Legislative Bulletin – Friday, January 17, 2020



H.R. 5581

Access to Counsel Act of 2020

The bill would provide the right to access counsel to immigrants in detention and to those who present themselves to border security under certain circumstances. The bill would also direct Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to improve detention conditions and limit detention stays to the briefest term possible.

Sponsored by Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) (23 cosponsors – 23 Democrats, 0 Republicans)

1/10/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Jayapal

1/10/2020 Referred to the House Committees on Homeland Security and on the Judiciary

H.R. 5577

The No Social Security for Illegal Aliens Act of 2020

The bill would prohibit the distribution of Social Security benefits to unauthorized persons. The bill would exclude unauthorized persons from creditable wages derived from employment or self-employment, and would apply to wages earned before, on, and after the enactment of the Act.

Sponsored by Representative Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) (9 cosponsors – 0 Democrats, 9 Republicans)

1/10/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Brooks

1/10/2020 Referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means


On January 21, the Senate will begin sitting as a court of impeachment for the trial of President Trump. The Senate will not hold votes on bills during impeachment proceedings.

The U.S. House of Representatives will not be in session the week of January 20.


There are no immigration-related hearings or markups currently scheduled in the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives.



New Data Shows Significant Decline in Legal Immigration

Legal immigration has dropped significantly over the past three years, according to recently released data from DHS. Legal immigration has fallen over 7% since 2016, with the declines concentrated among countries that typically send the largest numbers of immigrants. Annual immigration from China dropped by over 16,000 migrants – about 20% – from FY 2016 to 2018. Immigration from Mexico and India dropped about 7.5% over the same time span. The number of legal immigrants from South Korea, Vietnam and Burma also declined significantly over the three years leading up to 2019.

The administration’s restrictive immigration policies, particularly in regards to family sponsorship, constitute one reason for the decline in legal immigration. DHS has issued guidance on screening and vetting for a number of visa categories that has resulted in longer processing times and higher rates of visa denial.

U.S. and Honduras Moving Forward with Asylum Agreement

During a visit to Honduran capital Tegucigalpa on January 9, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acting secretary Chad Wolf announced that the U.S. was planning to move forward with the implementation of a bilateral agreement to send asylum seekers from five countries to Honduras to apply for asylum there. The announcement means that those from Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Brazil who have come to the U.S. to seek asylum could soon be sent to Honduras, even if they had not traveled through that country in their journey to the U.S. The agreement – one of three asylum cooperative agreements the administration signed last year with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – would also involve U.S. on-the-ground assistance in Honduran immigration control efforts, including the sending of American training and support personnel.

The Guatemalan agreement is the only one of the three agreements that has been implemented thus far, and the U.S. has been sending Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers to Guatemala since November. The administration had briefly considered sending Mexican asylum seekers to Guatemala via the agreement as well, but those plans were temporarily halted on January 9 after concern was voiced from Guatemalan and Mexican officials, legislators, and immigrant advocates. The decision to pause the expansion of the Guatemalan agreement came on the same day as acting secretary Wolf’s announced his plan to implement the Honduran agreement.

Expanded implementation of the asylum cooperative agreements is the latest in a string of efforts by the administration to restrict asylum applications in the U.S. A report on January 14 found that DHS tripled its rate of “credible fear” denials in FY 2019. Credible fear is the first of many stages in the asylum application and judgment process, and prior to 2019 more than 90% of applicants passed credible fear tests upon beginning their asylum applications.

Unauthorized Mexican Migrants to be Repatriated Deeper Into the Interior of Mexico

The United States is preparing routine deportation flights from Arizona to Guadalajara, over 1,000 miles from the border. According to DHS, the repatriation flights will start on January 24, and will operate twice every week, carrying about 150 Mexican migrants each trip. The U.S. and Mexican governments are working together to manage these flight-based repatriation efforts. DHS officials have noted that this long-distance program will return migrants closer to their home towns. In contrast, the Mexican government’s support reportedly rests on the hopes that the program will reduce the number of migrant deaths in the desert and in dangerous border cities. A similar program from the mid-2000s had a third purpose, deterring unauthorized border crossers from attempting to cross again by sending them deep into Mexico.

