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
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.
Practical Dangers, Legal Barriers Affect Asylum Seekers at the U.S.-Mexico Border
On July 2, the Associated Press reported that the Biden administration has largely failed in its promise to guarantee access to counsel for asylum seekers going through expedited initial screenings — called “credible fear” interviews — while still in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody.
In the first few months of this accelerated process, an estimated 100 asylum seekers have been able to formalize their representation, while hundreds of others have taken part in informal one-time calls for legal advice.
Yet already, thousands of migrants have been put through these new expedited screenings. And although exact numbers remain unclear, a large fraction have seemingly struggled to contact attorneys in what can be as short as a 24-hour window before they undergo a “credible fear” interview with an asylum officer.
Lawyers are receiving calls from possible clients on weekends or at night, when they are unable to answer. If they miss a call, it’s challenging to get back in touch. At the same time, asylum seekers are struggling to access basics such as a writing instrument and paper to jot down notes. Even the steps that must be taken to formalize representation can prove difficult, because migrants are being held at Border Patrol facilities where lawyers are not allowed to visit and only U.S. officials can obtain required physical signatures.
Amid these barriers and other new asylum restrictions, the rate for positive “credible fear” determinations has plummeted in recent weeks from 77% during the second half of March to 52% by the second half of May, meaning that a far smaller percentage of people are advancing to the next phase of their protection claims. Data specific to single adults have shown an even lower screen-in rate. Those who do not pass their initial screenings face rapid deportation, with a five-year bar on re-entry to the United States.
And, even as migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border struggle to access humanitarian protection, they are also enduring serious physical dangers, with punishing heat blanketing the region in triple-digit temperatures.
Often, people are traversing the border without basics such as water, food, and sun protection. Experts are concerned that more migrants may also be taking perilous, remote routes to the U.S. in order to avoid heightened immigration consequences.
“Now it’s not all that uncommon to spend three, four, five days in the desert,” Daniel Martínez, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Arizona, told NBC News. “We caution policymakers and the media to keep in mind that while there is a seasonality to migrant deaths in the summer months, it’s only part of the equation. It’s also the policies put in place.”
Over the July 4 holiday weekend, four people — including an infant — drowned in back-to-back incidents along the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas. And, in Mexico, asylum seekers waiting in encampments to reach the U.S. via the CBP One app are enduring extreme heat and other threats, including lack of sanitation, medical emergencies, and violent attacks such as rape.
Biden Administration Considers Refugee Program for Non-Mexicans in Mexico
On July 2, Reuters reported that the Biden administration and Mexican officials are in discussions over whether to pursue a new refugee program for non-Mexicans waiting in Mexico, so that those eligible for refugee status could enter the U.S. with work authorization, access to housing and employment assistance, and other benefits that come with resettlement.
If implemented, the new program would designate refugees under the “Priority 2” category, bypassing United Nations referrals for a more direct funnel to the U.S. It would likely serve Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans who were already in Mexico before June 6 and who met the criteria for refugee status, including a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group.
Successful applicants would be resettled in the U.S. and qualify to become permanent residents after a year, with an eventual pathway to citizenship.
But Mexican officials have concerns. For example, even with a cutoff date for who qualifies, the program could inadvertently encourage migration into Mexico and increase the number of people waiting there, straining the country’s finite resources.
Officials from both countries told Reuters that no plans had been finalized yet, and the program’s potential scope remains unclear. But such an endeavor could give a much-needed boost to the Biden administration’s refugee resettlement numbers for Latin America and the Caribbean, where so far heavily publicized commitments to accept far more refugees from the region have been slow to materialize.
Meanwhile, in Mexico, U.S. officials continue to carry out “voluntary returns” for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans who cross the U.S.-Mexico border, a punishment-reward approach that gives asylum seekers two options, The Guardian reported Sunday. Migrants can either “voluntarily” return to Mexico, with U.S. officials’ assurances of better odds at eventually qualifying for parole and asylum if they re-enter the U.S. through appointments on the government’s official CBP One app. Or they can take their chances on asylum petitions — now with tough new restrictions on eligibility — while facing the threat of deportation and a five-year bar on re-entry to the U.S.
