Legislative Bulletin – Friday, June 5, 2020

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.3599

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act

The bill would recapture 40,000 unused visas and use them to provide additional green cards to 25,000 physicians and 15,000 professional nurses. The visas would not count towards the annual limit and would be recaptured from a pool of over 200,000 employment-based visas left unused between 1992 and 2020. The bill would target mainly healthcare workers and their families already in the green card backlog, and would require an employer attestation that the new workers would not displace current U.S. workers. The bill would allow the new green cards to be issued until 90 days after the declaration of a national emergency pertaining to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is ended. The bill is a companion bill to H.R. 6788.

Sponsored by Senator David Perdue (R-Georgia) (25 cosponsors – 12 Democrats, 12 Republicans, 1 Independent)

05/05/2020 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Perdue

05/05/2020 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives will be in session the week of Monday, June 8, 2020.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

There are no immigration-related hearings or markups scheduled the week of Monday, June 8, 2020.

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Federal

Federal Immigration Agencies Involved in Response to George Floyd Protests

On June 1, top officials in U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed that the agencies were sending personnel and enforcement resources around the country to “assist law enforcement partners” in response to protests over the death of George Floyd. CBP involvement in the protests reportedly began as early as May 29, when the agency diverted a border surveillance drone to fly over ongoing protests in Minneapolis. Neither CBP nor ICE provided specifics on the number of agents or the level of resources deployed as part of the effort. Both agencies announced they would not be conducting immigration enforcement at the protests.

Critics of the agencies’ involvement noted that their participation would serve only to erode, rather than promote, community trust in local law enforcement. In a June 2 statement, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that “ICE and CBP should be kept off our streets – not sent into local situations that require restraint and are beyond their purpose.”

Some beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program have expressed fears that their involvement in the protests could lead to arrests and subsequent loss of protections. On June 1, three DACA recipient protestors were arrested in Phoenix, two of whom were transferred to ICE custody before being released.

Significant COVID-19 Outbreaks Seen in ICE Detention Facilities

According to the latest ICE data, significant outbreaks of COVID-19 are continuing to occur at multiple immigration detention facilities. On June 3, the data confirmed a new outbreak in a processing center in Aurora, Colorado, with 11 immigrant detainees and at least five staff testing positive. On May 31, the 3,060-bed La Palma Correctional Center near Eloy, Arizona became the site of a major outbreak, with at least 76 detainees testing positive for the virus. ICE data indicates that as of June 3, 1,595 detainees have tested positive out of 3,113 total tests. Positive cases have been reported at 55 ICE detention facilities.

In a June 2 Senate Judiciary Hearing on conditions in incarceration and detention during the COVID-19 pandemic, an independent doctor who had formerly been contracted by DHS to advise on detention health conditions expressed concern over the lack of precautions taken by ICE detention facilities in response to the pandemic. The doctor also advised that ICE implement a more comprehensive testing regime and that the agency suspend the transfer of detainees between facilities.

Trump Issues Proclamation Suspending Entry of Some Chinese Graduate Students

On May 29, President Trump issued a proclamation suspending the entry of certain new graduate students from the People’s Republic of China. The suspension applies only to those Chinese graduate students and researchers who are currently participating or have previously participated in the Chinese government’s “military-civil fusion strategy.” The suspension would not impact current Chinese students or anyone who is a U.S. lawful permanent resident (LPR), a direct family member of an LPR, or anyone whose entrance is deemed to be in the public interest. The proclamation asserts that it is intended to protect against the “acquisition of sensitive United States technologies and intellectual property.”

At least in the immediate future, the order is unlikely to make a significant impact, as international students currently living in the U.S. will not be affected and the processing of most new visas is already suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the order has been put in place indefinitely and could ultimately affect as many as 3,000 visa applicants each year, or approximately 1% of Chinese international students.

The proclamation comes as the administration prepares to expand various bars on immigrant and nonimmigrant workers. Under its April 22 proclamation suspending some permanent immigration to the U.S., DHS was required to review all temporary nonimmigrant programs and provide recommendations on potential changes by May 22. Having passed this deadline, numerous reports suggested the administration was eyeing further restrictions to temporary guest worker visa programs and Optional Practical Training (OPT), a program which allows international students to stay in the U.S. and work in a field related to their degrees after graduating. On June 2, a group of 21 House Republicans sent a letter to the administration expressing their support for OPT and the value international students bring to the country and the economy.

TRAC Concludes DOJ Immigration Court Data Is Unreliable

On June 3, Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) released a report stating that asylum court data from the Department of Justice’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) is unreliable and deficient. TRAC, a research center which reviews and compiles data on federal immigration enforcement and immigration court activities, announced that it will no longer publish its Immigration Court Asylum Decisions app due to the increasingly unreliable data.

Since October 2019, TRAC has reported growing numbers of missing asylum applications in the data released by EOIR. For these cases, records of individual court cases are present, but information related to an immigrant’s application for relief is missing. In April 2020 alone, 68,282 relief applications that were present in the March 2020 data went missing. TRAC has determined that the volume of missing files discredits the data provided by EOIR.

