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Legislative Bulletin — Friday, March 22, 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. 

Legal 

Texas’s S.B. 4 Currently Paused After SCOTUS, Fifth Circuit Trade Rulings

On March 19, stakeholders endured hours of confusion as Texas’s Senate Bill (S.B.) 4 was permitted to take effect by the U.S. Supreme Court, only to be halted again hours later by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The controversial law currently remains on pause as court challenges to it continue.

S.B. 4 creates new state criminal penalties for irregular border crossings and allows Texas officials to carry out what are effectively deportations. Challengers to the law note that it violates longstanding legal precedents establishing that the federal government – not the states – have exclusive authority to set immigration enforcement policies. Critics have also raised concerns about the prospect of racial profiling and the law’s impact on due process.

A divided Supreme Court gave Texas the go-ahead to enforce S.B. 4 on Tuesday, with the controlling opinion by Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh holding – on narrow procedural grounds – that the Supreme Court could not lift the Fifth Circuit’s temporary stay of a lower court injunction blocking the law. The ruling paved the way for S.B 4 to go into effect. However, the opinion also permitted the Fifth Circuit to restart its proceedings. Later that evening, the Fifth Circuit, by a 2-1 margin, re-paused S.B. 4’s implementation and scheduled a hearing for March 20.

University of Texas at Austin law professor Steve Vladeck called this series of events “indefensibly chaotic,a theme Justice Sonia Sotomayor also stressed in her dissenting Supreme Court opinion. And already, confusion and fear about the law are festering across Texas. 

“Some people say we can be deported. Others say we’ll be arrested if we leave this shelter,” said Maria Alejandra Seijas García, a Venezuelan in El Paso. “It just seems unfair to me. Shouldn’t we be protected if we are in an asylum process?”

On the other side of the border, Mexico has said it will not allow Texas to use S.B. 4 to effectively deport migrants from around the world back to its sovereign territory. “We will not just sit around with our arms crossed,” said Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Supreme Court Opens Door to Circuit Court Review for Hardship Determinations 

On March 19, the Supreme Court decided 6-3 that the Third Circuit had erred in Wilkinson v. Garland, a case involving a parent who applied for cancellation of removal and eventually appealed his immigration judge’s negative determination to the circuit court.

Situ Kamu Wilkinson — who was detained for overstaying his tourist visa — asked for cancellation of removal because his 7-year-old son has a serious medical issue and needs his support. But the immigration judge in Wilkinson’s case felt it didn’t meet the “exceptional and extremely unusual” hardship standard required by the statute, and the Third Circuit later said it didn’t have jurisdiction to review that decision.

In an opinion penned by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the high court disagreed, saying that the immigration judge’s hardship determination was a mixed question of law and fact, which in turn made it reviewable. 

Federal

House Approves Minibus to Fund Government Through September; Senate Races to Act

On March 22, the U.S. House of Representatives advanced a $1.2 trillion appropriations bill to keep the government open through September, even as a possible partial shutdown looms large. 

The legislation would cut funding for local governments and organizations that help newcomers when they first arrive, while upping contributions to Border Patrol to in part hire more agents. It also provides support to tackle the work authorization and affirmative asylum backlogs.

The bill would also significantly increase the number of available U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds. At the same time, it would helpfully include 12,000 new Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan allies. 

The Senate must now approve of the measure in order to avert a partial government shutdown that would involve the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday.

U.S. Considers Using Guantanamo for Migrants as Situation in Haiti Deteriorates 

As gangs have overtaken around 80% of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, U.S. officials are debating how to respond to a potential increase in humanitarian migration from the country in turmoil, where many could possibly flee by sea to try to reach safety in Florida. 

The Biden administration is reportedly considering whether to process Haitian migrants and asylum seekers at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, at a separate facility from where suspected terrorists are held. 

At the same time, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has responded aggressively by sending more than 250 officers and soldiers to Florida’s southern coast. He has also threatened that Haitians who make it to the Florida Keys may be sent to Martha’s Vineyard, in a stunt similar to the one his government pulled in 2022 that earned widespread outcry.

“We cannot have illegal aliens coming to Florida,” DeSantis said in a statement, using dehumanizing rhetoric to describe people escaping Haiti. 

Republican Congress members are also pushing President Biden to use the Navy for maritime interdictions, a move that would further militarize immigration enforcement.

USCIS Reaches 2024 H-2B Cap and Opens Application Period for Supplemental Visas 

On March 8, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reported that the agency had received a sufficient number of petitions needed to reach the congressionally mandated 33,000 H-2B visa regular cap for the second half of fiscal year (FY) 2024. 

