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Legislative Bulletin — Friday, May 10, 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

Biden Administration Announces Asylum Restrictions During Initial Screenings  

On May 9, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a new proposed rule that would subject asylum seekers and others asking for protection to security-related eligibility bars earlier in the adjudication process.  

The proposed regulation would give asylum officers (AOs) within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) the discretion to apply criteria related to national security, criminal, or public safety concerns to disqualify applicants for asylum and another form of humanitarian relief called withholding of removal during initial screenings.Currently, these bars are considered further down the road during merits adjudications, usually in front of an immigration judge, when applicants usually have more time to prepare.   

By contrast, the first barrier to accessing asylum in the U.S. —called a “credible fear” interview —often takes place within days or weeks after asylum seekers are placed in fast-tracked deportation proceedings, known as expedited removal. Many asylum seekers go through their credible fear interviews and reviews while still in DHS custody, though families have been undergoing the process outside of detention over the course of around 30 days through the Family Expedited Removal Management (FERM) program. Because of these faster timelines, a large swathe experiences these initial screenings without access to an attorney.  

DHS argues the proposed rule will have a relatively modest impacton a small number of applicants, particularly for those seeking asylum. Notably, USCIS does not have the resources to conduct screening interviews for every individual who arrives at the U.S.-Mexico border. In the first six months of fiscal year (FY) 2024, asylum officers issued decisions in 116,000 screening interviews, while around 671,000 individuals were released from Border Patrol custody with notices to appear in immigration court.   

Consideration of the bars would be discretionary, and the proposed rule posits that asylum officers would “only consider a bar in those cases where there is easily verifiable evidence available to the AO that in their discretion warrants an inquiry into a bar, and the AO is confident that they can consider that bar efficiently at the credible fear stage.” The proposed rule would not allow asylum officers to screen out asylum seekers based on the “firm resettlement bar,” which has to do with whether an applicant has been offered a more permanent legal pathway in another country where they would also be safe.    

Still, some advocates raised concerns that the proposed rule could box out eligible asylum seekers from protection without due process. For example, the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS) shared the story of their client, whose abuser allegedly used his connections with Salvadoran law enforcement to impose serious criminal charges against her. Because of her abuser’s actions, that client “could have been barred from asylum before even having the opportunity to consult with a lawyer” under the proposed policy change, said CGRS’s  Blaine Bookey.   

Likewise, Haitian Bridge Alliance (HBA) spotlighted the case of a Black asylum seeker from an African country who was being targeted for protection ineligibility based on the terrorism-related bar, who because he was represented and had access to a judge was eventually able to prove the charge shouldn’t apply to him. “Under this new rule, HBA never would have had a chance to represent him, this man would have never gotten a chance to have an attorney, and he would have been deported back to a place that the Board of Immigration Appeals determined had persecuted him,” said Nicole Phillips, HBA’s legal director.  

At the same time, DHS announced that USCIS had issued new guidance to asylum officers to analyze whether asylum seekers who express a fear of persecution could simply relocate to another part of their home country and find safety there during credible fear adjudications. “Internal relocation has always been a part of an analysis of future claims of harm, and this new guidance… will ensure early identification and removal of individuals who would ultimately be found ineligible for protection because of their ability to remain safe by relocating elsewhere in the country from which they fled,” DHS said.    

The new agency guidance also created questions for advocates and experts about its potential to return people to danger, given the complexity around internal relocation. These determinations often rely on information from reports or expert testimony on country conditions, an asylum seekers’ own evidence, and careful representation by an attorney. Those resources and information likely might not be readily available during the initial screening process where these criteria will now be applied.  

The new restrictions come even as advocates and immigration experts reflect on the one-year anniversary of the Biden administration’s “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” rule and its presumption of asylum ineligibility this week. Several recent reportsunderscore how the policy and its reliance on the federal government’s CBP One phone app have left asylum seekers in dangerous situationsand created a virtual “metering”policy.  

Blinken Joins Regional Stakeholders in Guatemala to Talk Migration 

On May 7, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken lauded the United States’ and other nations’ progress on opening new legal pathways to safety while cracking down on irregular migration and human smuggling in the Western Hemisphere, as key stakeholders conferenced in Guatemala two years after the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection paved the way for greater cross-country collaboration. 

