Legislative Bulletin – Friday, January 24, 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

H.R. 5664

Leveraging Information on Foreign Traffickers (LIFT) Act

The bill would move the annual deadline for the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report from June 1 to June 30. The bill would also require that the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security of the State Department receive information on visa denials related to human trafficking.

Sponsored by Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas) (1 cosponsor – 1 Democrat, 0 Republicans)

1/21/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative McCaul

1/21/2020 Referred to the House Committees on Foreign Affairs and on the Judiciary

H.R. 5625

Targeting Environmental and Climate Recklessness Act of 2019

The bill would impose sanctions against individuals whose actions significantly exacerbate climate change, including the rescission of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas if they are a foreign national. This bill is a companion to Senate bill S. 2955.

Sponsored by Representative Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) (1 cosponsor – 1 Democrat, 0 Republicans)

1/16/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Escobar

1/16/2020 Referred to the House Committees on Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, Oversight and Reform, Ways and Means, and on the Judiciary

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

During the week of Monday, January 27, the Senate will continue sitting as a court of impeachment for the trial President Trump. The Senate will not hold votes on bills during impeachment proceedings.

The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Monday, January 27, 2020 through Thursday, January 30, 2020.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

Courts in Crisis: The State of Judicial Independence and Due Process in U.S. Immigration Courts

Date: Wednesday, January 29, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. (House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship)

Location: 2141 Rayburn House Office Building

Witnesses: TBA

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Federal

Trump Administration Plans to Extend Travel Ban to Seven Other Countries

On January 21, President Trump confirmed that he plans to extend the United States travel ban to additional countries. The list of seven countries being considered, which is not yet final, reportedly includes Belarus, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania. These seven countries would join the current list of countries, most of them Muslim-majority nations, experiencing travel restrictions. The specific reasoning for the inclusion of the seven additional countries is not yet clear; however, an administration official noted that failure to cooperate with U.S. security and counter-terrorism measures could result in targeted travel and immigration restrictions. Officials said the additional countries would face restrictions on certain types of visas, such as exclusion from the diversity visa or business visas, rather than a blanket ban on travel.

The current ban, with limited exceptions, prevents citizens of the listed countries from receiving U.S. immigrant and nonimmigrant visas. The ban was upheld by the Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 ruling in June 2018 after it was revised by the Trump administration for the third time. The Supreme Court ruled that federal law gives the president broad authority to suspend entry to the U.S.

Immigrant-rights groups criticized the potential expansion of the policy. They argued that it could prevent American families from reuniting with loved ones. Official notification of the expansion of the travel ban is expected on Monday, January 27, the three-year anniversary of the original travel ban.

Administration Restricts Tourist Visas from Pregnant Travelers

On January 24, the State Department issued a final rule that makes it more difficult for pregnant women to enter the U.S. on tourist visas. The rule will require consular officers to deny nonimmigrant tourist B visas to those they “have reason to believe” are planning on “traveling for the primary purpose of obtaining U.S. citizenship for a child.” According to State Department officials, consular officers will use “visual cues,” rather than pregnancy tests, to adjudicate whether giving birth is the primary purpose of travel to the U.S. Current B-visa holders would not be affected by the final rule, as it would only apply during the visa application process. The tourist B visa is typically valid for 10 years.

Under the State Department’s rule, if a consular officer has reason to believe the B visa applicant will give birth in the U.S. during their stay, it will be presumed that giving birth is their primary purpose. The presumption could be rebutted in certain cases, such as when travel to the U.S. is necessary for medical reasons or where an applicant’s due date overlapped with a serious family emergency.

The U.S. is one of 35 countries around the world that offers citizenship by birthright. President Trump has on multiple occasions considered attempting to issue an executive order to end birthright citizenship. Many immigration lawyers and constitutional scholars say such a change would require a constitutional amendment.

Mexican Government Blocks New Migrant Caravan

Mexican officials on January 20 blocked nearly 4,000 Central American migrants traveling in a caravan from crossing the Mexico – Guatemala border. Migrants participating in the caravan, which formed in Honduras, waited along Mexico’s southern border seeking permission to cross through Mexico to the U.S. Mexico’s migration agency initially suggested the migrants could cross the border to register their claims and request asylum in Mexico. However, on January 19, the agency said that the majority would be deported to their countries of origin. So far, 1,087 of the migrants agreed to the registration process, while the rest are waiting at the crossing point.

The caravan, the largest reported in more than a year, was organized for protection from gangs and cartels and consisted mostly of Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence and hoping to seek asylum in the U.S. The Trump administration has pressured Mexico’s government reduce the flow of Central American migrants coming to the U.S.

Mexico’s asylum agency has received over 65,000 asylum applications in 2019, a 126% increase since the previous year and deported over 117,000 migrants between January and November 2019.  Many advocates suggest the system is not adequately prepared to handle the increase in numbers.

USCIS to Change Timeline and Registration Process for H-1B Visa Lottery

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is set to make a series of changes in early 2020 to the process of applying for H-1B specialized occupation visas. On January 9, USCIS confirmed in a Federal Register notice that in 2020 H-1B employers would be required to electronically register their petitions for the first time.

