security for Illegal Aliens Act

The bill would prohibit unauthorized immigrant employees from receiving social security benefits. Unauthorized immigrants are not eligible to receive social security benefits under current law.

Sponsored by Representative Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) (19 Cosponsors — 19 Republicans, 0 Democrats)

02/05/2021 Introduced in the House by Representative Brooks

02/05/2021 Referred to the House Committee on the Ways and Means

H.R. 865

The American Jobs First Act

The bill would make significant reforms restricting the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program for high skilled “specialty occupations.” The bill would also eliminate the diversity visa and the Optional Practical Training program, which is used by international students to stay in the U.S. and work in a field related to their degree.

Sponsored by Representative Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) (3 Cosponsors — 3 Republicans, 0 Democrats)

02/05/2021 Introduced in the House by Representative Brooks

02/05/2021 Referred to the House Committees on Education and Labor and the Judiciary

H.R. 924

The Southern Border Communities Reimbursement Act

The bill would authorize $30 million for the following three fiscal years to fund future costs incurred from providing humanitarian relief at the U.S.-Mexico border. The funds would be allocated under the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP), which reimburses localities and non-profit, non-governmental organizations that provide humanitarian care to migrants. The bill is a companion to S. 256.

Sponsored by Representative Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) (1 cosponsor — 1 Republican)

02/08/2021 Introduced in the House by Representative Cuellar

02/08/2021 Referred to the House Committee on the Financial Services

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate will not be in session the week of Monday, February 15, 2021.

The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Tuesday, February 16, 2021 to Friday, February 19, 2021.

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

Biden Administration Plans New Interior Enforcement Guidelines 

Consistent with President Biden’s January 20 Executive Order on the Revision of Civil Immigration Enforcement Policies and Priorities, the Biden administration is planning to implement new interior enforcement guidelines for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Among these new guidelines are changes that will prioritize deporting those who are deemed national security threats, those who recently crossed the border unlawfully, and those who are imprisoned for felonies. Additionally, agents who are trying to arrest immigrants outside of jails or prisons will need prior approval from the ICE director to ensure that action “constitutes an appropriate allocation of limited resources.”.

These changes represent a return to Obama era prioritization of immigration enforcement, after the Trump administration greatly expanded those who would be targeted by interior enforcement efforts as part of a broader campaign to crack down on unauthorized immigration. The new administration has said that the new guidelines are meant to prioritize national security and public safety threats and allocate resources where they can be most effective.

The draft guidelines will not be final until they are approved by Alejandro Mayorkas, the newly-confirmed secretary of Homeland Security.

DHS Announces Plans to Allow Asylum Seekers Waiting in Mexico Back Into the U.S.

According to a February 11 DHS statement, the Biden administration intends to begin processing back into the United States certain asylum seekers who have been forced to wait in Mexico while their claims continue. The plan will apply to the approximately 25,000 asylum seekers who have active asylum cases in the U.S., and who have been waiting in Mexico in often dangerous conditions under a program called the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as “Remain in Mexico.”

The statement notes that starting on February 19, “DHS, the Department of State, and the Department of Justice will collaborate with international partners — including the Government of Mexico and international and non-governmental organizations — to safely process eligible individuals” to continue their asylum claims in the U.S.

The plan comes after a February 2 executive order, which called for relevant federal agencies to review the MPP program and other border restrictions and consider what to do about those still waiting in Mexico.

Since the MPP started in early 2019, approximately 69,000 migrants have been sent back to wait in makeshift camps and lodging in Mexico’s northern border regions, which rank among the most dangerous in the country. A January 6 Human Rights Watch report details the dangers many asylum seekers have faced while waiting in MPP, including widespread crime, violence, and physical and emotional harm. A previous report documented over 1,300 cases of murder, rape, kidnapping, and other violent assaults experienced by those forced to return to Mexico.

Biden Administration to End Asylum Cooperative Agreements with Northern Triangle Countries

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced February 6 that the U.S. will terminate its Asylum Cooperative Agreements (ACAs) with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. These agreements, signed in 2019, allowed the U.S. to transfer asylum seekers—most of whom from Central America—back to the Northern Triangle to seek refuge in those countries.

