Legislative Bulletin – Friday, February 14, 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.3286

The Stop Greenlighting Driver Licenses for Illegal Immigrants Act

The bill would block certain federal funds to states with sanctuary policies, including states that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Blocked funds would include the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG), which provides support to states for local law enforcement and criminal justice initiatives. The bill is a companion to H.R. 5862.

Sponsored by Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) (8 cosponsors – 8 Republicans, 0 Democrats)

2/12/2020 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Blackburn

2/12/2020 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

S.3294

Strengthening Citizenship Services for Veterans Act

The bill would help deported veterans gain citizenship by directing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to conduct necessary examinations and oath ceremonies. The bill would also require DHS to issue guidance to officials at ports of entry, embassies and consulates to help them conduct these actions for deported veterans.

Sponsored by Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) (0 cosponsors)

2/13/2020 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Duckworth

2/13/2020 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 5862

The Stop Greenlighting Driver Licenses for Illegal Immigrants Act

The bill would block certain federal funds to states with sanctuary policies, including states that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Blocked funds would include the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG), which provides support to states for local law enforcement and criminal justice initiatives. The bill is a companion to S. 3286.

Sponsored by Representative Ken Buck (R-Colorado) (24 cosponsors – 24 Republicans, 0 Democrats)

2/12/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Buck

2/12/2020 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 5791

Special Envoy for Refugees Act

The bill would create a new ambassador-level role in the U.S. State Department for a special envoy for refugees. The special envoy would advise Secretaries of State, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services on issues relating to forced migration and would represent the United States in diplomatic matters related to these issues.

Sponsored by Representative Joe Neguse (D-Colorado) (0 cosponsors)

2/6/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Neguse

2/6/2020 Referred to the Committees on Foreign Affairs and on the Judiciary

H.R. 5184

No Public Charge Deportation Act

The bill would remove public charge as a grounds for inadmissibility and deportation. For the purposes of inadmissibility, public charge has meant an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. The bill would repeal the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(5)) that lists immigrants as inadmissible and deportable if they have become a public charge.

Sponsored by Representative Grace Meng (D-New York) (19 cosponsors – 0 Republicans, 19 Democrats)

2/7/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Meng

2/7/2020 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 5795

Moving H-2A to United States Department of Agriculture Act

The bill would move the H-2A temporary agriculture worker visa from the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor to the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture. The Secretary of Labor would provide the Secretary of Agriculture with all of the necessary personnel, funding and additional materials necessary to transfer the administration of the H-2A program.

Sponsored by Representative Greg Steube (R-Florida) (0 cosponsors)

2/6/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Steube

2/6/2020 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 5793

Border Visibility and Security Act

The bill would update requirements for border security technology along the Southwest border, including the use of seismic acoustic detection, surveillance systems, sensors and Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radars (VADER). The bill would also require the Secretary of Homeland Security to produce a Comprehensive Southern Border Strategy, which would include a justification for each physical barrier, technology, and tool used at the border.

Sponsored by Representative Roy Chip (R-Texas) (5 cosponsors – 4 Republicans, 1 Democrat)

2/6/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Chip

2/6/2020 Referred to the House Committees on Homeland Security and on the Judiciary

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives will not be in session the week of February 17.

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

Administration to Shift Additional $3.8 Billion from Military to Border Wall

On February 13, the Pentagon told Congress it plans to re-program $3.8 billion dollars of military funding and use it to fund additional construction of the border wall. The transfer would include funding originally appropriated for military combat equipment, including Air Force fighter jets and Navy assault and transport ships. Funding would also come from the Army National Guard equipment accounts. This represents a new stage in the administration’s raiding of military accounts for border wall funding, as past transfers have been reserved to re-appropriating funds from construction and counterdrug efforts.

Representative Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, joined Democratic legislators in condemning the re-programming of military funding. Rep. Thornberry released a statement saying the action “is in violation of the separation of powers” and “requires Congress to take action.”

