Legislative Bulletin – Friday, March 27, 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. 3548

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

The bill provides approximately $2 trillion to shield American families and businesses from the financial impact of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak. Concerning immigrants, the direct payments in the bill are only provided to those with Social Security numbers (SSNs) and who have been present in the United States since February 2019. There is a limited exception for those with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) who have a military spouse with an SSN. The bill also includes $350 million for Migration and Refugee Assistance.

Sponsored by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) (6 cosponsors – 6 Republicans, 0 Democrats).

3/19/2020 Introduced in the Senate by Senator McConnell

3/19/2020 Referred to the Senate Committee on Finance

3/26/2020 Passed Unanimously in the Senate

3/27/2020 Passed in the House by Voice Vote

H.R. 6379

Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act

The bill serves as the House response to the Senate’s “Phase 3” COVID-19 stimulus bill. Concerning immigration, the bill would allow states to provide Medicaid to all individuals regardless of immigration status, provide cash rebates to those who file with an Individual Tax Identifier Number (ITIN), and extend work permits for those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary  Protected Status (TPS). The bill also includes $300 million dollars for Migration and Refugee Assistance.

Sponsored by Representative Nita Lowey (D-New York) (9 cosponsors – 9 Democrats, 0 Republicans)

3/23/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Lowey

3/23/2020 Referred to the House Committees on Appropriations, the Budget, and Ways and Means

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

Both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives will be in recess on the week of Monday, March 29, 2020, following the passage of the third Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) stimulus package.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

There are no immigration-related hearings or markups currently scheduled in the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives.

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Federal

Congress Passes Historic Stimulus Package to Assist U.S. Families, Does Not Cover Undocumented Taxpayers

Congress approved a $2 trillion economic stimulus package on March 27 to shield American families and businesses from the financial impact of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The stimulus package provides direct payments to many Americans, expands unemployment insurance, and offers health-care providers and small businesses additional resources. However, the package does not provide aid to most undocumented immigrants in the United States, including those who pay taxes.

The stimulus package provides most adults in the United States with a $1,200 payment, plus $500 for every qualifying child age 16 or under. Under the package, individuals must have a valid Social Security number (SSN) to be eligible for the payment. Undocumented immigrants who file their taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of an SSN are not eligible for the payment. The package also requires everyone in a family to have a valid SSN, likely barring most mixed-status families in the U.S. from receiving a payment, even if some in family are U.S. citizens. The bill exempts military families from the Social Security requirement. Faith leaders argue that excluding undocumented taxpayers from the relief package will prove, “disastrous to them and their families and will have a significant negative impact on the economy.”

The stimulus package also failed to include a provision to automatically extend protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders. USCIS announced on March 18 it will immediately close its offices across the U.S., preventing DACA recipients and TPS holders whose work authorization and deportation protections expire in the next few months from renewing those protections.

The stimulus package also prohibits the Trump administration from reprogramming $10.5 billion in new counter-drug funding to construct physical barriers along the Southern border. The Trump administration has previously reprogrammed funds in this counter-drug account to build physical barriers. The package does not include additional funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

First Case of COVID-19 Confirmed in ICE Detention as Legal Battle Escalates 

On March 24, ICE  announced that an  immigrant in its custody  in a Bergen County, New Jersey detention facility has tested positive for COVID-19, the first confirmed case of an immigrant detainee in the U.S. Multiple other detainees are reportedly being quarantined. More than 19 ICE personnel across the country have also tested positive for the virus, including one who works in a detention facility. On March 20, two DHS medical experts warned lawmakers that detention facility conditions presented a “tinderbox scenario” for the spread of COVID-19, stating that the virus could spread quickly in the facilities and spread to overwhelm nearby hospitals.

Numerous lawsuits been filed across the country demanding the release of migrants from ICE and CBP custody, particularly those who may be most vulnerable to the virus. The results of many of these lawsuits are still pending, but on March 26, a federal judge in New York ordered the immediate release of 10 ICE detainees in New Jersey jails who had underlying health conditions putting them at an increased risk of severe infection. The judge ruled that holding these high-risk detainees constituted “irreparable harm” and therefore warranted their release.

Administration Pauses Court Proceedings for Asylum Seekers; Other Immigration Courts Remain Open

On March 23, the Trump administration moved to postpone all court proceedings for asylum seekers in the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP) program. The Department of Justice (DOJ) had initially postponed all hearings for non-detained individuals, but kept MPP asylum cases and hearings for detained individuals active. The move to pause asylum hearings came in response to repeated calls for the closure of the entire immigration court system in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 15, prosecutors from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Professionals Union joined the immigration judges’ union and a group of immigration defense attorneys to call for the “emergency closure of the nation’s immigration courts in adherence with current public health protocols.”