Domestic critics of the ACAs and political leaders in all three Northern Triangle countries warned that none had the infrastructure to process asylum claims promptly or to ensure the safety of asylum seekers. As a result, only the ACA with Guatemala was actually implemented. According to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, of the 945 asylum seekers the U.S. sent to Guatemala under the agreement, only 34 were able to submit asylum petitions and none had been granted asylum as of January 2021.

Blinken’s announcement came after President Biden issued an executive order February 2 requiring the secretary of State, Attorney General and secretary of Homeland Security to reconsider the agreements.

White House Releases Plans for Rebuilding the Refugee Resettlement Program

President Biden announced in a report to Congress that he plans to raise the refugee admissions ceiling for the remainder of the fiscal year, from a historic low of 15,000 to 62,500. Refugee admissions had slowed to a trickle under the Trump administration, with only 1,500 new refugees arriving in the U.S. since October 2020.

In a February 4 executive order, Biden announced his intention of raising the refugee admissions ceiling to 125,000 in fiscal year (FY) 2022. The order also called for a review and potential expansion of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which provides resettlement to Iraqi and Afghan citizens facing persecution resulting from their assistance to U.S. troops or diplomats. The program had also been significiantly reduced under the Trump administration, with only 537 SIVs resettled last fiscal year.

Deportations Continue to Haiti and African Countries

On February 8, ICE deported at least 72 people to Haiti, despite a recent temporary suspension on deportations to the country. Among the deportees were at least 22 children. Immigration advocates have argued that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, as well as political instability and violence in Haiti mean that continued deportations would be unsafe.

President Biden had issued a 100-day moratorium on deportations when he took office on January 20, but a federal judge in Texas issued a temporary stay on the moratorium, and deportations have continued. Individual deportation flights have been delayed after advocacy efforts, including a flight of deportees that was headed to Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo on February 4. That flight was halted because migrants on board were witnesses in an investigation concerning allegations of abuse by ICE agents.

Many of the individuals on the flights are being deported under a March 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rule issued in response to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The rule, which invoked Title 42 of the 1944 Public Health Service Act, was intended to give ICE the authority to expel or deport any individuals arriving at the border, regardless of whether they posed a particular risk for spreading the virus or were intending to seek asylum or another form of protection. These “Title 42” expulsions have remained in place under the Biden administration, although a recent executive order directed relevant agencies to review the necessity of continuing the deportations. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), nearly 400,000 individuals have been expelled from the country under Title 42 since March.

Eminent Domain Cases Left in Limbo as Biden Halts Wall Construction

After the Biden administration issued a January 20 executive order halting the construction of barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border, landowners involved in eminent domain cases along the border remain unsure about the status of their land. Most of the South Texas borderland is privately owned and locals have objected to the construction of barriers on their property, which led the Trump administration to file a series of eminent domain lawsuits to seize their land in order to build hundreds of miles of border fencing. As many as 60 of these eminent domain cases were filed by the Trump administration between the November 3 presidential election and Biden’s inauguration on January 20.

While construction has now been halted, attorneys from the Texas Civil Rights Project say that construction had already begun in some areas where the eminent domain lawsuits were pending and the government did not yet have land rights. It is not yet clear whether the Biden administration will return seized land or attempt to settle ongoing cases that have already been filed.

Biden Administration Reviews Deportation of Military Family Members

According to a February 8 McClatchy news report, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is planning to review deportations of veterans and military family members under the Trump administration and determine if certain individuals should be allowed to return to the U.S. A White House spokesperson explained, “The administration’s immigration enforcement will focus on those who are national security and public safety threats, not military families, service members or veterans.”  .

The effort is designed to address broad concern regarding the impact of Trump-era policies related to foreign-born soldiers and veterans and their families. While ICE policy requires special consideration for military service members before initiating deportation proceedings, ICE and the U.S. Department of Justice have not revealed the number of military service members or family members that were deported under the Trump administration. A 2019 Government Accountability Office report found that as many as 250 veterans were in the midst of deportation proceedings.

