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.
‘Movilidad Segura’ Offices Underway in Central, South America
On June 12, the initial phase of “Oficinas de Movilidad Segura” (Offices of Safe Mobility) throughout the Western Hemisphere launched first in Guatemala and Costa Rica, with plans to expand to Colombia early next week.
The Biden administration has touted these regional processing centers as a way for migrants and asylum seekers to learn about and be screened for pathways to the United States and elsewhere, without having to rely on smugglers to reach the U.S.-Mexico border.
So far, each country’s offices appear to have different parameters and criteria for participation. In Guatemala, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans can fill out an online application to potentially receive an appointment.
Meanwhile, for the offices in Costa Rica, only Nicaraguans and Venezuelans who were already in-country and registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees before June 12 may qualify for now. And, once the initiative debuts in Colombia on June 19, officials will reportedly “work to direct migrants from Haiti, Cuba, and Venezuela toward lawful pathways.”
Already, the Biden administration has said it plans to eventually open around 100 of these centers throughout the region. But while the offices have been portrayed as a means of ultimately reaching the U.S. through processing closer to home, the landing page for Guatemala’s iteration makes clear that they “do not provide work or other visas to the United States” — only “information about potential pathways.”
Biden Administration Extends TPS for El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal, and Nicaragua
On June 13, the Biden administration said it was rescinding Trump-era terminations of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal, and Nicaragua and extending those nationalities’ protections for another 18 months.
But the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s announcement falls short of redesignating the four countries for TPS, which could have allowed far more Salvadorans, Hondurans, Nepalis, and Nicaraguans already living in the U.S. to apply for deportation protections and work permits.
TPS is a temporary benefit to prevent noncitizens from being returned to countries affected by armed conflict, natural disasters, or other extraordinary and temporary circumstances that would make repatriation dangerous. It does not offer an explicit pathway to lawful permanent residency or U.S. citizenship.
CBS News reported that top administration officials have spoken out against expanding who qualifies for TPS, out of fear that immigrant-friendly policy changes — even ones that only affect those already here — might act as a magnet for migration at the southern border.
“Re-designating these countries for TPS would have provided additional, deserving families with much-needed protections that are on solid legal ground and would have been more than justified by the on-the-ground realities in these specific countries. So it concerns me that this decision may have been driven in part by political calculations instead of sound policy rationale and the conditions in each country,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) said in a statement.
“Expanding and strengthening the TPS program is not just a humanitarian act. TPS holders contribute billions of dollars to the American economy each year and help mitigate the root causes of irregular migration to the United States by providing financial support to their families back home. Going forward, I urge the Biden administration to more aggressively leverage its executive authority on TPS to help address some of the long-standing challenges of our immigration system.”
DHS Announces Streamlined Two-Year Parole Renewal Process for Afghans
On June 8, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a new, fee-exempt process for forcibly displaced Afghans to renew their parole for another two years, so they can stay and work in the United States legally while they await a more permanent solution.
“DHS is proud to have led Operation Allies Welcome and we are committed to supporting our Afghan allies as they continue to settle into their communities across the country,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
Amid the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Biden administration evacuated vulnerable and terrified Afghan allies, many of whom had previously supported the U.S. government and feared persecution. But when these Afghans arrived in the U.S., they received two years of parole — a temporary protection for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit — instead of a more long-term legal pathway such as refugee status.
Now, advocates and the administration are calling on Congress to pass an adjustment act for Afghan parolees, to provide a pathway to citizenship. But federal officials are also urging Afghans to pursue existing alternatives like asylum or a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) in order to eventually secure lawful permanent residency in the U.S.
Under this new policy from DHS, Afghans who already applied for asylum or adjustment of status to lawful permanent residency before their initial parole expired do not need to affirmatively apply for re-parole. DHS will consider their cases for an extension of parole and continued employment authorization.
Biden Selects New Border Patrol Chief
On June 9, the Biden administration announced that Jason Owens — who currently leads the Border Patrol’s Del Rio, Texas sector — will replace retiring Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz.
“Chief Owens is a talented, selfless, and inspiring leader who is dedicated to the Border Patrol’s law enforcement mission, the men and women who fulfill it, and the country that we all serve,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
“I am inspired by his commitment to the mission, and am grateful to him for his continued service in this new leadership role.”
Owens has served with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for over two decades, with various assignments in regions along both the southern and northern borders.
CBP One Appointments No Longer Available in Laredo
The Biden administration has stopped offering appointments to enter the U.S. through CBP One at a border crossing in Laredo, Texas, whose sister city in Mexico — Nuevo Laredo — has garnered a reputation for migrant kidnappings and extortion.
Mobile appointments are now a critical part of border processing following the end of the Title 42 public health order. But in recent weeks, Mexican immigration authorities in Nuevo Laredo have reportedly been confiscating migrants’ travel documents — including proof of CBP One appointments — and demanding payment to release them.
Since Title 42’s expiration, migrant crossings are down at the U.S.’s southern border. The Biden administration has publicly touted this decline as a policy success, though some officials remain concerned that the dynamic situation could once again bring increased numbers of people migrating — and soon.