Blinken praised Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru for allowing millions of Venezuelans to qualify for legal status, while celebrating Mexico and Canada’s creation of new labor vehicles for migration. He also applauded Colombia, Panama, Guatemala, and Honduras for their attempts to fight human smuggling, and he said that a day earlier, the U.S. and Costa Rica had established a biometric data sharing partnership even as the U.S. imposed visa restrictions on Colombian executives responsible for transporting irregular migrants.

“The Biden administration has also led one of the largest expansions of lawful pathways for migrants,” he said, pointing to parole processes for certain nationalities to reach the U.S. Likewise, he provided an update on the administration’s Safe Mobility Offices in Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, where he said the U.S. had already “resettled over 7,500 refugees in the United States, and another nearly 20,000 individuals have been approved for various other legal pathways.”

At the international convening, Blinken announced that the Biden administration planned to collaborate with Congress to allot another $578 million in aid for other countries in the hemisphere, to provide for humanitarian needs such as shelter, water, sanitation, and emergency care for migrants and those seeking protection. 

Senators Spotlight Need for Dreamer Solution Ahead of 12-Year DACA Anniversary 

On May 8, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the status of Dreamers in the U.S. and the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Witnesses for the hearing included Gaby Pacheco, an education leader and president of the TheDream.US; Michelle Soto-Rodriguez, a DACA recipient and police officer in Blue Island, Illinois; and Tom Wong, a professor of political science and expert on the impact of DACA since its creation.

Democratic lawmakers on the committee mostly focused on the contributions of DACA recipients and other Dreamers to the economy and their communities, and the need to pass legislation to allow them to stay in the U.S. In remarks ahead of the hearing, Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) noted that it was time for Congress to provide Dreamers with “the stability and certainty in their lives they deserve.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), the ranking member of the committee and co-sponsor of the Dream Act of 2023, said in the hearing that passing legislation related to Dreamers “is not my concern right now” because his priority is solving the challenges at the U.S.-Mexico border. Other Republicans on the committee supported Sen. Graham’s comments. Sen. Tom Tillis (R-North Carolina) noted that he “supports a path to citizenship” for certain Dreamers, but that “every single person who crosses that border illegally puts me further away from getting a path to citizenship.” During the hearing, Pacheco noted that Congress could work on both things – passing a legislative solution for Dreamers and working on the challenges at the southern border – at the same time.

This was the first Senate hearing on Dreamers since at least 2021. Several organizations, including evangelical leaders, shared letters of support for Dreamers ahead of the hearing. DACA currently protects about 530,000 individuals from deportation and allows them to work legally in the U.S., but the program faces significant legal challenges in the courts.

April Refugee Numbers Decrease for the Second Month in a Row

The U.S. resettled 6,390 refugees in April, a significant decrease of 1,041 refugees from the 7,431 resettled in March. Refugee arrivals had already declined by 2,820 between February and March. 

The 6,390 arrivals in April is the lowest monthly number this fiscal year. All of the other months this fiscal year have had over 7,000 arrivals. The seven-month total of arrivals for FY 2024 is now 55,063 refugees. In order for the program to reach the 125,000 target for this fiscal year, the U.S. would need to resettle approximately 13,987 refugees every month for the next five months — a monthly total that has not been achieved since the Refugee Processing Center began collecting monthly arrival data back in 2001.

Overall, FY 2024 is beginning to look less promising than it did in the first five months of this fiscal year. It is not too late to finish well, but the monthly arrivals will need to begin to climb again, well above 7,000, and certainly not decrease for a third straight month. 

It looks more and more likely that the refugee pipeline has been depleted and is no longer able to sustain high refugee arrival numbers from month to month.

Legal

Texas Attorney General Asks for Temporary Injunction Against Annunciation House

On May 8, Texas leadership again attacked the Catholic nonprofit Annunciation House for allegedly harboring unauthorized migrants and operating a stash house as the state’s officials sought to force the El Paso aid group to shutter its operations. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office sought a temporary injunction against Annunciation House, ramping up its judicial war on the religiously affiliated nonprofit known as one of El Paso’s largest centers for migrant advocacy. 

Texas authorities have been targeting Annunciation House for months, after three lawyers showed up at the nonprofit and demanded the shelter director turn over potentially sensitive client records in just one day. When Annunciation House asked a state judge to decide whether it had to turn over the documents to Paxton’s office, the judge wrote that “there is a real and credible concern that the attempt to prevent Annunciation House from conducting business in Texas was predetermined.”

“The Attorney General’s efforts to run roughshod over Annunciation House, without regard to due process or fair play, call into question the true motivation for the Attorney General’s attempt to prevent Annunciation House from providing the humanitarian and social services that it provides,” he wrote. 