Many individuals have agreed to the voluntary return policy, but once they reach Mexico, Mexican authorities fly them hundreds of miles from the U.S.’s southern border, sometimes to areas outside of the reach for CBP One’s geofencing. Stranded, these migrants then struggle to find their way back to the U.S.-Mexico border and secure one of the limited number of daily CBP One appointments, so they can finally access their right to seek asylum.
U.S. Resettles More Than 6,000 Refugees In Four Consecutive Months
The U.S. resettled 6,844 refugees in June. This is the fourth month in a row that the U.S. has resettled more than 6,000 refugees — a promising sign for the U.S. refugee program.
Nine months into fiscal year 2023, the U.S. has resettled 38,653 refugees out of President Joe Biden’s annual determination of 125,000. If officials were to resettle 6,844 refugees for the next three months, the U.S. would welcome 59,185 refugees in fiscal year 2023 — a major improvement over the past five years.
Historically, the last month or two of the fiscal year sees the highest number of refugee arrivals, so it is possible the U.S. could welcome over 60,000 refugees for 2023, approaching half of the presidential ceiling.
State and Local
Massachusetts Drivers Now Able to Access Licenses Regardless of Immigration Status
On July 1, a new Massachusetts law took effect allowing residents in the state to obtain driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status.
The law allows undocumented immigrants to apply for a Standard Class D or M driver’s license. Applicants must provide the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) with proof of identity and date of birth, along with proof of residence in Massachusetts and social security status, or in the alternative, an affidavit of no social security number. In order to obtain a license, applicants must also pass a learner’s permit exam, vision screening, and road test.
The Massachusetts governor at the time, Charlie Baker (R-MA), initially vetoed the law, claiming it could threaten election security, among other issues. However, both chambers of the state legislature voted to override the veto.
Supporters of the law emphasize that the 18 other states and D.C. that passed similar measures have experienced a decline in the number of uninsured drivers and hit-and-run incidents on the road. This was a major reason the legislation was endorsed by over 60 state law enforcement officials.
In response to the new law, the RMV is expecting more than 100,000 applicants for driver’s licenses. To adjust to this expected uptick, the RMV is increasing their staff, adding road test operations to many locations, extending operational hours at RMV service centers, and opening two new temporary road test sites in the state.
“The Work and Family Mobility Act is a benefit for public safety, for our economy, and for our immigrant residents who should be able to drive to work, school, or the grocery store without fear. We are grateful to the advocates, legislators and public safety leaders who have worked so hard to get us to this point,” said Gov. Maura Healey (D-Massachusetts). “We are excited to begin implementing this new law, and the RMV has been working diligently to ensure a smooth process for all eligible applicants.”
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 will be in session from Monday, July 10 through Friday, July 14, 2023.
The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Tuesday, July 11 through Friday, July 14, 2023.
UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS
Here, we round up congressional hearings and markups happening in the field or in Washington.
Date: Wednesday, July 12, 2023 at 2:00 p.m. EST (House Homeland Security Committee)
Location: 310 Cannon House office Building, Washington, D.C.
Date: Thursday, July 13, 2023 at 3:00 p.m. EST (House Judiciary Committee)
Location: 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.
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); Priority Open Recommendations: Department of Homeland Security; Published June 23, 2023
This letter provides an update on how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has responded to GAO recommendations, underscoring priorities that have not yet been implemented.
Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG); CBP Released a Migrant on a Terrorist Watchlist, and ICE Faced Information Sharing Challenges Planning and Conducting the Arrest; Published June 28, 2023
This report details an incident where ineffective practices around inconclusive terrorist watchlist matches led U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to release a migrant on a terrorist watchlist. The report also analyzes information-sharing challenges experienced by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while arresting the migrant.
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:
This paper delves into five policy solutions that would reverse declines in U.S. popularity as a destination for international students and solidify the leading position of the U.S. as a welcoming scholastic destination.
This bill summary details provisions in the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act, including key differences between the House and Senate versions.
This blog post offers a general overview of the private sponsorship opportunities for individuals and groups across the United States to support refugees and others fleeing unlivable situations around the world.
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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 email@example.com. Thank you.