Legislative Bulletin — Friday, June 18, 2021

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

S.2083

Honoring Our Promises through Expedition (HOPE) for Afghan SIVs Act of 2021

The bill would expedite the immigration process for Afghan interpreters and translators that assisted U.S. forces in Afghanistan by waiving the requirement to undergo a medical exam for individuals who are otherwise eligible for special immigrant status. The bill would ensure that Afghan SIVs receive medical examinations as soon as possible after being admitted to the United States. This bill is a companion to H.R. 3385.

Sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) (1 cosponsor — 1 Democrat, 0 Republicans)

06/16/2021 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Cornyn

06/16/2021 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 3850

Protect Women’s and Girls’ Rights in Afghanistan Act

The bill would safeguard the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces. It would create a monitoring system to keep the U.S. informed on the Afghan government’s ability to guarantee basic human rights for women, including health care, education and employment opportunities. The bill would deny economic aid to the Afghan government if minimum standards of treatment for women and girls are not upheld. This bill is a companion to S.1642.

Sponsored by Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Michigan) (1 cosponsor — 1 Republican, 0 Democrats)

06/11/2021 Introduced in the House by Representative Slotkin

06/11/2021 Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs

H.R. 3881

To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to protect the well-being of soldiers and their families, and for other purposes

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-California) (0 cosponsors)

06/14/2021 Introduced in the House by Representative Thompson

06/14/2021 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 3897

Returning Worker Exception Act of 2021

The bill would reform the H-2B program by exempting returning workers from the numerical cap of 66,000. The bill would also allow the Department of Labor (DOL) to investigate and take action to ensure compliance with the H-2B program by establishing a complaint process and authorizing DOL to impose remedies for violations, including temporary or permanent disqualification from the program.

Sponsored by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) (6 cosponsors — 4 Republicans, 2 Democrats)

06/15/2021 Introduced in the House by Representative Cuellar

06/15/2021 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Education and Labor

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate will be in session the week of Monday, June 21, 2021.

The U.S. House will be in session from Tuesday, June 22, 2021 to Friday, June 25, 2021.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

Honoring Veterans and Military Families: An Examination of Immigration and Citizenship Policies for U.S. Military Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families

Date: Wednesday, June 23, 2021 at 2:30 pm ET (Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety)

Location: Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 226

Witnesses: TBA

Oh, Canada! How Outdated U.S. Immigration Policies Push Top Talent to Other Countries

Date: Thursday, June 24, 2021 at 2:00 pm ET (House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship)

Location: Rayburn House Office Building Room 2141

Witnesses: TBA

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Federal

Senate Marks DACA Program Anniversary with Hearing on Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status Holders

On June 15, congressional lawmakers, administration officials, and immigration advocates commemorated the ninth anniversary of the implementation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) with a series of actions on Dreamers.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Dream and Promise Act, which passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support in March. During the hearing, Democrats called for the swift passage of the House bill, which would provide a path to permanent lawful status for Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders.  Many Republicans raised concerns about the current situation at the U.S-Mexico border and the overall size of the population covered in the Dream and Promise Act. Several senators on the committee had taken part in ongoing bipartisan discussions on a potential immigration compromise the previous week. Senators in that bipartisan group reportedly discussed a legislative solution for Dreamers as well as provisions addressing the border. During the June 15 hearing, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) called the discussions “a good faith effort to try to find some common ground on a very challenging situation.”

While bipartisan conversations continue, some Senate Democrats have floated including immigration reforms in an upcoming Democratic-sponsored reconciliation package as a way to pay for infrastructure improvements, which would allow Democrats to avoid the Senate filibuster and pass legislation with a simple majority.

Also on June 15, Vice President Kamala Harris, along with Senators Durbin and Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), met with six DACA recipients and TPS holders who were essential care workers. In the meeting, Harris said that, “This administration fully intends to do everything in our power to protect our Dreamers.”

The actions come as a federal court in Texas could issue a decision in a case on the legality of DACA at any time. A representative for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), which is representing DACA recipients in the case, reportedly said a ruling could come “any day now.” In the meantime, many DACA applicants have faced lengthy processing delays, spurring a group of Senate Democrats to send a letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) inquiring about the long wait times.