Meanwhile, back in Mexico, shelters are far over capacity and struggling to make room for all of the people who are now trying for CBP One appointments, even as the recent suspension of the app’s use in Laredo gestures at the potential dangers migrants confront while waiting abroad.
Lawsuit Alleges Labor Trafficking of Migrants at Michigan Blueberry Farm
On June 9, two migrant farm workers from Mexico filed a lawsuit in federal court against a Michigan blueberry farm. The complaint alleges labor trafficking violations, including being forced to work long hours without breaks, lack of adequate compensation, and substandard living conditions.
In the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. district court for the western district of Michigan, plaintiffs Feliciano Velasco Rojas and Luis Guzman Rojas say they worked 12-hour days on the farm. They describe being forced to pay weekly for deficient housing, where dozens of individuals lived in an unfurnished three-bedroom, two-bathroom house and many of them had to sleep on the floor.
Guzman and Velasco, along with 30 other migrant workers, entered the U.S. legally with H-2A temporary agricultural visas to work at a North Carolina farm in 2017. But they and the other workers were allegedly awakened in the middle of the night by a First Pick Farms employee, Antonio Sanchez, telling them they were going to be transported to Michigan. The migrant workers were then photographed and rounded up to board vans. They were charged $25 each per refueling stops during their travel, and they were given false identification for their work on the blueberry farm. Each worker was charged approximately $110 for these documents.
According to Gonzalo Peralta, staff attorney at Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, the new positions violated their legal status, as seasonal agriculture work visas are tied to specific employers and First Pick Farms did not have proper H-2A work permissions.
“They were told that immigration would be called on them if they voiced any issues about what was happening,” Peralta said.
“No employee should be made to work under threat from their employer,” he added. “Particularly those individuals who are not from the United States and may be threatened for immigration consequences that are not their fault. They’re the victims in all this.”
State and Local
Texas Announces Buoy Barriers to Block Migrants From Crossing the Rio Grande
On June 8, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced state authorities will begin to deploy chains of specially designed buoys, creating a 1,000-foot floating barrier down the Rio Grande to deter migrants from crossing unlawfully.
This news follows a bill signing ceremony, where Gov. Abbott greenlit six new laws regarding immigration and border security, including legislation that gives greater authority to federal agents to arrest and search migrants who are suspected of committing crimes, authorization of drone usage for border surveillance, and compensation to farmers whose land is damaged by migrants.
According to mock-up images, Abbott’s plan is to place a chain of these four-foot-high, neon orange buoys in the middle of the Rio Grande. Starting in July, the first string of the buoys will be located near Eagle Pass, an area now known for migrant crossings.
The project is expected to cost nearly $1 million, as indicated by Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Abbott said, “We can put mile after mile of these buoys.”
However, such a plan could have detrimental effects on Texas-Mexico relations. On Twitter, American Immigration Council Policy Director Aaron Reichlin-Melnick warned that, due to the flow of the river, the border line may shift from day to day and the buoys could potentially end up on Mexican territory, raising questions of state sovereignty.
Meanwhile, the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), which works with Mexico to regulate activity along the Rio Grande, said the announcement caught them by “surprise.” Frank Fisher, spokesperson for the IBWC, said that his organization is “studying what Texas is proposing.”
The floating barriers join other enforcement-focused practices by the Texas government, like the deployment of National Guard members and state police to the border, as well as the spreading of concertina wire along the banks of the Rio Grande. Even so, border management and enforcement fall within the jurisdiction and responsibility of the federal government.
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, June 20 through Friday, June 23, 2023.
UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS
Here, we round up congressional hearings and markups happening in the field or in Washington.
Res. 461 – Condemning the use of elementary and secondary school facilities to provide shelter for aliens who are not admitted to the United States
Date: Tuesday, June 20 at 3:00 p.m. EST (House Rules Committee)
Location: H-313, Capitol, Washington, D.C.
Date: Wednesday, June 21 at 10:00 a.m. EST (House Homeland Security Committee)
Location: 310 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, D.C.
Date: Thursday, June 22 at 10:30 a.m. EST (Senate Foreign Relations Committee)
Location: 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.
The Honorable Cynthia Dyer, Ambassador-at-Large, Office to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking, United States Department of State
Johnny Walsh, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance, United States Agency for International Development
Date: Thursday, June 22 at 2:00 p.m. EST (U.S. Helsinki Commission)
Location: 106 Dirksen Senate 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.
Congressional Research Service (CRS); Immigration 101: Executive Branch Agencies Involved with Immigration; Published June 7, 2023
This report provides a brief overview of the agencies involved in U.S. immigration services and enforcement, and the roles they play.
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 bill summary details provisions in the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act, including key differences between the House and Senate versions.
This report provides a general overview and analysis of USCIS naturalization backlogs looking at historic trends, contributing factors, and staffing levels, as well as examining USCIS’s record on responding to past backlogs. It concludes by providing proposals to make the processing of naturalization applications more efficient and setting a goal to timely reduce and eliminate the naturalization backlog.
This bill summary provides an overview of a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-Florida), which couples heightened border security measures with legal pathways.
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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.