Legislative Bulletin – 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. 3134

The bill would allow nationals from Ireland to be eligible for the E-3 nonimmigrant visa program. The E-3 visa program currently only applies to Australian nationals and functions similarly to the H-1B temporary nonimmigrant visa, in effect providing an alternative but similar route to status outside the numerically-limited H-1B program.

Sponsored by Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) (1 cosponsor – 1 Democrat, 0 Republicans)

12/19/2019 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Toomey

12/19/2019 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 5496

The ICELAND Act

The bill would allow nationals of Iceland to be eligible for E-1 and E-2 nonimmigrant status, contingent on the government of Iceland implementing a similar provision for U.S. nationals.

Sponsored by Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) (3 cosponsors – 2 Democrats, 1 Republican)

12/19/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative Pingree

12/19/2019 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate will be in session on the week of Monday, January 13, 2020.

The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Monday, January 13, 2020 through Thursday, January 16, 2020.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

Assessing the Adequacy of DHS Efforts to Prevent Child Deaths in Custody

Date: Tuesday, January 14, 2020 at 10:00 AM (House Committee on Homeland Security)

Location: 310 Cannon House Office Building

Witnesses:

Brian Hastings, Chief of Law Enforcement Operations, U.S. Border Patrol

Alex Eastman, Dr., Senior Medical Officer, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Federal

Iranian-Americans Detained and Questioned at the U.S.-Canada Border

On January 4, dozens of Iranian-Americans were detained at the U.S.-Canada border by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officials. Up to 200 people of Iranian ancestry, many of them U.S. citizens, were held up for questioning while returning to Washington State from Canada. The Iranian-Americans were detained for as many as 12 hours at a time in “secondary screening” and subjected to intensive questioning regarding any connections they may have had with Iran. The detentions came amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran following the U.S. military’s targeted killing of Iranian general Qassem Soulemani.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) categorically denied sending a formal directive to immigration officers ordering them to hold those with Iranian ancestry for additional questioning. Advocates and various elected officials have decried the actions. Washington Governor Jay Inslee called the detentions “unacceptable,” and the state Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib, himself an Iranian-American, said that given the reports, “it is hard to call it anything other than racial profiling.” Legal advocates have said it is illegal for immigration officers to single out border crossers for secondary screenings solely due to their ancestry or country of origin. On January 7, House Democrats sent a letter to the Trump administration expressing their alarm at the situation and demanding an explanation from CBP.

A report on January 10 suggests the administration is mulling a significant expansion to his travel ban. The current iteration of the ban places travel restrictions on seven countries, including Iran. It is unclear which countries would be added to the current list, but reports indicate that seven additional majority-Muslim countries would now be included in the ban.

Trump Administration Announces and Pauses Plan to Deport Mexican Asylum Seekers to Guatemala as Crackdown on Asylum Seekers from Central America Continues

With the number of Central American asylum seekers declining in recent months following the introduction of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), metering at ports of entry, and other policies aimed at discouraging migrants from seeking asylum, the White House announced a new policy aimed at discouraging Mexican migrants from requesting asylum in the U.S. On January 6, following an uptick in Mexican asylum seekers in October and November, the Trump administration informed DHS officers that Mexicans seeking asylum in the U.S. could now be sent to Guatemala to apply for asylum there under the July 2019 Asylum Cooperative Agreement between the U.S. and Guatemala.

Guatemalan and Mexican officials have protested applying the U.S.-Guatemala agreement to Mexican nationals seeking asylum in the U.S., arguing the agreement (to which Mexico was not a party) was only intended for those crossing through Guatemala on their way to the U.S., primarily Salvadorian and Honduran migrants. On January 8, reports suggested that the Trump administration has temporarily halted carrying out the transfers of Mexican nationals to Guatemala.

