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Legislative Bulletin — Friday, June 2, 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. 

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. 

Legal 

DACA Hearing in Texas Represents Latest Chapter in Years-long Court Saga Amid Congressional Inaction 

On June 1, the drawn-out court saga around Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) took its latest turn during a hearing in Texas, where attorneys laid out their arguments around whether the Biden administration’s new federal regulation bolstering the program can withstand legal scrutiny. 

DACA is an Obama-era policy that exercises discretion to allow Dreamers — immigrants brought to the United States unlawfully as children — to live and work without the fear of deportation. But U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen previously found that the program was illegal in a decision that has shuttered access to new applicants and caused widespread uncertainty among Dreamers as they try to plan their futures. 

On Thursday, attorneys for the nine states trying to end DACA — Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and West Virginia — called on Hanen to similarly declare DACA unlawful despite the Biden administration’s recent use of the formal regulatory process

DACA’s detractors argued in part that unauthorized immigrants cost their states hundreds of millions of dollars in health care, education, and other services. But defenders of the policy noted a complete lack of evidence that those alleged costs are related to DACA recipients specifically and said the states lack standing to sue. 

Attorneys advocating for DACA also asked Hanen to only shut down parts of the program that he finds illegal — if any — as opposed to gutting the whole policy. 

“We should not be in court, at all, having to defend DACA,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Hanen did not rule immediately following the hearing, but he said he would do so “as expeditiously as we can.” Ultimately, the case is expected to end up in front of the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, in Congress, a number of compromises to legislate a more permanent solution for Dreamers do not appear to have garnered the momentum or political will needed to move forward yet, even as DACA continues to face an existential threat in the courts, CQ Roll Call reports

As of December, over 580,000 people were enrolled in DACA — a population that typically does not have access to other immigration pathways so they can live and work legally in the U.S., where they grew up. Some DACA recipients have become so disheartened that they are turning to other countries like Canada for a new home after waiting for years to see if Congress would resolve the uncertainty they experience every day.

Federal 

USCIS Processing Times for Asylum Seekers’ Work Permits Improve

After months of dismal compliance rates around a court-mandated 30-day timeline for asylum seekers’ work permit processing, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) made headway in April, processing over 44% of applications within the designated time period. 

Already, asylum seekers are not eligible for employment authorization until their asylum applications have been pending for at least 180 days. But USCIS processing delays have forced many asylum seekers to wait far longer than those initial six months to secure permission so they can work legally in the U.S. while their cases proceed through a backlogged adjudication. 

The U.S.’s employment authorization practices for asylum seekers have come under intense scrutiny in recent months, as local and state officials have urged federal policymakers to expedite access to and eligibility for these much-needed work permits. 

Once asylum seekers receive employment authorization, they are able to fill critical labor shortages in key industries across the country, while relying less on service providers and government entities for support. But delays — both for eligibility and processing — are getting in the way of people’s desire to be self-sufficient. 

“They’re ready to work, they’re willing to work, and they’re not able to work,” said New York Gov. Kathy Hochul. 

A number of congressional proposals, including the Border Management, Security, and Assistance Act of 2023 and various iterations of the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act of 2023, aim to remedy some of these issues. 

First Regional Processing Centers to Begin Accepting Appointments on June 12

On June 1, the United States and Guatemala announced that appointments for a six-month pilot of the new Safe Mobility Offices would be available online at movilidadsegura.org starting on June 12. 

The pilot program is part of the Biden administration’s initiative to erect brick-and-mortar regional processing centers across the Western Hemisphere, where migrants and asylum seekers can be screened for legal immigration pathways to the U.S. and elsewhere without making the dangerous journey to the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Previously, the U.S. had signaled plans to eventually erect around 100 of these processing centers, deploying federal personnel from the Departments of State and Homeland Security to work alongside staff from the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Both Guatemala and Colombia had been floated as locations for initial sites, where migrants could be screened for potential pathways to the U.S., Canada, and Spain. 

The new online webpage for these Safe Mobility Offices says that potential pathways for applicants could include refugee resettlement, humanitarian parole for certain nationalities, family reunification, and temporary work opportunities. 

The new regional processing centers debut even as the number of unauthorized migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border have reached a comparative low for the Biden administration. The precipitous decline in migrant crossings since the end of the Title 42 public health order — from over 10,000 to barely 3,000 a day — is being attributed to a melange of policy changes and other temporary factors.

But in Congress, this relative calm on the U.S. side of the border has not completely quelled attempts to pass hardline, enforcement-only legislation. An amendment trying to attach the border security and immigration package passed by the House last month, H.R. 2, to a debt ceiling deal in the Senate ultimately failed Thursday. Undeterred, and despite preliminary signs that the Biden administration’s current border policies are having their intended effects, lawmakers have scheduled hearings for next week to focus on “the border crisis” and “DHS’ failure to prepare for the termination of Title 42.” 

U.S. Border Patrol Chief to Retire at End of June 

On May 30, news broke that U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz will retire at the end of June after devoting more than three decades of his career to the agency.  

In a letter to Border Patrol employees, Ortiz wrote, “I leave at ease, knowing we have a tremendous uniformed and professional workforce, strong relationships with our union partners, and outstanding leaders who will continue to tirelessly advocate for you each day.” 

Ortiz has led the Border Patrol since 2021 and has seen the agency through many challenges — including most recently the expiration of the Title 42 public health order.  