The ACLU announced it will ask a federal court to block the additional transfers as part of an ongoing lawsuit challenging the administration’s use of emergency powers to overrule Congress and secure funds for the border wall.

Federal Government Steps Up Its Pressure on Sanctuary Jurisdictions

On February 14, a spokesman for Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) confirmed that the agency would be deploying elite “BORTAC” agents to “sanctuary jurisdictions” across the country to assist in routine immigration arrests. The tactical units are normally deployed in rugged terrain near the border, often in high-risk raids of stash houses filled with drugs or weapons. Former CBP commissioner Gil Kerlikowske called the move to deploy BORTAC units in sanctuary jurisdictions a mistake, noting that the presence of the agents during run-of-the-mill arrests might escalate tensions and that they were “trained for much more hazardous missions than this.”

In a speech before the National Sheriffs’ Association on February 10, U.S. Attorney General (AG) Bill Barr announced the Justice Department (DOJ) would be escalating legal pressure on jurisdictions with “sanctuary policies.” In the speech, Attorney General Barr announced DOJ would be suing the state of New Jersey and Seattle’s King County for being “sanctuary jurisdictions.” The AG also directed DOJ to bring a suit challenging a California state law which bans private immigration detention facilities. In addition, DOJ has sent subpoenas to local law enforcement in New York and Denver, two cities with sanctuary policies, requesting information on undocumented immigrants.

“Sanctuary jurisdictions” are jurisdictions with policies which limit state and local officials’ involvement in federal immigration enforcement functions. DOJ alleges sanctuary jurisdictions are violating federal law by obstructing communication between federal and local officials. 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.

White House Spending Request Includes 2 Billion More Dollars for Border Wall

President Trump released his budget proposal for fiscal year (FY) 2021 on February 10, which includes a request for $2 billion to fund construction of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Although this is less than last year’s $5 billion request, the decrease comes when the President has diverted as much as $10 billion from military funding over the past year, a move criticized by many in Congress. The White House budget proposal also includes funding for hiring 750 additional Border Patrol agents and 4,600 additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and immigration prosecutors.

In response to the proposal, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats will fight to prevent funding for the wall along with proposed cuts to Medicaid and food stamps programs. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) has decided not to hold a hearing on the budget proposal, noting that, ultimately, “bipartisan consensus will be necessary to bring our debt and deficits under control.”

Mexican Migration to U.S. Increases

Despite a drop in the overall number of apprehensions on the U.S.-Mexico border, crossings and apprehensions of Mexican nationals have risen 32% since January 2019. In January 2020, Mexican citizens comprised 16,116 of the apprehended population, while 13,084 originated from countries other than Mexico such as Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. This shift in demographics marks the first time since 2014 that Mexican migrants have made up the majority of border crossers.

Mark Morgan, acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), attributed the decrease in Central American migrants to the Trump administration’s restrictive asylum policies deterring families from making the journey to the U.S. Concerning the increase in Mexican nationals, Morgan pointed to Mexico’s stagnant economy as a push factor for additional migration.

Administration Plans to Deport Thousands of Hmong and Lao Americans

On February 10, the State Department confirmed that the Trump administration is in talks with the Laos government on a plan to deport Hmong and Lao Americans to Laos. The proposal targets the over 4,700 members of these ethnic groups who are subject to removal orders, the majority of whom have lived in the U.S. for over ten years. The population vulnerable to removal are those who have committed a criminal offense and were therefore unable to naturalize. The potential deportations would still apply to those who had committed a crime many years ago and who have already served the sentence given to them. Much of the Hmong and Lao population in the country came to the U.S. as refugees fleeing violence in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, a conflict in which many of them provided assistance to U.S. military efforts.

The proposal to deport these people has drawn criticism from Congressional legislators from states with large Hmong and Lao populations, including Senators Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), and Representative Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota).  In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Rep. McCollum said the proposal would separate families and destroy a community that “contributes immeasurably to the success of Minnesota’s economy and our quality of life.”

