Legislative Bulletin – Friday, May 10, 2019

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

H.R. ____

United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act

This bill would authorize $557 million in aid in fiscal year (FY) 2020 for the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in part to address the root causes of migration from those countries. The funds could not be reprogrammed, transferred or rescinded.

Sponsored by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas)(6 cosponsors – 2 Republicans, 4 Democrats)

05/09/2019 Introduced in the House by Representative McCaul

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate will be in session the week of Monday, May 13, 2019.

The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Tuesday, May 14, 2019 through Friday, May 17, 2019.

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

There are no immigration-related hearings or markups scheduled for the week of Monday, May 13, 2019.

THEMES IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Federal

White House Working on Merit-Based Immigration Plan 

The White House is reportedly working on an immigration plan, led by senior advisor Jared Kushner, which would focus in part on changing the legal immigration system to establish a merit-based process that gives preference to high-skilled workers rather than family-based migration the U.S. Unlike previous proposals from the White House, the plan would not reduce the total number of immigrants allowed to come permanently to the U.S. each year but would ensure a significant larger proportion of the number is set aside for worker visas, reducing the number of family-based immigrants. Per President Trump’s request, another aspect of the plan would focus on border security, primarily on modernizing ports of entry. In addition, the White House is considering adding a provision to make E-Verify mandatory nationwide, which would require businesses to check the work authorization of their employees. White House senior advisor Stephen Miller is involved in the development of the plan.

On May 7, President Trump invited a dozen Republican Senators, including Sens. David Perdue (R-Georgia), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Martha McSally (R-Arizona), to the White House to brief them on the immigration plan. According to some of the Senators present in the meeting, Kushner presented the broad contours of the plan and President Trump appeared to be largely favorable to the plan. The White House indicated that the plan could evolve based on feedback as they consult various stakeholders, lawmakers and groups. The White House is also working with Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) on additional legislation to make changes to the asylum process. Yet, some lawmakers indicated that movement on an immigration bill remains unlikely, given the exclusion from the process of Democrats and centrist Republicans who supported previous bipartisan immigration reform efforts.

On May 6, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced, in conjunction with the Department of Labor (DOL), that it would provide an additional 30,000 H-2B visas for seasonal non-agricultural migrant workers. The additional visas will be available for returning workers who have had the visa before over the past three fiscal years. The administration considered providing only 15,000 additional visas, but the decision to allow more visas reflected concern that some businesses would close down in the absence of a cap increase. The visas are expected to benefit fisheries, loggers and seasonal hotels, among other industries that rely on seasonal workers.

House Democrats Mull Changes to Dreamer Bill After Delaying Committee Markup

A group of top House Democrats met on May 8 to consider changes to the American Dream and Promise Act, which would protect Dreamers from deportation and allow them to remain in the U.S. if they meet certain requirements, in an effort to resolve a dispute that delayed plans to advance the legislation in early May. The changes under consideration reportedly include ensuring that people who have committed certain crimes or are suspected to be affiliated with gangs are not eligible for protection under the bill’s criminal and inadmissibility grounds. The changes may allow the bill to pick up votes from centrist House Democrats and address criticisms raised by opponents of the legislation. While a final decision has not been made, House Democrats reportedly left the meeting believing they were close to an agreement.

House Democrats originally planned to move forward with the bill during the week of Monday, May 6, but the plan stalled after Democratic leaders worried the bill as currently written could did not have majority support in the Judiciary Committee.

