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Legislative Bulletin — Friday, March 29, 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

February Border Encounters Remained Relatively Low; Biden and Harris Meet With Guatemala’s Arévalo to Discuss Migration, Democracy

On March 22, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced that the Border Patrol documented 140,644 migrant encounters between ports of entry at the country’s southern border in February — a slight uptick from January’s statistics, but still a relatively modest number under the Biden administration. 

The agency said it had also processed over 42,100 people at ports of entry with appointments through the federal government’s CBP One phone app last month. Since the end of the Title 42 public health order in May, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has removed or returned more than 593,000 people, over 93,000 of whom have been part of a family.

“The majority of all individuals encountered at the southwest border since January 2021 have been removed, returned, or expelled,” CBP said in a press release. 

After some Republicans tanked an immigration deal backed by the White House, and now that numbers at the border have gone down, the Biden administration is reportedly feeling less urgency to take executive action on the issue. But the specter of increased asylum restrictions and other potential policy changes still looms as seasonal trends and chronic global displacement suggest an impending increase in border crossings. 

Meanwhile, on March 25, Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden met with Guatemalan President Bernardo Arévalo at the White House, in part to discuss migration management across Central America. Harris shared that her work in the region had garnered $5.2 billion in commitments from the private sector, according to the Associated Press, while she and Arévalo also talked about the U.S.’s “safe mobility offices” across the Western Hemisphere, including in Guatemala.

Government Funding Passes, Averting Major Shutdown and Providing 12,000 Visas for Afghan Allies 

On March 23, President Joe Biden signed a $1.2 trillion measure to fund major departments within the U.S. government through the end of September, avoiding a long-term shutdown in an election year. 

But even as Congress narrowly averted a funding crisis, Biden called on lawmakers to reconsider other legislation he has deemed as priorities. 

“The House must pass the bipartisan national security supplemental to advance our national security interests,” Biden said in a statement. “And Congress must pass the bipartisan border security agreement, the toughest and fairest reforms in decades, to ensure we have the policies and funding needed to secure the border. It’s time to get this done.”

The enacted spending package includes funds for 2,000 more Border Patrol agents, more money for increased immigration detention, and fewer resources for local communities responding to arriving migrants. 

Helpfully, it also provides 12,000 more Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan allies fleeing the Taliban takeover — lower than the 20,000 visas many policymakers and immigration advocates had asked for, but still a positive development. 

“Well, we promised them, we will get them out. The Afghan partners, the interpreters, we left them behind,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said. “And that’s the biggest sin of the Afghan evacuation. I think the 12,000 SIVs is a great response and a great start to that.”

To do more, lawmakers could pass the Afghan Adjustment Act or similar legislation. 

“The additional Afghan visas are a welcome stopgap measure, but since the budget negotiations are already underway for fiscal year 2025, we call on Congress to continue working to secure protections for vulnerable Afghans who need to seek refuge in the U.S. so that they aren’t living in legal limbo,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Global Refuge.

Senate Prepares to Start Mayorkas Impeachment Trial on April 11

On March 28, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) informing him of  the lower chamber’s intent to present impeachment articles against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on April 10. 

In the letter, Speaker Johnson and eleven of his House Republican colleagues requested the Senate to hold a trial against Mayorkas as soon as possible. In response, Schumer announced that jurors for the trial would be sworn in the day after the upper chamber receives the articles of impeachment. Senate President Pro Tempore Patty Murray (D-Washington) will preside over the trial.

Johnson’s letter came more than six weeks after the House of Representatives voted 214-213 to impeach Mayorkas. The impeachment — opposed by all Democrats and three House Republicans — charged the DHS secretary with willfully refusing to enforce immigration laws and court rulings around immigration detention.

Mayorkas’s Impeachment a process reserved for high crimes and misdemeanors has been criticized by national security leaders and legal scholars as an attempt to resolve a policy dispute with a constitutional punishment. Even Republican Senators have expressed skepticism over the process. Impeaching a cabinet secretary is rare, and Mayorkas is the first to have had it happen since 1876.

Six Immigrant Workers Missing or Dead After Bridge Collapse

Early on March 26, a cargo ship rammed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, devastating the loved ones of six immigrant construction workers whose bodies have since been found or who are now presumed dead. 