U.S. Improves Access to Work Permits for Immigrant Crime Victims

On June 14, USCIS released a policy update aiding immigrants who are waiting for U visas, which are provided to victims of certain crimes who have been helpful to authorities in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. The new policy aims to broaden access to work authorization and deportation relief for thousands of U visa applicants whose claims are found to be bona fide or made in good faith.

U visas allow immigrants access to work authorization and the option of applying for permanent residence after three years. Even before some applicants receive the visa, they can receive conditional approval and access to a work permit. However, with the number of U visas limited to 10,000 per year and demand far outstripping supply, the backlog has ballooned in recent years, reaching nearly 269,000. Processing delays mean it takes an average of four years for applicants to even receive conditional approval. The new policy will allow for these individuals to access work authorization far earlier in the process.

In the statement, USCIS referred to the policy as one of many initiatives “designed to eliminate complex, costly, and unjustified administrative burdens and barriers.” The policy will go into effect immediately, although it is not yet clear how many individuals will be able to benefit from it.

U.S. Embassy Pauses Processing of Visas for Afghan Allies as Troop Withdrawal Looms

On June 13, the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan paused visa processing indefinitely due to a COVID-19 outbreak, halting the already-delayed processing of thousands of Afghan interpreters, contractors, and others who have assisted U.S. efforts in the country and face increasing danger as the planned troop withdrawal nears. Most of these Afghan allies are eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), but approximately 18,000 SIV applications remain stuck in the backlog, which is only projected to grow due to lengthy processing delays and the closure of the embassy.

Congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and in both the House and the Senate have repeatedly urged the Biden administration to take action and to evacuate and protect Afghans who have assisted U.S. efforts. Representatives Jason Crow (D-Colorado), Michael Waltz (R-Florida), and others have called upon President Biden to speedily transport Afghan allies to a U.S. territory like Guam to finish their SIV processing. Also, on June 15, Senator Angus King (I-Maine) urged military officials to lend personnel to the State Department to speed up the processing of SIV applications. “This is an emergency, and it needs to be treated as such,” Senator King said.

In response to the concerns surrounding SIV processing and calls for the evacuation of Afghan allies, a representative for the State Department said on June 11, “while troops are planned to leave there in September, the United States will maintain a robust diplomatic presence throughout the U.S. embassy, and our teams in the consular section in Kabul and Washington will continue to process qualified SIV applications, of course, as expeditiously as possible.”

SIVs are provided to individuals and their dependents who have worked for at least two years for the U.S. government, who have received a letter of recommendation from a U.S. citizen supervisor, and who can demonstrate a threat to their life or livelihood on the basis of their assistance to the U.S. government.

Biden Administration Expands Eligibility for Central American Minors Program

On June 15, the Biden administration announced it is planning to expand eligibility under the Central American Minors (CAM) program. The CAM program, first created by the Obama administration in 2014, allows parents with legal status in the U.S. to apply to have their children in El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala to join them in the U.S. if they face threats of violence in their home countries. The program will now be eligible to not just parents but other legal guardians, and eligibility for sponsors has been also been expanded to include those in the U.S. with pending asylum applications or U visa petitions.

The CAM program was terminated by the Trump administration in 2017, but reinstituted by the Biden administration on March 10, 2021. Initially, the Biden administration was only using the program to process those who had pending cases before 2017, but the expanded eligibility announcement signals the administration’s intent to process new cases. Tens of thousands of additional children may now be eligible under the new criteria.

Biden Administration to Return Diverted Border Wall Funding to Department of Defense 

On June 11, the Biden administration shared a plan to return $2.2 billion in previously-diverted funding from Pentagon construction projects, which had been shifted to build the Trump administration’s border wall. The Trump administration diverted around $10 billion in total for barrier construction along the Southwest border, with $3.6 billion coming from Department of Defense construction projects including building and renovating schools for the children of military personnel and addressing safety issues at Navy shipyards.