In addition, the administration has continued expand the implementation of MPP, commonly known as the “Remain in Mexico,” to the port of entry in Tucson, Arizona. Those entering Tucson will be sent to Nogales, Mexico to schedule a hearing with the immigration court in El Paso, Texas and will then be responsible for making a 371-mile-long journey to their hearing. Immigrant advocates argue that this puts asylum-seekers in danger as they must find their own transportation and pass through areas facing high rates of violence and crime to make their appointments. The policy has also left the El Paso immigration court with a heavy caseload; the court has received over 16,300 MPP cases so far.

Three Migrants Die in Federal Immigration Custody; CBP Unveils Plan to Improve Medical Screenings of Children

Over the course of nine days in late December 2019, three migrants died while in federal immigration custody. On December 21, a Nigerian man died from an apparent suicide in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody in Maryland on December 21. Four days later on December 25, a Congolese woman died from a preexisting medical condition while in Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) custody in South Texas, after having been cleared for overnight detention. Four days later on December 29, a French man died from a medical condition while in ICE detention in New Mexico.

On December 31, CBP released a long-awaited plan to increase and improve medical screenings for children in federal immigration custody. The plan, which would not have applied to any of the three adults who died in custody, was criticized by doctors as “bare bones” and “beyond disappointing.”

U.S. Launches Pilot Program to Collect DNA from Migrants

On January 6, 2020, DHS, including its subunits CBP and ICE, will begin collecting DNA from people detained in immigration custody. The pilot program will collect saliva swabs from people apprehended at or near official border ports in Detroit, MI and Eagle Pass, TX. While the program is aimed primarily at asylum seekers and those entering without authorization, DHS acknowledged  that detained U.S. citizens and permanent residents holding a green card could be subject to the new DNA testing. The DNA samples will be sent to a national criminal database operated by the FBI. The database currently houses DNA samples from people accused of committing serious crimes.

In October 2019, DOJ officials said that collecting DNA from migrants would help the federal government identify immigrants who commit crimes in the future and result in better compliance with the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005, which requires the collection of biometric information from specific populations. Immigration and civil rights advocates continue to argue that the rule, which will result in the collection of DNA samples from immigrants as young as 14 who have not committed crimes, amounts to a significant violation of privacy and could result in discriminatory profiling by law enforcement agencies with access to those DNA records. On October 22, Mexico’s foreign ministry said that it would pay close to attention to the implementation of the rule to protect Mexican citizens’ genetic information.

DHS to Provide Citizenship Data to Census Bureau

On December 27, 2019, DHS released an assessment outlining its plans to share citizenship data with the Census Bureau. Following a July 11, 2019 executive order from President Trump, DHS will now begin to utilize administrative records to count the number of United States citizens, lawful permanent residents, and unauthorized immigrants, and share that data with the Census. The administrative records will be collected and compiled from a variety of existing government data sources found in DHS, the Department of State, the Internal Revenue Source, and the Social Security Administration. Collected data would include residents’ full names, countries of birth, nationalities, and full addresses.

The DHS data-sharing plan comes after the administration’s effort to include a citizenship question to the 2020 census was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2019. Critics have expressed concern that connecting citizenship data to the Census will increase the undercount in the 2020 Census and DHS itself has expressed concern about the viability of linking outside citizenship data to an individual’s 2020 census file.

U.S. Employers Request More H-2B Temporary Worker Visas

On January 2, a deluge of U.S. employers sent almost 100,000 requests through the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Foreign Labor Application system in the hopes they would be granted authorization to hire employees on temporary H-2B visas. The H-2B visa allows seasonal nonagriculture workers to come to the U.S. to work for ten months or less in jobs in which there  is a shortage of qualified U.S. workers. The total number of H-2B visas is capped at just 66,000 per fiscal year, with 33,000 visas allocated to employers twice annually. Employer demand has far exceeded that mark in recent years, with demand for workers particularly increasing across a range of industries in a time of low national unemployment. The 96,319 requests for H-2B positions represent almost triple the number of available slots. Visas be awarded to employers by DOL via a randomization process.

There is a possibility employers who lose out on access to the coveted slots will see some relief in the summer, as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has, due to high demand, issued a limited number of additional visas for returning H-2B workers over the past three years.