Undeterred, Texas’s latest attempt to shut down the nonprofit comes even after many community, state, federal, and religious leaders voiced their support for Annunciation House. 

DOJ, Immigrant Rights Groups Challenge New Iowa Law 

On May 9, the U.S. Department of Justice and immigrant rights groups sued separately to block the implementation of a new law in Iowa that would allow state authorities to arrest immigrants who have been deported or denied entry to the U.S. before and effectively deport them on the state-level.

The legislation — which largely mirrors an earlier law passed in Texas, Senate Bill 4, that has become a model for copycat proposals across the country — is yet another challenge to the federal government’s authority over immigration enforcement. 

The new law has earned strong pushback from community members, including local officials. 

“We will work to keep everyone safe in Polk County whether you’ve lived here all your life, are documented or undocumented, or visiting for just a day,” Polk County Attorney Kimberly Graham said. “We will always support victims and witnesses and serve everyone in our community, regardless of immigration status.”

State and Local

Arizona State Legislature Considers Putting Aggressive Texas Copycat Measure on November Ballot 

Arizona state lawmakers are advancing a ballot referral that would put aggressive and potentially unconstitutional  immigration enforcement measures up for a vote by the state’s citizens in November, in a move to circumvent Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs’ (D) veto powers.  

The proposal, HCR 2060, is largely a copycat of Texas’s controversial Senate Bill 4, which creates new state criminal penalties for unlawful entry and erects a system for what are effectively state-based deportations. But Arizona’s version goes even further, creating a felony offense for using false documentation to access public benefits and requiring searches through a federal program to verify a noncitizen’s eligibility for benefits. 

The measure would also impose a felony for submitting false information or documentation to an employer as part of the E-Verify program, and it would trump up penalties for selling lethal fentanyl.

HCR 2060 could pass both chambers as early as next week, the Phoenix area’s NBC affiliate 12 News reports. 

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 proposed legislation from past weeks. 

H.R. 8281

Safeguard American Voter Eligibility (SAVE) Act 

This bill would require states to get in-person proof of citizenship when registering someone to vote and mandate that states remove noncitizens from voter rolls. 

Sponsored by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) (46 cosponsors — 46 Republicans, 0 Democrats)

05/07/2024 Introduced in the House by Rep. Chip Roy

05/07/2024 Referred to the House Committee on House Administration

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives are expected to be in session from Tuesday, May 14 through Friday, May 17, 2024. 

UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS

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

Examining the Policies and Priorities of the Department of Health and Human Services

Date: Wednesday, May 15, 2024 at 10:15 a.m. EDT (House Committee on Education and the Workforce)

Location: 2175 Rayburn, Washington, D.C.

Witnesses: 

The Honorable Xavier Becerra, Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Business Meeting

Date: Wednesday, May 15, 2024 at 10:30 a.m. EDT (Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs) 

Location: 342 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Related Items: H.R.5528, H.R.6249, S.2492, S.3015, S.3810, S.4035, S.4043, S.4066, S.4181 

American Confidence in Elections: Preventing Noncitizen Voting and Other Foreign Interference

Date: Thursday, May 16, 2024 at 10:15 a.m. EDT (House Administration) 

Location: 1310 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Witnesses: TBA

Security Risk: The Unprecedented Surge in Chinese Illegal Immigration

Date: Thursday, May 16, 2024 at 2:00 p.m. EDT (House Homeland Security)

Location: 310 Cannon House Office building, Washington, D.C.

Witnesses: TBA

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); Comparing DHS Component Funding, FY2024: In Brief; Updated May 3, 2024

This report compares various funding requests and measures for Fiscal Years 2023 and 2024. 

DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG); DHS Has a Fragmented Process for Identifying and Resolving Derogatory Information for Operation Allies Welcome Parolees; Published May 6, 2024

This report explores how derogatory information — “any information that prompts a request for additional investigation or clarification and may ultimately lead to an unfavorable decision by a reviewing entity” — has been identified and resolved by immigration agencies in regard to Afghan parolees under Operation Allies Welcome.

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:

The Myths and Truths of Noncitizen Voting in the United States

This analysis covers the truths around immigrants voting in the U.S., which include that noncitizens have been barred from voting in federal elections since 1924. 

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.

Explainer: What Are Safe Mobility Offices?

Read this explainer for information about what we know so far on how SMOs are being implemented in Ecuador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Colombia, and who may qualify to participate.  

* * *

*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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