TRAC has written to EOIR leadership to request an explanation for the missing records, and noted that the lack of transparency concerning these missing asylum records should concern Congress, policymakers, and the public.

OIG Report: CBP Underreported Separations of Asylum-Seeking Families in 2018

A May 29 report by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG), found that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) underreported the extent of separation of asylum-seeking families in mid-2018. The report found that the agency separated at least 60 asylum-seeking families between May and July 2018, significantly higher than the agency’s representation that only 7 such families had been separated by CBP along the southwest border. The OIG reviewed the number of families separated at the height of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy, which was eventually halted after repeated legal challenges and an executive order. The CBP separations of asylum-seeking families represented only a handful of the thousands of migrant children separated from their parents under “zero tolerance.”

The report also found that, while DHS told the public that families seeking asylum at ports of entry would only be separated in extreme circumstances, CBP separated the majority of the asylum-seeking families based solely on prior routine immigration violations, such as a past charge of improper entry. The report found that CBP officials used prior immigration violations to separate more than 40 children, including a 5-month-old infant, from their parents. Echoing an earlier report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the new report also highlights how inconsistent recordkeeping by CBP has impeded the government’s ability to reunify separated families. CBP was reportedly aware as early as November 2017 that its tracking system was both deficient and underutilized.

DACA Decision Looms During Final Month of Supreme Court Hearings 

With the U.S. Supreme Court expected to issue a decision on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in the coming weeks, many DACA recipients have begun preemptively renewing their 2-year work authorizations in the hopes that they will be allowed to keep their status for the length of the renewal. While a ruling against DACA could potentially end the program and its protections immediately, the Court could alternatively permit a phase-out of the program, allowing for Dreamers to retain their protections until their current work authorizations expire.

A decision appears to be imminent, with the Court releasing new decisions weekly, typically on Mondays. In recent years, the Court has released all pending decisions before their summer recess at the end of June, but the COVID-19 pandemic could alter that schedule. According to a June 4 report, the uncertainty is taking a mental and emotional toll on DACA recipients, who wake up each morning unsure if they will still have protection from deportation or authorization to work by the end of the day.

DACA is aimed at protecting qualifying undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, temporarily shielding them from deportation and providing them work authorization with possible renewal every two years.

Legal

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Appeals Process for Those Fleeing Torture

In a 7-2 decision on June 1, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that immigrants requesting relief from removal under the international Convention Against Torture (CAT) have the right to judicial review of their cases. The Court ruled that Congress has not explicitly precluded judicial review for CAT orders, as it has done for certain other final orders of removal. Justice Kavanaugh, writing for the majority, stated that “it is not the proper role of the courts to rewrite the laws passed by Congress.”

Under the CAT, noncitizens may not be deported to countries where they demonstrate a likelihood of being tortured. In this case, the petitioner, Nidal Khalid Nasrallah, was first granted CAT relief preventing his removal to Lebanon, where he feared torture due to his membership in the Druze religious minority. After this decision was reversed by the Board of Immigration Appeals, Nasrallah sought judicial review of the case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. However, the Eleventh Circuit declined to review the challenge, arguing that the circumstances of the case precluded judicial review.

State and Local

Connecticut Launches Public-Private Relief Fund for Immigrants and Others During COVID-19

On June 3, Governor Ned Lamont (D-Connecticut) announced the formation of a COVID-19 relief fund for vulnerable communities hit hardest by the virus, including undocumented immigrants. The fund, supported by the State of Connecticut and a number of philanthropic organizations, seeks to provide relief to those who have been “excluded from existing federal relief programs.” Previous congressional COVID-19 stimulus packages, including the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, excluded undocumented and mixed status families, even those who paid taxes, from stimulus checks and unemployment insurance. Regarding the new public-private fund, Governor Lamont said, “to these residents of Connecticut, I want you to know that you are not forgotten.”

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

Office of the Inspector General: CBP Separated More Asylum-Seeking Families at Ports of Entry Than Reported and for Reasons Other Than Those Outlined in Public Statements; May 29, 2020

This report looks into the extent to which U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field Operations (OFO) personnel were separating families seeking asylum at ports of entry. The commission found that a larger number of asylum-seeking families had been separated than had initially been reported by CBP OFO. Furthermore, CPB officials stated that staff did not consistently use the data system’s field for separated children, resulting in potentially more families being separated than those that were identified. The report recommended that CBP complete its data assessment to identify all families separated since Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, which CBP agreed to do.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

“Silence is No Longer an Option” – Statement on Racial Justice

This statement from National Immigration Forum President and CEO Ali Noorani recognizes the systemic injustices faced by communities of color, celebrates the peaceful protestors calling for change, and commits to standing in opposition to racial injustice and with all those pressing for solutions.

Factsheet: International Students

This fact sheet provides demographic details on international students and describes the opportunities and challenges they face while looking for work after graduation. The resource also notes the economic contribution of international students, and discusses how U.S. policy towards international graduates compares to other countries with competitive higher educational institutions.

DACA in the Supreme Court: An Urgent Solution is Needed

This infographic highlights the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the urgency for Congress to pass a permanent, legislative solution to protect Dreamers.

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*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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