Trump Administration Plans to Divert Additional Funds from Military to Wall

According to reports on January 13, the Trump administration is planning to divert an additional 7.2 billion dollars from military funding to the border wall. The money is being reallocated from Department of Defense (DOD) construction projects and efforts to counter narcotics trafficking. In December, Congress allocated just 1.375 billion dollars for the wall for fiscal year (FY) 2020, almost four billion dollars less than the administration requested. Despite an effort by some legislators and advocates, a prohibition on military transfers to fund the wall was ultimately not included in the final language of the December spending bill.

Reports of the plan came less than a week after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted an injunction restricting a similar transfer of military funds to be used for the border wall in 2019. That lawsuit concerned a 3.6 billion dollar transfer, exactly half of the amount the administration is seeking to siphon from the military this time around. A separate injunction against transfers for wall funding issued by a federal judge in California remains in place.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle have criticized the new plan to send additional Pentagon money to the wall. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said, “I’m not in favor of diversions of budgets that were appropriated for specific purposes.” A bipartisan group of lawmakers also spoke out against the practice last year, when a vote to reject the president’s justifications for the funding transfers passed both the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate. Congressional efforts to weigh in have thus far been blocked by presidential veto.

Trump Administration Planning to Expand Travel Ban

On January 11, the Associated Press reported the Trump Administration is considering an expansion to the travel ban that has been restricting immigration from mostly Muslim countries since 2017. The current travel ban includes Iran, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, North Korea, Yemen, and Somalia and is commonly referred to as the “Muslim ban” for targeting Muslim majority countries. The ban allows a small fraction of immigrant and non-immigrant visas from the listed countries through a waiver process with a reported 10% acceptance rate.

It is uncertain which countries will be added to the ban. Documents from the White House obtained by media sources did not provide country names, however, reporting suggests that there are plans for seven additional countries. The proposed countries were identified by DHS for failing to meet the baseline criteria for “identity management” security measure protocols.

The expansion is expected to be announced January 27, 2020, coinciding with the release of the first Trump administration travel ban in 2017.


Maryland Judge Blocks Executive Order Requiring States Weigh in on Refugee Resettlement

On January 15, Maryland District Court Judge Peter Messitte issued a preliminary injunction blocking President Trump’s executive order requiring both state and local governments to consent to continued refugee resettlement. The judge stated that the order “flies in the face of clear Congressional intent,” particularly as defined in the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980. Judge Messitte wrote that the Refugee Act was not intended to allow states “veto power over resettlement,” and that Trump’s September executive order would permit just that. A White House official commented that the ruling was “preposterous.”

The halt on the order comes just days before the deadline for states to submit consent. Under the order, refugee aid agencies had to include the state and local letters of consent in their funding requests, which are due to the State Department on January 21. 42 state governors, including 19 Republicans, had publicly given consent for their states to resettle refugees prior to the court injunction. Governor Abbott (R-Texas), the only governor so far to deny consent, received criticism from evangelical leaders and local news outlets upon his announcement on January 10.

Judge Rules in Favor of Administration on Current Family Separation Policy at the Border

On January 13, California District Judge Dana Sabraw ruled that current administration policy of separating families at the southwest border is lawful and within the scope of governmental authority. Under the current policy, DHS is separating families in instances where the parents were considered unfit and in cases where there is a criminal history, a communicable disease, or doubts about parentage. Immigration advocates have voiced concern that in practice these policies represent a return to previous “zero tolerance” policies that drew widespread condemnation. However, Judge Sabraw noted in his decision that he had not found evidence the government was abusing its power with the current approach. Advocates remain determined to ensure that families are not separated at the border due to trivial or minor infractions.

The ruling includes a requirement for the government to resolve parentage questions with a 90 minute DNA test. Before this case, Judge Sabraw had previously ruled multiple times against the administration’s family separation policies, including a 2019 decision requiring thousands of children be accounted for and returned to their families.


There were no immigration-related government reports published the week of Monday, January 13.


Justice for Victims of Sanctuary Cities Act

This document is a bill summary of the Justice for Victims of Sanctuary Cities Act, or S. 2059. The bill seeks to create a new private right of action for victims of felonies against “sanctuary jurisdictions.” Victims would be able to sue if they were harmed by an immigrant perpetrator committing a felony in situations where the victim would not have been harmed but for the existence of a sanctuary policy.

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.

Summary of President Trump’s Proclamation that Bans Certain Foreign Individuals from Entering the U.S

This post summarizes the provisions of President Trump’s proclamation on September 24, 2017 (the third iteration of the travel ban) suspending entry to individuals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela.

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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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