The men were fathers, breadwinners, soccer lovers, and valued community members, who withstood the overnight shift repairing potholes and masonry for a better life. They came to the U.S. from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, though many of them had lived stateside for years.

Maynor Suazo Sandoval, one of the victims, never stopped showing his love for the people he knew back home in Honduras, whom he called for baptisms and weddings and sent cakes to on birthdays. 

“We’re distraught. We’re hurt. It’s the kind of tragic death you never imagine,” said Hector Guardado, Suazo Sandoval’s nephew. “Living so far away, there’s only so much you can do.”

The tragedy has drawn renewed attention to the vulnerabilities and dangers immigrants — and especially Latino immigrants — face on the job in the U.S.

“We leave with so many dreams,” said Maritza Guzman de Villatoro, who lost her brother-in-law and husband to a similar workplace accident. “Here, immigrants have the hardest times and do the hardest jobs, and then we’re the first to break.”

State and Local

Massachusetts Sets Shelter Limits for Unhoused Families

On March 21, the Massachusetts Senate greenlit new limits on the right to shelter for unhoused families in the state, and the bill will now head to a conference committee before making it to the governor’s desk.

Under the legislation, many families in Massachusetts will be able to stay in emergency shelters for at most nine months, with some exceptions for veterans, pregnant people, and others working toward independence. 

At the same time, Gov. Maura Healey’s (D) administration has gone public with new one-month limits for the state’s overflow sites, where families are waiting to be accommodated within the more stable emergency shelter system. Families may be able to stay in the safety-net shelters longer if they document how they’re moving toward self-sufficiency through case management, work authorization applications, workforce training, English coursework, and other metrics.

Georgia Pushes Anti-Immigrant State Legislation After Laken Riley’s Death

On March 21, the Georgia Senate passed two immigration-related bills already advanced by the state House, which would expose local governments and law enforcement to severe penalties — including loss of funding — unless they abided by strict new rules around immigration enforcement. 

One of the proposals, H.B. 301, would bar “any regulation, rule, policy, or practice adopted by a local governing body which prohibits or restricts local officials or employees from communicating or cooperating with federal officials or law enforcement officers with regard to reporting immigration status information,” at least in the scope of their official responsibilities. It would allow any Georgia resident to bring an action in court against local officials around “any sanctuary policy,” with state and some federal funding on the line. 

The other piece of legislation, H.B. 1105, would trump up local law enforcement cooperation with federal authorities, in a move that could undermine community trust. 

“It’s not about making Georgians safer,” Jerry Gonzalez, CEO of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, told NPR. “The issue is about using an opportunistic situation to target wholesale an immigrant and Latino community, and that’s really divisive, and it’s dangerous politics they’re playing.”

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 the week of Monday, April 1, 2024.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

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

No relevant hearings have been announced for the week of April 1, 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.

Congressional Research Service (CRS); FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program (IHP) — Implementation and Considerations for Congress; Updated March 22, 2024

This report considers the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Individuals and Households Program, including its restrictions on which noncitizens can access much-needed disaster recovery resources.

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: 

Environmental Migration: Finding Solutions for the 21st Century

This new paper explores environmental migration as a potential method of adaptation. First, it analyzes environmental migration as a phenomenon, focused on some of the nuances that make weather- and climate-related forces complicated yet influential factors in the decision to move. Then, it considers existing international mechanisms and U.S. laws that could potentially relate to environmental migration. It briefly discusses how immigrant and diasporic communities are especially vulnerable to environmental harms, even after they have already migrated. Finally, it concludes with policy recommendations on how the U.S. (and other countries) could effectively respond to environmental migration in the 21st century.  

Still More Room to Grow: Immigrants Can Reverse the U.S. Population Decline and Its Economic Consequences

In 2024, the United States continues to face significant demographic challenges. Propelled by falling birth rates, the U.S. population is rapidly aging and population growth is steadily declining. In turn, the country is experiencing economic and social pressures caused by labor shortages. This article provides a follow-up to “Room to Grow,” a 2021 white paper where the National Immigration Forum proposed a methodology that showed that the country needed a 37% increase in net immigration levels over those projected for fiscal year 2020 (approximately 370,000 additional immigrants a year) to prevent the U.S. from falling into demographic deficit and socioeconomic decline.

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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