U.S. Senators Introduce Bill to Provide Relief to those with Temporary Protected Status 

On February 8, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) joined 23 other Democratic Senators in introducing legislation that would offer a path to permanent status to the over 400,000 recipients of temporary protected status (TPS) in the U.S. The “SECURE” Act would allow current TPS recipients from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen to apply for green cards if they have been present in the U.S. for at least the past three years. “Many have lived here legally for over twenty years — and have come to call our country home,” Senator Van Holen said of TPS recipients.

TPS is granted by the Secretary of DHS to eligible foreign-born individuals who are unable to return home safely due to violence or other circumstances in their home country.

Business and Immigration Advocates Express Concern Over Legal Immigration Ban

On February 5, over 170 business and immigration advocacy groups sent a letter to the Biden administration expressing concern that the White House has not yet rescinded the Trump administration’s April and June 2020 proclamations suspending certain immigration categories from outside the U.S. The bans, which are currently set to last until March 31, 2021, were originally justified by the Trump administration as an attempt to protect the U.S. economy and preserve opportunities for American workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the letter, the groups argue that to the contrary, the bans are causing “harm to a wide cross-section of families, businesses, and communities in the United States.”

The continued implementation of the restrictions may have a particularly negative impact on diversity visa recipients. The Diversity Visa Immigrant Program is designed to allow additional immigration opportunities to people from countries with relatively low rates of immigration to the U.S. Accessing a diversity visa is a multi-step process, which consists first of entering a computerized lottery which selects 55,000 individuals each year, and then a lengthy application, interview, and visa issuance stage before lottery winners can finally receive their green cards. Typically, lottery winners must act quickly, because if their visas are not issued by the end of the following fiscal year (September 30), they lose all access to their visa and are no longer authorized for a green card.

While a court decision allowed the issuance of diversity visas to some FY 2020 winners, the continued immigration bans mean that thousands of those visas already issued to FY 2020 winners may be set to expire before they can be used. In addition, the bans mean less time for FY 2021 diversity visa winners to complete the lengthy application process.

Legal

Federal Judge Extends Restraining Order Against Biden’s 100-Day Deportation Moratorium 

On February 9, a federal judge in the Southern District of Texas extended his temporary restraining order (T.R.O.) against the Biden administration’s 100-day deportation moratorium for an additional 14 days. The T.R.O. had been set to expire two weeks after it was initially granted on January 26. In extending the T.R.O., the judge stated that the extension was necessary for “the record to be more fully developed” and to provide the court more time to consider and rule on Texas Attorney General John Paxton’s claim that the moratorium violated a deal requiring DHS to provide six months of notice before implementing significant immigration policy changes.

The ruling continues to block DHS from categorically pausing the removal of persons possessing executable final orders of removal for at least two more weeks. It does not require the removal of any specific individuals, however. The 100-day deportation moratorium was premised on giving the new Biden administration time to consider changes to enforcement priorities and to look at each detainee’s case individually.

Nominations/Personnel

Biden Administration Head of Department of Labor Nominee Moves on to Full Senate Vote 

On February 11, the Biden administration’s nominee to head the Department of Labor (DOL), Marty Walsh, successfully advanced to a full Senate nomination vote after review by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP). Walsh, who is the current mayor of Boston, received bipartisan support from the committee, advancing to the floor with an 18-4 vote.

The Department of Labor plays a critical role in H1-B and other work visa petition processes and in regulating certain legal immigration pathways.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

There were no immigration-related government reports released the week of February 8, 2021

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Eminent Domain Along the Southern Border

This fact sheet provides an overview of eminent domain and how the federal government utilizes it to construct physical barriers, including fencing, along the U.S.-Mexico border.

President Trump’s Proclamation Suspending Immigration

This resource explains President Trump’s June 22, 2020 proclamation extending and expanding on immigration restrictions initially implemented in April 2020. It describes which categories of immigrants are affected and which are exempt, discusses the additional measures included in the proclamation, and provides information about which groups of immigrants face the most immediate harm.

Biden Administration’s January/February Executive Actions on Immigration

This explainer summarizes several of the Biden administration’s executive actions impacting immigrants from January and February. The explainer provides summaries of 13 immigration-related memoranda, proclamations, and executive orders issued in Biden’s first weeks in office.

* * *

*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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