The Biden administration’s plan to return funding to the Department of Defense does not end all construction along the border, and funding that was appropriated by Congress for border barriers and security will be used to address risks associated with flooding, soil erosion and abandoned construction sites with input from local communities.

In a statement on the plan, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) wrote that, “Building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border and costs American taxpayers billions of dollars is not a serious policy solution or responsible use of federal funds.”

Legal

Attorney General Garland Vacates Trump-Era Asylum Holdings that Prevented Victims of Gang, Domestic Violence from Receiving Protection

On June 16, Attorney General Merrick Garland vacated two Trump-era legal opinions, which made it harder for asylum seekers fleeing gang and domestic violence to access protection in the U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta wrote that Garland’s actions “reflect America’s commitment to providing refuge to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

In one of the Trump-era cases, Matter of A-B- , then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions overruled existing precedent to prevent most victims of domestic violence and gang violence from qualifying for asylum. In the other case, Matter of L-E-A- , then-Attorney General William Barr limited the scope of what constituted membership in a “particular social group” that faced persecution, further scaling back the eligibility of many seeking humanitarian relief.

State and Local

Texas Governor Attempts to Crowdsource Additional Border Wall Construction

On June 16, Governor Greg Abbott (R-Texas) announced his plan to build a border wall along the Texas-Mexico border, financed with a $250 million payment from the state’s general fund, as well as requested donations from private citizens.

The announcement comes amid a series of additional border-related initiatives spearheaded by the governor. Abbott has also said he will deploy more law enforcement officials at the border to help manage the large number of migrants. His plan also includes encouraging local officials to attempt to charge and prosecute migrants with trespassing and other state offenses.

Abbott’s actions are likely to face legal challenges, as the federal government, not states, is primarily tasked with setting and enforcing federal immigration laws and policies. In addition, many sections of land marked for planned construction are privately-owned, which is an obstacle that the Trump administration also faced when attempting to build barriers on the Texas-Mexico border. Abbott said the state would look first for those who want to volunteer their property for wall construction.

Nominations/Personnel

Biden Nominates Secretary Ken Salazar as Ambassador to Mexico

On June 15, the Biden administration announced that Ken Salazar will be nominated to fill the post of United States Ambassador to Mexico. Salazar was previously Secretary of the Interior under the Obama administration, and is a former U.S. Senator and Colorado state attorney general. He was the first Latino elected to statewide office in his home state. Should he be confirmed, Salazar will be responsible for furthering the United States’ relationship with Mexico and Mexican President López Obrador, including on matters relating to immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

Government Accountability Office (GAO): Border Security: CBP’s Response to COVID-19; June 14, 2021

This recently updated report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) summarizes U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP’s) response to COVID-19. GAO reports that normal operations were significantly impacted by the pandemic, but that CBP regularly updated guidance and implemented flexible work schedules and safety precautions. CBP did experience difficulties with providing sufficient telework equipment at some of their field locations.

Congressional Research Service (CRS): Immigration Arrests in the Interior of the United States: A Primer; June 3, 2021

This Legal Sidebar from the Congressional Research Service focuses on the authority of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to arrest and detain foreign nationals. ICE does have legal authority to conduct arrests on foreign nationals who have been marked for deportation. ICE’s enforcement authority has remained consistent through the years, but each new administration brings its priorities and redirects resources to the agency. In temporary guidance, the Biden administration has called for ICE to focus primarily on recent arrivals and foreign nationals who present threats to national security or public safety when making arrests and placing non-citizens in immigration detention.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Fact Sheet: Evacuating Our Allies from Afghanistan

This resource provides background on the Special Immigrant Visa program for Afghan allies who have assisted U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and discusses prior evacuations of U.S. allies in past conflicts.

Fact Sheet: Central American Minors (CAM) Program

This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about the Central American Minors (CAM) program. It describes how the CAM program works and who is eligible, and discusses the impact of the program when it was implemented between 2014 and 2017.

Fact Sheet on VAWA, T Visas and U Visas

This Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force (LEITF) fact sheet provides information and context about visa and status pathways for immigrant victims of crime.

* * *

*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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