In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas praised what he perceived as Ortiz’s devotion to duty. “He is the model of a law enforcement leader,” said Mayorkas. “The Border Patrol is stronger, and our nation is more secure, thanks to his leadership. I will miss his candor, our thought partnership, and our friendship.”  

Trump Threatens to End Birthright Citizenship If Re-Elected President 

On May 30, the former president, Donald Trump, announced that if re-elected in 2024, he will sign an executive order on day one ending birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants and people in the U.S. short-term.

The extreme proposal — which legal scholars have panned as likely unconstitutional — would deny U.S. citizenship to a child born here, unless at least one parent were an American citizen or lawful permanent resident. 

“I think it’s pretty clear that, for political purposes, he thinks that this kind of announcement will appeal to his base. It shows that he has anti-immigration credentials. And most of his voters don’t know or don’t care about whether such an executive order would be legal,” Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University, told CBS News. 

The U.S. Constitution‘s fourteenth amendment clearly says that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States,” with no caveats about a parent’s immigration status. But anti-immigrant advocates have long decried birthright citizenship as a supposed pull factor for unauthorized migration and so-called “birth tourism,” using the pejorative of “anchor babies” to construct fallacies around American children as pawns for their unauthorized immigrant parents to benefit by proxy. 

In reality, undocumented parents often face significant hurdles to deriving U.S. citizenship from their American kids — including decades-long waits before they’re even eligible — and mixed-status families endure tremendous uncertainty plus overwhelming fear of family separation by deportation as they navigate the U.S.’s broken immigration system. 

Preliminary Report on the Death of 8-Year-Old Girl in CBP Custody Shows Negligence of Authorities

On June 1, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility (CBP-OPR) published an update on the investigation of the death of an 8-year-old migrant girl in CBP custody in Harlingen, Texas. The investigation mainly based on interviews due to alleged problems with the closed-circuit television recording system highlights that despite the girl having a high fever (which reached 104.9 degrees), flu-like symptoms, nausea, and pain, the medical personnel at the detention center refused to transfer her to a hospital for high-level care.

The report notes that the girl and her mother had at least nine interactions with medical personnel after the girl’s symptoms started. Instead of transferring the girl to a hospital, they only gave fever-reducing, nausea, and flu medications, as well as a cold shower. After having a seizure, the girl was transferred to the hospital, where she was declared deceased one hour later.

According to the report, the closed-circuit television recording capabilities of the facility have been restored, and CBP-OPR’s investigation of the case is still ongoing.

State and Local 

Restrictive Bill Fails in Texas, Gov. Abbott Immediately Calls Special Session

On May 29, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott immediately called a special session of the state legislature after lawmakers failed to enact a number of priorities during the regular legislative session, including a restrictive immigration bill that would have created a state border police force

The defeated bill, HB 7, passed both chambers of the Texas legislature. But in the last days of the regular session, lawmakers were unable to reconcile differences in their versions, including amendments in the state Senate to impose a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for human smugglers. 

Abbott has now promised to call multiple special sessions, where he gets to set the agenda for lawmakers. During the first, which began at 9 p.m. Monday evening, one of the agenda items includes “legislation solely for the purpose of increasing or enhancing the penalties of certain criminal conduct involving the smuggling of persons or the operation of a stash house.” 

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 here. 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 Tuesday, June 6 through Friday, June 9, 2023. 

The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session Monday, June 5 through Thursday, June 8, 2023.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

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

Help Wanted: Law Enforcement Staffing Challenges at the Border

Date: Tuesday, June 6, 2023, at 10:00 a.m. EST (House Committee on Oversight and Accountability)  

Location: 2154 Rayburn, Washington, D.C.

Witnesses: TBA

Examining DHS’ Failure to Prepare for the Termination of Title 42

Date: Tuesday, June 6, 2023 at 2:00 p.m. EST (House Homeland Security Committee)

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

Witnesses: TBA

Examining the Fiscal Year 24 Bureau of Consular Affairs Budget

Date: Wednesday, June 7, 2023 at 2:00 p.m. EST (House Foreign Affairs Committee)  

Location: RHOB 2154, Washington, D.C.

Witnesses: 

The Honorable Rena Bitter, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State

The Border Crisis: Is the Law Being Faithfully Executed? 

Date: Wednesday, June 7, 2023 at 2:00 p.m. EST (House Judiciary Committee)  

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

Witnesses: TBA

Transnational Criminal Organizations: The Menacing Threat to the U.S. Homeland

Date: Wednesday, June 7, 2023 at 2:00 p.m. EST (House Homeland Security Committee)

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

Witnesses: TBA

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. 

DHS’s Office of Inspector General (OIG); Results of Unannounced Inspections of CBP Holding Facilities in the Rio Grande Valley Area; May 24, 2023

This report documents findings from unannounced inspections of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, including compliance issues with general standards and limitations on the amount of time migrants can be held. 

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO); Information Technology: DHS Needs to Continue Addressing Critical Legacy Systems; May 31, 2023

This report analyzes the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) legacy IT systems, modernization plans, and progress on those modernizations. 

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: 

The DIGNITY Act: Bill Summary

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. 

Statement for the Record U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary Hearing on “The Biden Border Crisis: Part III” — May 23, 2023

This Statement for the Record explores the current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border as a symptom of our country’s larger broken immigration system, with an eye toward solutions. 

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.

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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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