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Legislative Bulletin — Friday, June 21, 2024

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.

Federal

Biden Announces New Protections for Families, Dreamers

On June 18, roughly 12 years after the Obama administration debuted its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, President Joe Biden announced new executive actions to keep American families together and protect Dreamers. 

For one, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) publicized a new process officials are developing to open the door for undocumented spouses of American citizens who have been in the U.S. for a decade or longer to access green cards for which they’re already eligible, without first leaving the country and triggering potential bars on re-entry. 

Around 500,000 spouses and 50,000 stepchildren of U.S. citizens may qualify for this pathway to lawful permanent residence, which will allow them to live and work legally stateside for up to three years while they apply for green cards. 

The administration also announced it would clarify and enhance existing guidance around waivers that would let undocumented professionals and DACA recipients more easily access certain employment-based visas, if they have graduated from an accredited U.S. institution of higher education. 

Taken together, these actions could make it possible for people who are already here and contributing to obtain a more secure legal status that gives them and their families greater certainty and stability.

“We are pleased to see the Biden administration consider action to keep families together and provide additional opportunities for Dreamers. We continue to urge Congress to pass permanent solutions, which is the only way to guarantee enduring relief for these populations,” said Jennie Murray, President and CEO of the National Immigration Forum. 

On that note, the policies may have to withstand legal challenges, as America First Legal has already threatened to sue.   

Deaths at Border Amid New Restrictions, Sweltering Heat 

On June 20, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released monthly data indicating that Border Patrol agents made 503 migrant rescues in May — a 22% increase from April, even as the number of irregular border crossings decreased 9% to around 117,900. 

On May 31 alone, the El Paso Times reports, border officials responded to six heat-related emergencies in six hours, all involving migrants.

More recently, on Wednesday, Mexican authorities saved six dehydrated migrants in the desert and found a seventh dead — a young man from Mexico, according to Border Report. 

On June 19, Reuters reported that “about one migrant a day has died from the heat in the last week in the El Paso sector,” amid unseasonably high temperatures often in the triple digits. 

Some policy experts also point to the Biden administration’s increase in border restrictions as a contributing factor in the deaths, as migrants take more dangerous routes to reach the U.S. and avoid being quickly deported or returned to Mexico. A months-long Mexican crackdown on migrants in transit to the U.S. may also be having an effect. 

“Migrants are being killed by the policies of not only the United States but Mexico,” said Alan Lizarraga from the Border Network for Human Rights. 

U.S. Commemorates World Refugee Day 

On June 20, the global community commemorated World Refugee Day, even as the number of forcibly displaced people fleeing violence, instability, persecution, and other dangers around the world had risen to a staggering 117.3 million by the end of last year. 

Amid so much suffering and need for more permanent solutions, the U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR, called for solidarity with refugees during this year’s anniversary. Meanwhile, members of Congress introduced a resolution “affirming the United States’ commitment to supporting the safety, health, and welfare of refugees and forcibly displaced persons worldwide.”

In a poignant statement, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas shared why World Refugee Day was personal for him.

I arrived in this country with my parents and sister as political refugees, having fled the communist takeover of Cuba in 1960.  My father lost his business, the ability to remain by his ailing mother’s bedside, and the future he had charted for himself and his young family in the country of his birth.  It was the second time my mother had been forced to flee; twenty years earlier, she had fled Eastern Europe to escape the Holocaust. Most of her family had not survived,” Mayorkas said. 

“My parents wanted to raise their children in the land of freedom and opportunity – here, in the United States of America. Our country gave us a new future, just as it has done for so many from across the globe.”

As of May, the eight-month total of refugee arrivals for fiscal year 2024 was 62,537 — an indication that the Biden administration is rebuilding the U.S.’s refugee resettlement infrastructure, though likely also that federal officials won’t hit their target of welcoming 125,000 refugees this year.

For recommendations on how to get more involved in welcoming refugees and other forcibly displaced people, check out the Forum’s blog post from last year on several private sponsorship programs pioneered by the Biden administration.

Legal

Judge Blocks Aggressive Iowa Restrictions in DOJ Lawsuit

On June 17, U.S. District Judge Stephen Locher blocked Iowa’s new law imposing state criminal penalties for “illegal reentry” on immigrants from taking effect on July 1 — an initial victory for the Department of Justice and advocacy groups on the ground. 

The legislation largely mirrors Texas’s Senate Bill 4, a harsh new law whose fate also rests with the courts. Both attempts to effectively impose a state-based immigration enforcement system have been criticized by experts and the federal government as clearly unlawful overreaches. 

