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Legislative Bulletin — Friday, February 2, 2024

Welcome to the National Immigration Forum’s weekly bulletin! Every Friday, our policy team rounds up key developments around immigration policy in Washington and across the country. The bulletin includes items on the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, as well as some coverage at the state and local levels. 

Here’s a breakdown of the bulletin’s sections:

DEVELOPMENTS IN IMMIGRATION THIS WEEK

BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

DEVELOPMENTS IN IMMIGRATION THIS WEEK

Immigration policy is a dynamic field subject to constant change. Here, we summarize some of the most important recent developments in immigration policy on the federal, legal, state, and local levels. 

Content warning: This section sometimes includes events and information that can prove disturbing. 

Federal

Senate Tees Up Vote on Border-Ukraine Compromise

On February 1, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) promised an initial vote no later than Wednesday next week on a priority national security supplemental that trades border and immigration policy changes for Ukraine aid, despite the fact that legislative text for the deal has yet to be released publicly.

Schumer said text of the compromise could be posted as soon as today, and should be out no later than Sunday. 

This sudden rush after months of negotiations comes amid reports that the deal is “on life support,” and as an influential former national security adviser under former president Donald Trump says he thinks the House GOP would be more open to a Ukraine-only bill focused on military aid. That marks a 180-degree turn for Republicans, who initially demanded any Ukraine funding be linked to border policy changes. 

Mayorkas Impeachment Advances After Committee Deliberation 

Early on January 31, Republican members of the House Homeland Security Committee voted 18-15 along party lines to advance two impeachment articles against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, despite widespread agreement among Democrats, constitutional scholars, past secretaries, and national security experts that Mayorkas’s actions don’t amount to impeachable offenses. 

The House GOP’s impeachment push now heads to the full floor, where a vote could take place as early as next week. Yet with Democrats seemingly unified against the effort and some Republicans skeptical or also opposed, it’s unclear whether House leadership has the votes to send the articles to the Senate. 

And, even if the House does impeach Mayorkas, some senators are already raising the possibility that their upper chamber may dismiss a trial, which could kill the House GOP’s crusade against Mayorkas with a simple majority of votes.

Border Crossings Plummet Even as CBP Releases High December Numbers 

In January, irregular crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border trailed off dramatically after December saw a record high of 249,785 migrant encounters by Border Patrol.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) documented a total of 302,034 migrant encounters at the U.S.’s southern border in December, including people who entered at a legal port of entry. In the last month of 2023, the agency was able to process nearly 46,000 people through pre-scheduled appointments, rounding out a total of roughly 413,300 migrants and asylum seekers who successfully used the federal government’s CBP One phone app to book a time to report at a port of entry. 

Even so, irregular border crossings remained high in December, with an average of over 8,000 per day. But that number has dropped precipitously in the new year, with CBP reporting “an over 50% decrease” during the first two weeks of January. 

CBP is describing these declines as “consistent with historical trends and enhanced enforcement,” in part because Mexico has trumped up its deterrence efforts against migrants heading north. But the increase in December and subsequent dip in January may also be attributable to rumors that the border would shutter or the CBP One app would stop working in the new year, as well as poor conditions in the Darién Gap and a lack of regional migration over the Christmas holiday, the Washington Office on Latin America explained.

While the border has become far quieter and more manageable in recent days (despite some areas starting to report modest upticks again), a convoy of protesters are making noise with three concerning assemblies on Saturday, on a mission to “take our border back.” The leaders have called on “all active and retired law enforcement and military, Veterans, Mama Bears, elected officials, business owners, ranchers, truckers, bikers, media and LAW ABIDING, freedom-loving Americans” to bolster their campaign, and although they have consistently stressed that the convenings should be peaceful, some of their audience seems intent on violence — at least in their rhetoric. 