New Guidelines for Asylum Officers Make It Harder to Obtain Asylum, as Border Apprehensions Remain High 

The Trump administration provided new guidelines to asylum officers on April 30 that will likely make it more difficult for asylum seekers to pass an initial screening for asylum protection in the U.S. The guidelines require asylum officers to provide detailed justifications before concluding that an applicant has a well-founded fear of harm if deported and to more aggressively challenge asylum seekers whose claims contain discrepancies. Under the new guidelines, asylum officers must focus on any gaps between what migrants tell U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents or officers after they are apprehended along the border and the testimony they provide during the credible fear interview with the asylum officer. The new guidelines also delete provisions from previous guidance that directed asylum officers to consider that asylum seekers may not have all the evidence to provide their claims when they first arrive and to consider trauma and cultural background when assessing their credibility. Government officials and immigration experts who reviewed the plan noted the changes could lead to more denials before an individual’s full case for asylum is heard. The new guidelines take effect immediately, though asylum officers will be trained in their application in the coming weeks.

In addition to the new guidelines, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will start to train Border Patrol agents to screen asylum seekers arriving at the Southern border. USCIS will train about 60 agents over the next few months, with the first 10 agents receiving training in Los Angeles starting on the week of Monday, May 13. The training may take up to a month. USCIS staff who have worked on asylum in the past are also helping screen asylum seekers along the Southern border.

The changes to the asylum screening process come as the number of migrants apprehended along the Southern border reached approximately 99,000 people in April, the highest monthly figure since 2007. Of those, about 58,000 were traveling in families and 9,000 were unaccompanied children. An additional 10,000 individuals were deemed inadmissible at ports of entry. The increase in migrants from Central America, particularly families and children, is straining infrastructure at the Southern border, though the numbers remain below the all-time highs of the early 2000s when fewer Border Patrol agents were stationed at the border.

The increase prompted President Trump to complain in a May 8 campaign rally in Florida that Border Patrol agents are barred from using weapons to deter migrants from entering the U.S., asking “How do you stop these people?” When an individual from the crowd yelled, “Shoot them,” Trump smiled and responded jokingly that “only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement.” His response prompted many to criticize him for making light of a comment suggesting use of deadly force against migrants.

On May 10, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) noted that the Department of Defense plans to redirect an additional $1.5 billion for border wall construction.  Meanwhile, in response to the increase in Central American migrants coming to the U.S., Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador suggested taking funding the U.S. provides to Mexico for security assistance and redirecting it towards development in Central America and Southern Mexico.

President Trump Chooses Mark Morgan, Former Border Patrol Chief, to Head ICE

President Trump announced on May 5 he would nominate Mark Morgan, a former Border Patrol chief in the last year of the Obama administration, to serve as Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Morgan became Chief of the Border Patrol in June 2016, before he left the position in January 2017. Morgan reportedly said at the time he had been pushed out by officials in the new administration. Over the last few months, Morgan has appeared on television news shows to defend President Trump’s policies on border security. He reportedly advocated for more aggressive actions, at times criticizing Congress and Mexican officials for a lack of cooperation.

President Trump withdrew Ron Vitiello’s nomination to head ICE in April, stating that the wanted someone “tougher” for the position.

ICE Introduces New Program to Collaborate with Local Law Enforcement on Immigration Enforcement

ICE announced on May 6 the introduction of the Warrant Service Officer (WSO) program that would permit local law enforcement to make immigration arrests and temporarily detain immigrants beyond the point at which they would otherwise be released, even in so-called sanctuary jurisdictions that place limits on local immigration enforcement. The WSO program, which is intended to allow local law enforcement agencies to “disregard” local “sanctuary” and community trust policies, would provide for a more limited form of collaborative immigration enforcement than the more extensive 287(g) agreements. An ICE spokesperson said the genesis of the program was determining “[h]ow can we offer a cooperative partnership with jurisdictions that reside in stats that have local or state policies that limit cooperation with ICE?”

Under the WSO program, ICE plans to provide one day of on-site training and would not task local law enforcement to interview detainees to ascertain their immigration status. The program would allow local law enforcement to make immigration arrests and hold an individual for up to an additional 48 hours before ICE takes them into federal custody, a practice that raises significant legal concerns. Immigration advocates and some law enforcement agencies argue that such policies could hurt relationships between local immigrant communities and law enforcement by decreasing trust and redirect local law enforcement resources from larger priorities, such as dangerous criminals, to focus on immigration enforcement.