“As a matter of politics, the new legislation might be defensible. As a matter of constitutional law, it is not,” Locher wrote.

The preliminary injunction was a welcome development for immigrant communities and those who defend them, as the new law was so sweeping that it could have implicated and criminalized even lawful permanent residents in Iowa.

“The court was right to block this cruel and blatantly unconstitutional law,” said Emma Winger, deputy legal director for the American Immigration Council. “If it had been allowed to go into effect, it would have meant that even people currently living in the U.S. lawfully could have been arrested, imprisoned and forced to leave the country.”

Iowa’s Attorney General has already appealed the decision.

Hunger Striking Venezuelans Allegedly Placed in Solitary Confinement 

On March 7, a group of Venezuelan asylum seekers started a hunger strike at the Otero County Processing Center in southern New Mexico, protesting pressure from officials to return to Mexico, where they could face harm. 

The asylum seekers who staged the strike said they were placed in solitary confinement as retaliation by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), the private company running the detention center. The asylum seekers said multiple people were placed in a single solitary cell, two meters long and three steps wide. 

On May 23, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center (LAIAC) and ACLU-New Mexico requested an investigation into the claims made by the asylum seekers, warning that personnel at the facility had violated nine separate U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention standards.

MTC denied that its use of solitary confinement was a form of retaliation against the Venezuelan asylum seekers. 

On June 20, ACLU-New Mexico also requested that ICE investigate the death of Jhon Javier Benavides Quintana, an asylum seeker who died in the Otero County Processing Center earlier this month. Moreover, ACLU-New Mexico asked that ICE halt all incoming transfers into the facility and release those in custody.

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 is not expected to be in session the week of Monday, June 24, 2024.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to be in session from Tuesday, June 25 through Friday, June 28, 2024.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

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

Beyond the Border: Terrorism and Homeland Security Consequences of Illegal Immigration

Date: Thursday, June 27, 2024 at 10:00 a.m. EDT (House Homeland Security)

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

Witnesses: TBA

The Curse of Socialism in Central America and the Caribbean

Date: Thursday, June 27, 2024 at 2:00 p.m. EDT (House Foreign Affairs)

Location: 2172 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Witnesses:

Eric Jacobstein, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Greg Howell, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, U.S. Agency for International Development

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 Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG); ICE’s Risk Classification Assessment Process Was Not Consistently Used to Prevent the Release of High-Risk Individuals; Published June 12, 2024

This report finds that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel often did not do risk classification assessments for detained individuals. And when they did, they didn’t always give clear rationales for not following recommendations from a risk classification assessment.

DHS Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG); CBP and ICE Did Not Have an Effective Process for Detaining and Removing Inadmissible Travelers at an International Airport (REDACTED); Published June 12, 2024

This report indicates that immigration agencies at an international airport did not have a functional process in place to ensure inadmissible travelers returned for removal flights or were processed for immigration court proceedings.

DHS Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG); Results of an Unannounced Inspection of ICE’s Denver Contract Detention Facility in Aurora, Colorado; Published June 12, 2024

This report outlines conclusions from an unannounced inspection of ICE’s Denver Contract Detention Facility in Aurora, Colorado, including compliance issues involving staff-detainee communication and grievance practices. According to the report, facility staff “did not distribute pillows to all incoming detainees, provide equal access to barber services, clarify proper procedures for securely saving legal information on communal computers, and conduct medical screenings prior to assigning classification ratings,” among other concerns.

DHS Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG); Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Funding: CBP Must Improve Processes for Addressing Critical Repairs at CBP-owned Land Ports of Entry; Published June 17, 2024

This report looks at U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) spending of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding and underscores 25 priority, critical, and life safety repairs that were not fixed at land ports of entry.

U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO); K-12 Education: How States Identify English Learners, Including Those with Disabilities; Publicly Released June 17, 2024

This report explores how states are working with  districts and schools to differentiate between English learners and English learners with disabilities. 

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:

Explainer: The Biden Administration’s Announcement to Protect American Families

This explainer provides an overview of President Joe Biden’s executive actions to keep American families together.   

D-3 Waivers for the Three- and Ten-Year Bars of Dreamers

On June 18, 2024, the Biden administration announced administrative actions to make it easier for Dreamers and DACA recipients who have earned a degree at an accredited U.S. institution of higher education to become eligible for work visas in the United States.

Explainer: The Biden Administration’s “Securing the Border” Interim Final Rule and Implementation of Border Policies

This explainer describes the “Securing the Border” interim final rule and its most significant changes to the U.S. asylum system, while providing context on how the policies are being implemented on the ground.

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