However, the agency will begin accepting H-2B petitions to cover the 64,716 supplemental H-2B visas for all FY 2024 announced on November 2023. These supplemental visas are available only to U.S. businesses that would suffer irreparable harm without the ability to employ all the H-2B workers requested in their petition. 

Among the 64,716 supplemental visas, 44,716 are reserved for returning workers regardless of their country of origin. The remaining 20,000 are reserved for workers from Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, and Honduras. 

The H-2B visa is a nonimmigrant work visa that allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs such as landscaping, meatpacking, poultry, fish cutting, forestry, housekeeping, freight, construction, and nonfarm animal caretaking, among others.

Temporary Protected Status Expanded for Noncitizens from Burma

On March 22, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced he was expanding Temporary Protected Status (TPS) eligibility for noncitizens from Burma, allowing around 2,300 current beneficiaries to possibly keep their deportation protections and letting another 7,300 individuals potentially qualify. 

Mayorkas justified this continued support for Burmese people in the U.S. by citing the military coup that overthrew their nation’s government in 2021 and “challenges in the provision of food, access to health care, and economic stability.”

New applicants must have resided in the U.S. since at least March 21. Burmese students on F-1 visas may also be eligible for special relief. 

State and Local

Chicago Slowly Starts Migrant Evictions

On March 17, Chicago started evicting migrants from its shelter system in a haphazard rollout amid freezing weather. 

With a complicated tangle of rules that includes extensions for families and other vulnerable individuals as well as the possibility to reapply for another place to sleep, few if any newcomers were ultimately left unhoused in the first days of the policy change. But the chaos that ensued did send people out on the frigid streets short-term or even got them in trouble at work as they waited to be reassigned a new bed. 

“It cost me so much to find that job,” said Franklin Romero, who lost his position remodeling a home after he was kicked out of his shelter and had to spend the day at an intake center instead. “I don’t even know what to do.”

This despite migrants saying at least one of the shelters where they were staying still had empty cots and rooms, seemingly preempting the need to free up space. 

Florida Implements More Laws Targeting Undocumented Immigrants 

On March 15, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed new restrictive bills into law that go after undocumented immigrants’ ability to survive in the state. 

“We are throwing the book at you, and you are going to regret coming to the state of Florida,” DeSantis said, according to the Florida Phoenix

The new laws create mandatory 10-day jail sentences for repeatedly getting caught driving without a license (or with one that’s no longer valid), trump up criminal penalties affecting some immigrants, and invalidate community-issued ID cards for state and local government purposes.

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 are expected not to be in session from Monday, March 25 through Friday, March 29, 2024.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

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

No relevant hearings or markups have been announced for the week of March 25, 2024. 

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); Results of July 2023 Unannounced Inspections of CBP Holding Facilities in the Rio Grande Valley Area; Published March 15, 2024

This report summarizes observations during unannounced inspections of three U.S. Border Patrol facilities and three Office of Field Operations ports of entry in the Rio Grande Valley. In two of the Border Patrol processing centers, migrants were held longer than the general 72-hour limit. One of those facilities was also over maximum capacity.

U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO); Port Infrastructure: U.S. Ports have Adopted Some Automation Technologies and Report Varied Effects; Published March 19, 2024 

This report considers the use of and activity around automation technology at U.S. ports, including stakeholders’ mixed opinions on their suitability and efficacy.

U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO); Border Security: Border Patrol’s Missing Migrant Program; Published March 20, 2024

This report explores the Missing Migrant Program, and in particular, it spotlights issues and limitations with data collection around migrant deaths and remains.

Congressional Research Service (CRS); DHS Border Barrier Funding Developments: FY2021-FY2024; Published March 20, 2024

This report explores how the Biden administration has broached policies and practices around the construction of border barriers, given existing appropriations and the legacy of the prior administration.

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: 

Border Security and Asylum Reform in the Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2024: Bill Explainer  

This explainer breaks down the major immigration and border policy changes in the bipartisan compromise that was defeated in the Senate.

A Better Way Forward: 2024 Immigration Principles

These principles reflect our deeply rooted values as a nation. We believe these are vital principles for any leader working for an orderly, secure and humane immigration system — especially amid an election year. 

Six Actionable Recommendations to Improve Safety and Wellbeing for Asylum-Seeking Families in the Context of the Biden Administration’s Fast-Tracked Deportations

This position paper details realistic policy changes that the Biden administration could make to help ensure asylum seekers enrolled in the Family Expedited Removal Management (FERM) program have access to a process that is as fair, efficient, and humane as possible in the context of fast-tracked proceedings.

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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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