Legal

Second Circuit Leaves Injunction against Public Charge Rule in Place

On January 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit declined to lift a preliminary injunction blocking the Trump administration’s final rule expanding the definition of the term “public charge.” The three-judge panel was the first appellate court panel to uphold the injunction, after the Fourth and Ninth Circuits lifted similar injunctions in late 2019. The injunction was initially ordered by District Judge George Daniels of New York, who wrote that the Trump administration failed to “demonstrate why or how the current public charge framework is inadequate.” Immigration advocates have called the public charge rule “dangerous and discriminatory.”

The Trump administration’s “public charge” rule, which was initially set to take effect on October 15, 2019, would allow federal officials to reject immigrants applying for a green card, an immigrant visa, or a temporary visa if they have previously accessed or are deemed likely to rely on certain forms of public assistance.

Fifth Circuit Lifts Injunction Blocking $3.6 Billion in Border Wall Funding

On January 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit lifted an injunction restricting the use of $3.6 billion to fund the construction and expansion of physical barriers along the U.S.- Mexico border. A divided three-judge panel found a “substantial likelihood” that plaintiffs El Paso County and the Border Network for Human Rights lacked standing to legally challenge the Trump administration’s transfer of the funds to border wall construction.

The Fifth Circuit decision stayed a December 2019 permanent injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge David Briones to enjoin the administration from diverting funding away from military construction projects to fund construction of a border wall. In a separate case, a federal judge in California  issued a permanent injunction in December 2019 to block the diversion of military construction funding to build border barriers. The Fifth Circuit decision does not disturb that injunction.

The Trump administration announced in September 2019 that it would divert $3.6 billion in military construction funding to build 175 miles of barriers along the southern border, transferring the funds from 127 military construction projects in 23 states, three U.S. territories and overseas bases.

State and Local

Forty-two Governors Have Now Given Consent to Resettle Refugees, But Texas Declines

A total of 42 governors have now announced their states will continue to accept refugees in the lead up to the deadline for consent on January 21. On December 30 and 31, Governor Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Governor Michael Parson (R-Missouri) joined over 80% of states and a majority of Republican governors in signing letters of consent. The announcements followed President Trump’s September 26, 2019 executive order requiring both state and local governments to consent to continued resettlement. Evangelicals from across the country have voiced their support for continued resettlement, and in many cases have been credited with  convincing  governors to consent to resettlement in their states.

Evangelical support for refugees has also been voiced in key resettlement states such as Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, where governors have yet to take a stand on the issue.

On January 10, Texas, previously the national leader in refugee resettlement, was the first state to formally reject accepting refugees in 2020, with Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) arguing that the state has had to shoulder “disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system.”

Under the September executive order, local jurisdictions must provide written consent in addition to states, setting the stage for potential tension between localities and governors. More than 90 local jurisdictions across the country have already signed on to continue resettlement, while on January 7, Beltrami County in Northern Minnesota became just the second local jurisdiction in the country to vote against resettling refugees. Over the past five years, zero refugees have been resettled in Beltrami County, MN.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

There were no immigration-related government reports on the week of January 6, 2020.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

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.

Bill Analysis: The BELIEVE Act

This document is a bill analysis of the Backlog Elimination, Legal Immigration, and Employment Visa Enhancement (BELIEVE) Act, or S.2091. The bill seeks to eliminate the United States’ employment-based immigrant visa backlogs by doubling the number of visas available in certain categories, removing per-country limitations, and no longer counting spouses and children towards the visa cap. The bill would also resolve a number of other issues with the employment-based visa system.

Mexico’s Asylum System is Inadequate

This analysis provides an overview of the Mexican asylum system and finds that it cannot handle the scope of the humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border due to insufficient infrastructure, legal representation, and due process. The analysis notes that the U.S. asylum system has more experience handling large numbers of asylum claims and sufficient resources to ensure fair adjudication.

* * *

*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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