“There is a point where we are going to have to get our hands dirty,” one supporter wrote, according to Wired. “I’ve dealt with MANY bullies in my life, and I’ve never been able to reason with them. The one universal language bullies understand is when you push them back.”

The events are partially in support of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), whose ongoing conflict with the Biden administration took a new turn last week after the Supreme Court gave federal border agents the legal go-ahead to cut razor wire installed by the state. 

​​“All Governor Abbott has to do is call for the citizens and we are armed and ready,” said a commenter on a video about the convoys, according to NBC News. 

Biden Administration Launches Pilot Program to Renew H-1B Visas Stateside; USCIS Announces Other H-1B Developments

On January 29, the Department of State launched the first phase of a new pilot program that allows certain H-1B visa holders to renew their visas without having to leave the United States. The program – limited to visa holders from India and Canada – will process a maximum of 20,000 applications through April 1, 2024.

The initiative is expected to reduce consular backlogs, save money for H-1B employers, and provide more stability to H-1B workers who will not have to leave the U.S. to renew their visas. At this stage, the stateside renewal program excludes dependent visa holders like spouses and children, a source of frustration for many potential beneficiaries. If successful, the program is expected to expand its eligibility to include L-1 and O-1 visa holders. 

At the same time, on February 2, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) posted a final rule amending its regulations relating to the H-1B registration selection process. The new rule aims to reduce the potential for gaming the system. For that purpose, each beneficiary will have the same chance of being selected, regardless of how many registrations are submitted on their behalf. In addition, the new rule codifies USCIS’ ability to deny or revoke H-1B petitions.

Also, on January 30, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the initial registration period for the FY 2025 H-1B cap will open on March 6 and will run through March 22, 2024. As it does every year, the H-1B visa cap includes a ceiling of 65,000 regular visas and an additional 20,000 visas for people who meet an advanced degree exemption. Notably, the number of H-1B applications for the previous fiscal year reached a record high of 780,884 registrations for 2024, an increase of 61% over the 483,927 registrations for FY 2023.

Finally, on January 30, USCIS published a final rule to adjust its fees. The agency argued that new fees – updated for the first time since 2016 – are critical for USCIS, whose budget is overwhelmingly fee-funded. Approximately 96% of the agency’s funding is from filing fees, while only about 4% is from congressional appropriations. 

Biden Administration Expands TPS for Syrians 

On January 26, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas extended and redesignated Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syria, allowing around 6,200 Syrians to potentially retain their deportation protections and expanding eligibility for around 2,000 more people. 

Mayorkas attributed his decision to the ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions in Syria, as the country’s residents endure civil war, civilian casualties, human rights violations, food insecurity, and other unlivable circumstances.

TPS for Syrians will now run through September 30, 2025. Current beneficiaries must still re-register in a timely fashion.

Syrian students on an F-1 visa may also be eligible for work authorization and other special accommodations.

State and Local

University of Texas Ends Immigrant, Mixed-Status Family Student Support Program Amid DEI Ban 

In January, students at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) were blindsided when the Monarch program — an initiative to support undocumented students, temporary status students, students from mixed-status families, and allied American citizens — was suddenly terminated in the wake of S.B. 17, Texas’s new diversity, equity, and inclusion ban at public colleges and universities. 

The state law bars the existence of offices with programming involving race, color, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation, but it doesn’t reference “immigration” or “legal status” at all. 

“You can be a white undocumented student, you can be an Asian American undocumented student, you can be a Latino undocumented student,” said Antonio Ingram, assistant counsel at the Legal Defense Fund. “Undocumented status is not a racial category; it’s not a category that’s gender identity, orientation.”

According to the American Immigration Council, 46% of undocumented students in the U.S. are Hispanic, 27% identify as Asian American and Pacific Islander, around 14% are Black, and one in ten are white.

In the absence of the Monarch program, Rooted — another group that includes UT students, alumni, and others — is already trying to step up to fill gaps left for scholars in need of community and assistance. 