In previous years, H-1B “season” has opened on April 1, when tens of thousands of employers petition for limited visa slots. Within two weeks of the application opening, the H-1B lottery is held, which winnows the petitions to meet the 85,000 visa limit. After the lottery, USCIS processes the successful petitions and work authorization is delivered to H-1B visa holders by October 1.

The January 9 notice will significantly alter the H-1B petition and lottery process for the spring of 2020. The new online registration will cost $10 per submission and is required before a formal petition is filed, with the registration submission period in 2020 lasting from March 1 to March 20. The lottery will then be held based on these registrations rather than formal petitions, with final results released no later than March 31. Employers will only be allowed to file petitions after they have won the lottery, a break from past years.

Some immigration lawyers warn that the modified timeline and procedure may result in longer processing times and wait times for work authorization, particularly for petitioners waiting to be selected after other petitions are denied. The rate of H-1B denials has quadrupled over the last four years, from 6% in 2015 to 24% in 2019.

DHS Requests Defense Department Assistance to Construct 270 Miles of Border Barriers

The Department of Defense (DoD) announced on January 15 that it has received a formal request for assistance from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to construct 270 miles of physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. The request calls for assistance in a mix of rural and urban areas along the border that are considered drug corridors. DoD said it will place the request through a two-week internal assessment to determine where military funds can be found to support the construction of the additional physical barriers. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will determine whether to approve all, some or none of the request. If the DHS request is approved, DoD will likely have to divert funds from various military accounts to complete it.

The DHS request comes as the Trump administration is reportedly planning to divert up to $7.2 billion from military funding in fiscal year (FY) 2020 to construct physical barriers along the southern border. The administration reportedly plans to divert $3.5 billion from the DoD’s counterdrug programs and $3.7 billion from military construction funding. On January 17, four top Senate Democrats, including Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, sent a letter to Esper urging him to reject President Trump’s plans to use military funds to construct physical barriers. The letter argues that Congress specifically did not provide any DoD funds for border wall construction.

U.S. Deports International Student from Iran Despite Court Order Blocking Removal

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) deported an Iranian student enrolled at Northeastern University on January 20, despite a federal court order temporarily halting his removal. Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein Abadi, 24-years-old, was denied entry into the United States and detained by CBP due to concerns that he would remain beyond the scope of his student visa.  On January 20, U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs ordered CBP to stop Abadi’s removal based on an emergency petition filed by the ACLU of Massachusetts, but a DHS official said Abadi had already boarded a flight to leave the U.S. A second federal judge, U.S. District Judge Richard Steans, said during a hearing on January 21 that the challenge to Abadi’s removal was moot since he had been removed from the U.S.

Abadi’s denial of entry and removal came after CBP announced an “enhanced security posture” amid heightened tensions with Iran.

Trump Administration Announces Rodney Scott as Head of Border Patrol

On January 24, acting head of CBP Mark Morgan announced Rodney Scott will serve as the new head of the U.S. Border Patrol. Scott, who has been serving as Border Patrol sector chief in San Diego since 2017, will replace Carla Provost, who first announced her plans to retire in May 2019.

State and Local

ICE Issues Immigration Subpoenas to the City of New York 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued administrative subpoenas to New York City demanding information on four undocumented immigrants who have been detained by the city, including one suspect in custody and three others who have already been released. ICE officials indicated that if New York City does not comply they may seek a federal court order. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would review the subpoenas. ICE previously sent similar subpoenas to the city of Denver. Denver officials said they do not comply with subpoenas unless they are court-ordered or primarily related to a criminal investigation, not enforcement of civil immigration laws.

New York City, like many other local jurisdictions across the country, limits its involvement with federal immigration authorities and declines to honor ICE immigration detainers.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

There were no immigration-related government reports published the week of January 20, 2020.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Fact Sheet: Immigration Courts

This fact sheet examines the current state of the immigration court system and provides information on the total number of immigration judges and cases being processed. It also addresses the cause and extent of the current case backlog. On Tuesday, January 28, at 2 p.m., the National Immigration Forum will host a Facebook Live webinar on Challenges in the Immigration Court System with former immigration judge Tracy Hong and Forum policy expert Larry Benenson. More information on the webinar, as well as a link to view, can be accessed here.

Border Security Along the Southwest Border: Fact Sheet

This fact sheet summarizes the security infrastructure along the U.S.-Mexico border. It analyzes the cost and effectiveness of this infrastructure, as well as potential investments in further security. The fact sheet also provides some conclusions about how border security resources could be better focused to reduce drug smuggling and improve overall efficacy.

Bill Summary: The State Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act

This is a bill summary of the State Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2019, introduced in the House on November 19, 2019 by Representative John Curtis (R – Utah). The bill would pilot a new temporary visa allowing states to establish and implement their own unique nonimmigrant visa criteria. The bill would allow each state a baseline of 5,000 “W” visas to create a program regulating the employment and residence of potential recipients.

Push or Pull Factors: What Drives Central American Migrants to the U.S.?

The analysis examines whether migrants from the Northern Triangle countries in Central America come to the U.S. primarily because of “pull” factors or because of the “push” factors that motivate them to leave their countries of origin. The paper concludes that migrants from the Northern Triangle countries will continue to arrive at the U.S. border until socioeconomic and security issues in their home countries are adequately addressed.

* * *

*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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