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Legislative Bulletin — Friday, July 21, 2023

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. 

State and Local 

Report: Texas Law Enforcement Instructed to Push Migrant Children Back Into Rio Grande as Concertina Wire Injures Families

On July 17, the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reported on a state trooper’s email to his superior raising serious allegations against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) border security initiative, Operation Lone Star

The email, reviewed by Hearst Newspapers and later published online by KSAT.com, cited orders to push small children and nursing babies back into the Rio Grande and mentioned a directive not to provide water to people, even in the sweltering heat.  

The trooper described these actions as inhumane, justifying his concern through a number of disturbing incidents. 

According to the email, Texas officials have set up razor wire-wrapped barrels in parts of the river with high water and low visibility, creating potential hazards. The wire has also increased risks of drownings and injuries by forcing migrants into deeper and more dangerous stretches of the river. 

On June 30, a pregnant woman suffering a miscarriage was found caught in the wire, doubled over in pain, and a 4-year-old girl separately passed out from exhaustion in the over 100-degree heat after she tried to cross the wire but was pushed back by Texas Guard soldiers. 

On the same day, a teenager broke his leg while trying to avoid the wire by traversing an area of the river that was unsafe. 

In response to the email’s contents, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) spokesperson Travis Considine said that there is no policy against providing water to migrants. But DPS Director Steven McCraw has called for an audit to minimize risks to people trying to cross and has acknowledged an increase in injuries from the wire. 

Since news broke of Texas’s concerning practices, lawmakers have been pressing the Biden administration to hold the state government accountable. “I raised the issue of @GovAbbott’s barbarity at a dinner tonight with @SecBlinken,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) tweeted. “I read him the title and first paragraph of the @ExpressNews article and urged the Administration to intervene — and to remove the death traps Abbott has installed for the sake of human rights.”

In a letter on Friday, Castro led 87 House Democrats who called on the Biden administration “to assert your authority over federal immigration policy and foreign relations and investigate and pursue legal action, as appropriate, related to stop Governor Abbott’s dangerous and cruel actions.”

Separately, Mexico has also started putting pressure on the federal government to take action against Texas’s aggressive border tactics. Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretary Alicia Bárcena announced last week that her nation had formally raised concerns with the U.S. about Texas’s deployment of floating barriers along the Rio Grande. 

Bárcena said an inspection team would assess whether the buoys were extending onto Mexican territory, and she raised the possibility that the floating barriers could contravene long-established treaties. 

On Thursday, the Department of Justice alerted Texas that it was planning to take legal action against the state’s use of buoys, which the agency said “violate federal law, raise humanitarian concerns, present serious risks to public safety and the environment, and may interfere with the federal government’s ability to carry out its official duties.”

Federal 

Report: Louisiana Detention Center Subjects Migrants to Solitary Confinement, Undrinkable Water

Despite promises to improve living conditions at a notorious immigration detention center in Louisiana, inadequate medical care, dirty accommodations, overcrowding and general abuse of detainees have continued to affect the facility, NBC News reported Monday

The exposé found that immigrants and asylum seekers held at the Winn Correctional Center in rural Winn Parish lack access to drinkable water, live under the constant fear of solitary confinement, and have limited access to doctors. 

And yet the population held at the site continues to climb — stretching the detention center’s already thin resources even further. 

“Nothing has changed about the conditions of this facility,” said Mich González, associate director of the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project. “People with open wounds not getting the treatment that they need. People on crutches being told that they don’t have a humanitarian interest in being released even though they’re not a danger to anyone and they have people waiting for them at home. People detained for upwards of a year unnecessarily.” 

At Winn, the water appears “yellow” and residents worry it is unsafe to drink. The facility also appears to serve food that has expired, said John Star, a Nigerian man who said that he had been detained at Winn since November.

 “You open it and the smell alone will make you choke,” Star said. 

Likewise, detainees at the facility struggle to access adequate medical attention, instead receiving a level of care that may amount to alleged “medical neglect.” Sarah Gillman —  director of strategic U.S. litigation for the advocacy group Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights — said that she and her colleagues met with about 40 people at Winn last year “who had medical issues that they had tried to seek help for and had not received.” 

But perhaps most alarming, detainees at the facility are subject to forced isolation — a popular practice in ICE detention. “It’s the most famous threat there,” a Colombian asylum seeker said. “They threaten you every day, frequently.” 

He described solitary confinement as a punitive measure for those accused of troublemaking. Despite the facility housing civil detainees, those held in solitary are confined to a small personal cell, with no sunlight. 

“There’s been a lot of reports on Winn, and there’s been a lot of documentation, and even with all that it continues to exist,” Gillman said. “The only solution in my opinion is to shut it down.” 

Canada Recruits U.S. Workers Frustrated by Broken Immigration System  

On July 16, Canada debuted a new program offering open work permits to H-1B visa holders in the United States, in hopes of enticing highly educated foreigners to move north for a reprieve from the U.S.’s broken immigration system and the headaches it causes. 

By the next day, Canada had already reached its maximum number of applicants: 10,000.  

H-1B visa holders must have a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent, making them skilled, educated workers. Through the new program, these professionals will be able to move to Canada without already having a job there, so they can search for one upon arrival. And, through Canada’s merit-based points immigration system, experts say the foreign workers could likely qualify as permanent residents relatively quickly. 

By comparison, the U.S. is experiencing a growing backlog of green cards and stiffly competitive visa lotteries, making the path to H-1B visas and eventual lawful permanent residence increasingly difficult. 

Chris Richardson, a former U.S. diplomat, told the Wall Street Journal that “with the H-1B lottery getting worse and worse every year, for a lot of these individuals Canada may actually be their only option.”