While MPP hearings have now been paused and the tent courts set up for the managing of MPP asylum cases have now been closed, many immigration courts across the country remain open. As of March 24, the DOJ has closed 13 immigration courts due to positive COVID-19 tests in the court system, leaving over 40 courts still open.

Under MPP, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” asylum seekers are required to wait in Mexico, usually in border towns or tent encampments along the border, while their claims are being processed in the U.S.

Trump Administration Closes U.S.-Mexico Border to Nonessential Travel, Implements Rule to Immediately Return Asylum Seekers

The Trump administration announced on March 20 that it will close the U.S.-Mexico border to all “nonessential travel” in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The directive, which is similar to a protocol implemented at the U.S.-Canada border on March 18, became effective at midnight on March 21. The policy will allow for cargo, trade and healthcare workers to continue crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Ports of entry will also remain open for U.S. citizens, green card holders and some foreign nationals with proper documentation.

CBP also announced on March 20 that it will implement a new rule to immediately return any asylum seeker or other non-citizen trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization. Under the rule, asylum seekers would no longer be taken into CBP custody or given an opportunity to show “credible fear” of returning home. Once apprehended, asylum seekers and other unauthorized immigrants will instead be immediately returned to Mexico. Immigration advocates argued that the new rule will deprive asylum seekers of important due process.

Returning more asylum seekers to crowded camps and shelters on the Mexico side of the border may also increase their vulnerability to a COVID-19 outbreak. The camps and shelters are already at or near capacity due to previous U.S. asylum restrictions like MPP and metering at ports of entry.

Following implementation of the new restrictions, DHS reported on March 22 that unauthorized border crossings from Mexico decreased by half. On March 26, U.S. officials said that the Pentagon is sending up to 1,500 military troops to both the northern and southern borders to assist CBP with the recent closures and restrictions.

Legal Immigrants Face Processing Delays, Risk Losing Status Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

On March 20, the U.S. suspended all routine visa appointments at U.S. embassies and consulates, following the shuttering of domestic USCIS offices on March 18. The closures have caused widespread visa processing delays and may prevent numerous individuals with expiring nonimmigrant visas or work permits from accessing renewal procedures. The suspension of consulate visa activities has delayed temporary farmworkers from coming to work on American farms and foreign doctors from entering the U.S. to help respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, among other delays.

Other individuals who are present in the U.S. but may be unable to renew or adjust their status due to office closures include DACA recipients, Temporary Protected Status holders, H-1B visa holders, and green card applicants.

Legal

Appeals Court Affirms Trump Administration Cannot Withhold Funds from “Sanctuary Cities” in Rhode Island

A federal appeals court in Massachusetts upheld a lower court’s ruling on March 24 that the Department of Justice (DOJ) cannot legally withhold federal funds from the cities of Providence and Central Falls, Rhode Island to compel them to cooperate with federal immigration detainers. The funds at issue come from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, a formula grant which disperses $25 million annually for criminal justice-related activities. The three-judge panel for the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that statute does not allow the DOJ to impose additional conditions on the grant formula to withhold funds from so called “sanctuary jurisdictions.” The court’s decision noted the DOJ cannot, “impose by brute force conditions…on grants to further its own unrelated law enforcement priorities.” The ruling affirmed a lower court’s decision, which instituted an injunction barring the DOJ from placing special conditions on grants to entities in Rhode Island.

The First Circuit’s decision comes after the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on February 26 that the Trump administration can legally withhold funds from “sanctuary jurisdictions.” Advocates and local officials note that withholding funds from localities that implement community trust policies undermines public safety.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

There were no immigration-related government reports published the week of Monday, March 23, 2020.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Experts Call on Trump Administration for Immigration Solutions that Protect American Public From COVID-19

This resource provides a recording and summary of a March 26 National Immigration Forum press call responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The call brought together leading voices in public health, faith, law enforcement and agriculture to urge for common sense responses from the Trump administration and Congressional officials to address the outbreak.

COVID-19 Policy Principles

This page lists the National Immigration Forum’s policy principles in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The resource calls for congressional officials and federal agencies to provide for the health and safety of all people, including vulnerable immigrant populations, in the midst of the pandemic. 

Healthcare Sector: Immigrants are Indispensable to the U.S. Workforce

This fact sheet focuses on immigrants in the U.S. healthcare sector, highlighting key facts about their demographics and role in our workforce. These facts emphasize the role immigrants are playing as first responders as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

* * *

*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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