Legal

Federal Judge Strikes Blow to ICE Detainers

On February 5, a U.S. District judge in California blocked Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from relying on error-prone databases to determine a person’s removability. ICE relies on the data for issuing detainers which requests to local law enforcement to hold someone suspected of being deportable in custody beyond the time for which the individual would normally be held. The ruling confirmed an injunction issued in September 2019. In his ruling, the judge wrote that “U.S. citizens become exposed to possible false arrest when ICE relies solely on deficient databases.” While the ruling only applies to the Central District of California, it has national implications because that district is home to ICE’s Pacific Enforcement Response Center, which makes detainer requests to law enforcement agencies in 42 states and two U.S. territories.

In a ten month stretch from 2015 to 2016, ICE issued about 770 faulty requests for people who were not subject to deportation, including 42 U.S. citizens. The judge wrote that ICE has three months to “adopt and implement any policies, practices, trainings, and systems changes necessary to ensure consistent and effective compliance.”

District Judge Blocks Policy Restricting International Students

On February 6, a U.S. District Judge in North Carolina blocked an administrative policy that would bar many international students from the United States. The decision confirms a preliminary injunction that was issued in May 2019. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy guidance, which was initially released in May 2018 and revised in August 2018, sought to adjust the method by which “unlawful presence” is determined for those on student visas. The judge ruled that the unlawful presence memo constituted a “legislative rule” rather than an “interpretive rule,” and therefore USCIS’s decision not to observe the notice-and-comment process for memo violated the Administrative Procedure Act.

Three to ten year re-entry bars for unlawful presence are currently put in place if international students are notified they are violating the terms of their visa and fail to cure their status within 180 days. The USCIS memo would have begun the leeway period before a student is officially notified, potentially resulting in long re-entry bars for unsuspecting students who were never made aware they were violating their visas.

State and Local

Florida E-Verify Bill Passes Committee

On February 11, a controversial state bill that would mandate businesses check the work authorization of their employees passed a committee vote in the Florida Senate. The bill, SB 664, initially would have required all public and private employers in Florida use an online DHS database, called E-Verify, to ensure their employees have work authorization. However, the bill was amended to exclude agricultural employers during mark up in the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee. Governor Ron DeSantis has called passing the bill a top priority, but he has received pushback from local business owners, immigration advocates and other Republican legislators. Eight states have passed laws requiring all or most employers in the state use E-verify.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

Congressional Research Service: Illicit Drug Smuggling Between Ports of Entry and Border Barriers, February 7, 2020

This report provides information on the flow of illicit drugs between ports of entry, and the extent to which physical barriers and other border security measures prevent drug smuggling. The report concludes that available indicators suggest that drug seizures are more concentrated at ports of entry rather than between them. The report further concludes that pedestrian and physical barriers constructed on the border over the last 30 years have resulted in more sophisticated techniques used by smugglers, including subterranean tunnels, use of compressed air cannons and unmanned aircraft systems. Smugglers have also succeeded at concealing drugs more effectively at ports of entry. The report states a comprehensive analysis is difficult because the exact quantity of illicit drugs flowing into the United States is unknown.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

The Trouble with Immigration Detainers

This paper provides background on the issue of immigration detainers, “sanctuary jurisdictions,” and cooperation between local and federal law enforcement. The paper describes the legal and policy concerns that make immigration detainers controversial and reviews instances where localities have faced civil liability as a result of honoring them.

Factsheet: E-Verify

This factsheet provides an overview of the E-Verify database, which allows employers to check their employee’s work eligibility. It describes how E-Verify works and discusses the accuracy rate and appeals process associated with the program.

GRACE Act Bill Summary

This is a bill summary of the Guaranteed Refugee Admissions Ceiling Enhancement (GRACE) Act, H.R. 2146, which was introduced in both the House and the Senate. The bill would require the President to set the annual ceiling of refugees to at least 95,000, which would reverse the trend in recent years of a lower and lower refugee cap.

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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 dzak@immigrationforum.org.  Thank you.

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