ICE introduced the program on May 6 in Pinellas County in Florida. According to ICE, selected law enforcement “will be nominated, trained, and approved by ICE to perform certain limited functions of an immigration officer” within local jails or facilities.

HUD Publishes New Federal Housing Rule, Rule Could Displace 55,000 Children in Mixed-Status Families

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a proposed rule in the federal register on May 10 that would require the department to screen the immigration status of all residents in federal housing under the age of 62. HUD’s analysis of the rule estimates more than 55,000 children, all of whom are U.S. citizens or legal residents, would potentially face eviction and homelessness.

The proposed rule would require HUD to screen all residents in federal housing through the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program, which helps verify an individual’s immigration status. Families living with members who are undocumented may subsequently lose their housing assistance after 18 months. Current rules already prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving federal housing assistance, but they permit families of mixed-immigration status to live in federal housing if one person is eligible, such as a U.S. citizen child. According to the HUD analysis, an estimated 25,000 households representing about 108,000 people have at least one family member with undocumented status. Among these households, about 76,000 people are eligible for benefits – 55,000 of them children.

Legal

Ninth Circuit Allows the “Remain in Mexico” Policy to Continue

A three-judge panel in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on May 7 that the Trump administration can continue to implement the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, while the it is being challenged in federal court. A two-judge majority of the panel held that the Trump administration is likely to succeed on legal challenges to the policy and that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be irreparably harmed if the court blocked one of the “measures available to process . . . migrants who are currently arriving.” The majority also said that commitments made by the Mexican government to honor its international legal obligations reduce the potential harm to asylum seekers being forced to wait in Mexico. However, Judge Paul Watford, one of the two judges in the majority, wrote separately to state that while the Trump administration appeared to have legal authority to implement the policy, it was implementing it in a dubious manner. A third judge, Judge William Fletcher, dissented, arguing that the Trump administration offered “baseless arguments in support of an illegal policy.”

Under MPP, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers may prevent asylum seekers from entering the U.S. and require them to wait in Mexico while their requests for asylum proceed. CBP implemented the MPP as a pilot program at the San Ysidro border crossing near San Diego in January 2019 and subsequently started to expand its implementation at more ports of entry along the Southern border. On April 8, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg issued a preliminary injunction blocking the MPP, stating that the U.S. lacked a legal basis for imposing the policy. On April 12, the Ninth Circuit placed a temporary hold on Judge Seeborg’s decision to block the MPP while the court considered broader issues in the case.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

There were no immigration-related government reports published during the week of Monday, May 6, 2019.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Statement for the Record: “At the Breaking Point: The Humanitarian and Security Crisis at our Southern Border”

This Statement for the Record provides an overview of the current humanitarian challenge at the Southern border and a set of short-term and long-term policy recommendations that can be implemented to better manage the increase in Central American migrants at the border.

HUMANE Act: Bill Summary

This is a bill summary of the Humanitarian Upgrades to Manage and Assist our Nation’s Enforcement (HUMANE) Act introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) on May 2, 2019. The bill attempts to resolve the current humanitarian challenge at the Southern border by permitting longer-term family detention and expedited departures of unaccompanied migrant children from countries other than Mexico and Canada, among other provisions.

Summary of President Trump’s Memo Calling for Major Changes to Asylum Rules

This document is a summary of President Trump’s “Presidential Memorandum on Additional Measures to Enhance Border Security and Restore Integrity to Our Immigration System,” issued on April 29 which calls upon the U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to propose new regulations implementing significant policy changes to the U.S. asylum system.

* * *

*This Bulletin is not intended to be comprehensive. Please contact Christian Penichet-Paul, National Immigration Forum Policy and Advocacy Associate, with comments and suggestions of additional items to be included. Christian can be reached at cpenichetpaul@immigrationforum.org. Thank you.

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