Massachusetts Pursues Innovative Migrant Resettlement Pilot 

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey’s (D) administration is currently negotiating with the state’s eight resettlement agencies to help migrant families within the shelter system to find permanent housing and jobs. The agencies would provide year-long case management services, including helping migrants access the state’s HomeBASE program to help cover housing costs.

Under the proposed deal, Massachusetts’s resettlement agencies — such as the International Institute of New England and Ascentria Care Alliance — would be able to help dozens of families each to leave shelters and find permanent housing in the community, with the goal of accommodating a total of 400 migrant families currently in the shelter system. 

The new program is innovative in that it seemingly allows resettlement agencies to provide much-needed assistance to migrant families who may not qualify for federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) services.

Under current federal policy, ORR funds are set aside for refugees, asylees, some humanitarian parolees, and other vulnerable populations. However, they fail to cover many of the migrants arriving in Massachusetts and other parts of the country awaiting asylum adjudications or otherwise in legal limbo and hoping to resettle in the U.S. 

If successful, the pilot program aims to save the state money in the long run by investing in migrant resettlement, which could prove a more permanent solution than keeping migrants in the state’s oversaturated temporary shelter system. 

BILLS INTRODUCED AND CONSIDERED

It can be challenging to keep up with the constant barrage of proposed legislation in Congress. So, every week, we round up new bills. This list includes federal legislative proposals that have recently been introduced and that are relevant to immigration policy. 

Please follow this link to find new relevant bills, as well as proposed legislation from past weeks.

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate is expected to be in session from Monday, February 5 through Friday, February 9, 2024. 

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to be in session from Monday, February 5 through Wednesday, February 7, 2024.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

Here, we round up congressional hearings and markups happening in the field or in Washington. 

Biden’s Border Crisis: The Consequences of Failing to Secure Federal Border Lands

Date: Thursday, February 8, 2024 at 1:30 p.m. MST (House Natural Resources) 

Location: Community Room at Cochise College, 901 Colombo Ave., Sierra Vista, Arizona

Witnesses: TBA

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

Reports by bodies such as the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General provide invaluable information on immigration policy and practice. Here, we give brief summaries of new immigration-related reports, with links to the resources themselves in case you want to learn more.

U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO); U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Improvements Needed to Workforce and Expansion Plans for Unit of Native American Law Enforcement Personnel; Published January 30, 2024

This report analyzes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Shadow Wolves program on the Tohono O’odham Nation reservation in Arizona, including a shift in operational focus from interdiction to investigation in the last decade.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

The Forum is constantly publishing new policy-focused resources that engage with some of the most topical issues around immigration today. Here are a few that are particularly relevant this week: 

Explainer: Asylum Backlogs

This explainer details how an ever-shifting policy landscape and extensive backlogs impact the asylum process in the United States. It describes what asylum is, how people apply, why such cumbersome backlogs exist, and what can be done in terms of solutions.   

Schedule A: The Solution to Expedite the Hiring of Essential Immigrant Workers by Skipping the Burdensome Labor Certification Process

Updating Schedule A is a simple yet valuable alternative for the Biden administration to create a less bureaucratic environment for many employers who are struggling to hire workers. This explainer describes the labor certification process and gives the reasons behind calls to update the Schedule A list to include more occupations. 

Still More Room to Grow: Immigrants Can Reverse the U.S. Population Decline and its Economic Consequences

In 2024, the United States continues to face significant demographic challenges. Propelled by falling birth rates, the U.S. population is rapidly aging and steadily declining. In turn, the country is experiencing economic and social pressures caused by labor shortages. This article provides a follow-up to “Room to Grow,” a 2021 white paper where the National Immigration Forum proposed a methodology that showed how the country needed a 37% increase in net immigration levels over those projected for fiscal year 2020 (approximately 370,000 additional immigrants a year) to prevent the U.S. from falling into demographic deficit and socioeconomic decline.

* * *

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

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