Migrant Encounters at Southwest Border Reach Lowest Level in Over Two Years 

On July 18, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced that June marked the lowest number of overall migrant encounters at the U.S.’s southwest border in over two years. 

In the first full month after the Title 42 public health order ended, Border Patrol documented 99,545 encounters between ports of entry along the southern border, constituting a 42% drop from May. 

Generally, southwest border encounters — including at ports of entry — plummeted by 30% from a month earlier, reaching their lowest point since February 2021.

It is important to note, however, that migrant encounters are almost always lower in the summer months, as many people avoid timing their travels to coincide with the hottest temperatures of the year. And experts claim that the short-term decreases in migration are at least in part a result of a “wait and see” approach, as migrants try to suss out the real-world effects of new restrictions at the border. 

“We’re gonna have to wait and see how all of this plays out,” said Arturo Sarukhán, former ambassador of Mexico to the U.S. “I think it’s too early to tell, to give a definitive take, on what has actually happened with the dynamics on the border between the United States and in terms of general migration flows within the continent.”

Legal 

Biden Asylum Restrictions Face Legal Challenge; Judge May Rule Within a Week

On July 19, at a hearing for a legal challenge surrounding the Biden administration’s “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” rule, U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar in the Northern District of California said he would decide whether new asylum restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border violate the law within a week.  

As soon as the Title 42 public health order ended, the Biden administration imposed a new federal regulation at the border, which has now made migrants ineligible for asylum unless they meet limited and often unviable exceptions. 

Because international and domestic law grants migrants the right to seek asylum regardless of how they entered the U.S., activists argue that it is unlawful to turn away those asking for refuge at the border simply because they do not follow federal officials’ preferred pathways to reach American soil. 

For his part, Tigar has acknowledged the similarities between this current legal challenge and previous cases under the Trump administration. In 2018, he temporarily blocked a Trump-era policy that denied asylum to migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border irregularly. 

“I read somewhere that 2023 was going to be a big year for sequels,” Tigar joked at Wednesday’s hearing. He has said that — if his decision ultimately blocks the Biden administration’s new rule — he will wait to enforce it for two weeks at the federal government’s behest, to give officials time to appeal. 

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 and the U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Tuesday, July 25 to Friday, July 28, 2023.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

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

Business Meeting

Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2023 at 9:00 a.m. EST (Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs)

Location: Senate Dirksen Building, SD-562, Washington, D.C.

Related Items: PN441S.1253S.1332S.1444S.1524S.1973,
S.2032S.2073S.2219S.2248S.2251S.2256, S.2260, S.2270,
S.2272S.2278S.2283S.2286, S.2289S.2291, S.2292S.2293

Oversight of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. EST (House Judiciary Committee)

Location: 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Witnesses: 

The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Stopping the Exploitation of Migrant Children: Oversight of HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement

Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. EST (House Committee on Energy & Commerce)

Location: 2123 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Witnesses:

The Honorable Xavier Becerra, Secretary, Department of Health and human Services

HFAC Markup on Various Measures

Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. EST (House Foreign Affairs Committee)

Location: U.S. Capitol, HVC-210, Washington, D.C.

Related Items: H.R.1456, H.R.4691, H.R.4725, H.R.4716, H.R.4715, H.R.1776, H.R. 4517, H.R.3152, H.Res.578, H.R.4619

The Real Cost of an Open Border: How Americans Are Paying the Price

Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2023 at 2:00 p.m. EST (House Homeland Security Committee) 

Location: 310 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Witnesses: TBA

A Failure to Plan: Examining the Biden Administration’s Preparation for the Afghanistan Withdrawal

Date: Thursday, July 27, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. EST (House Foreign Affairs Committee)

Location: HVC-210, Washington, D.C.

Witnesses: 

Colonel (Ret.) Seth Krummrich, Vice President, Global Guardian

Command Sergeant Major Jacob Smith, 4-31 Infantry, 2nd BCT, 10th Mountain Division

Full Committee Markup of Fiscal Year 2024 Defense, Interior and Environment, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Homeland Security Appropriations Acts

Date: Thursday, July 27, 2023 at 10:30 a.m. EST (Senate Appropriations Committee)

Location: Dirksen Senate Office Building 106, Washington, D.C.

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. 

Congressional Research Service (CRS); The Department of Homeland Security’s “Metering” Policy: Legal Issues; Updated July 17, 2023

This report details the “metering” policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, with a focus on arguments as to whether it violates existing statutory, constitutional, and international law. It also considers recent litigation challenging the practice. 

U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO); Award and Management of Barrier Construction Contracts; Published July 18, 2023

This testimony explores the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)’s contract obligations and awards for barriers at the U.S.-Mexico border, including how much of the barrier system had been completed by January 2021. 

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: 

Bill Summary: The Afghan Adjustment Act

The bill — which got a bipartisan intro in the House and Senate this week — would provide a path to permanence for Afghan evacuees (and some others). The bill also establishes rigorous vetting and criminal inadmissibility requirements to access this new path and it includes provisions that would improve and expand pathways to protection for those left behind and at risk in Afghanistan.

Q&A: What to Know About the Biden Administration’s New Asylum Restrictions

This explainer provides an overview of the “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” rule. It explains in simple terms what the rule does, how it will affect asylum seekers, and where it will interact with other border enforcement policies post-Title 42.

Essential Workers for Economic Advancement Act: Bill Summary

This bill summary details the Essential Workers for Economic Advancement Act (H.R. 3734), introduced by Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pennsylvania) and co-sponsored by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas). This bipartisan bill would create a new “H-2C” nonimmigrant visa for individuals coming to the United States to work in nonagricultural, less-skilled positions.

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*This Bulletin is not intended to be comprehensive. Please contact Alexandra Villarreal, 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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