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:
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 here.
Secure the Border Act of 2023
This sweeping bill package would severely limit asylum eligibility and access, curtail other humanitarian pathways, restart border wall construction, mandate employers to verify potential workers’ immigration status nationwide, and make other significant changes to immigration law and practice.
Sponsored by Representative Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Florida) (21 cosponsors — 21 Republicans, 0 Democrats)
05/02/2023 Introduced in the House by Representative Mario Díaz-Balart
05/02/2023 Referred to the House Committees on the Judiciary, Homeland Security, Ways and Means, Education and the Workforce, and Foreign Affairs
05/11/2023 Passed the House of Representatives after a 219-213 vote
U.S. Citizenship Act of 2023
The bill would expand pathways to citizenship for migrants, address the root causes of migration, manage the southern border, and reform the immigrant visa system.
Sponsored by Representative Linda Sánchez (D-California) (100 cosponsors — 100 Democrats, 0 Republicans)
05/10/2023 Introduced in the House by Representative Sánchez
05/10/2023 Referred to the House Committees on the Judiciary; Ways and Means; Armed Services; Education and the Workforce; House Administration; Financial Services; Natural Resources; Oversight and Accountability; Foreign Affairs; Homeland Security; Intelligence; and Energy and Commerce
Make the Migrant Protection Protocols Mandatory Act
The bill would reinstate and codify the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), commonly known as the “Remain in Mexico” program.
Sponsored by Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) (3 cosponsors — 3 Republicans, 0 Democrats)
05/09/2023 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Blackburn
05/09/2023 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Border’s Unused Idle and Lying Dormant Inventory Transfer Act (BUILD IT Act)
The bill would require the federal government to transfer to any state, upon request, any unused material associated with the construction of barriers along the Southwest border.
Sponsored by Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) (4 cosponsors — 4 Republicans, 0 Democrats)
05/09/2023 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Ernst
05/09/2023 Referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Finish It Act
The bill would require the Secretary of Defense to use, transfer, or donate all excess construction materials intended for the wall on the southwest border of the United States that are being stored by the Department of Defense.
Sponsored by Senator Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) (3 cosponsors — 3 Republicans, 0 Democrats)
05/09/2023 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Wicker
05/09/2023 Referred to the Senate Committee on Armed Services
Alan T. Shao II Fentanyl Public Health Emergency and Overdose Prevention Act
The bill would authorize the Department of Homeland Security to utilize powers similar to those under Title 42 to expedite the processing and removal of migrants entering the country between ports of entry in response to the fentanyl-related public health emergency.
Sponsored by Senator Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) (3 cosponsors — 3 Republicans, 0 Democrats)
05/10/2023 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Scott
05/10/2023 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary
LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR
The U.S. Senate will be in session from Monday, May 15, through Friday, May 19, 2023.
The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Monday, May 15, through Thursday, May 18, 2023.
UPCOMING HEARINGS AND MARKUPS
Here, we round up congressional hearings and markups happening in the field or in Washington.
Dates: Tuesday, May 16, 2023, at 3:00 pm ET (Senate Committee on Finance)
Location: 215 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.
Jonathan Fantini Porter, Partnership for Central America, CEO
Eric Farnsworth, Council of the Americas, Vice President
Margaret Myers, Asia and Latin America Program, Inter-American Dialogue, Woodrow Wilson Center, Director
THEMES IN WASHINGTON 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.
Title 42 Ends, Biden Administration Revamps Border Enforcement
On May 11 at 11:59 p.m. EST, the Title 42 public health order expired after more than three years of the United States swiftly expelling migrants en masse — often to danger — without even the opportunity to ask for asylum.
Hours into the policy shift, officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said late on Friday morning that their personnel “did not see a substantial increase overnight” of migrants trying to cross into the U.S. In fact, reports indicated a tense silence and calm hanging over U.S. border cities as pandemic-era expulsions were immediately replaced by new restrictions that would render many ineligible for asylum.
This relative and unexpected quiet follows several days where border authorities recorded a higher-than-usual number of crossings, as migrants grappled with misinformation and mixed messaging over whether they faced better odds crossing before or after Title 42’s end. In El Paso, officials responded to thousands of migrants sleeping on the streets by launching an operation that actively invited people to turn themselves in for processing.
That strategy seemed to work, reports suggested: by Wednesday, only about 135 people remained in the city’s major congregation spots.
These moves come even as more clarity emerges — and key questions remain — over how the Biden administration plans to respond to migration at the U.S.-Mexico border post-Title 42.
Earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security and the Executive Office for Immigration Review finalized their “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” rule, which took effect as soon as the Title 42 policy ended. The new asylum restrictions — which subject migrants to a rebuttable presumption of asylum ineligibility unless they can meet limited exceptions — largely mirrored the agencies’ initial proposal from February, despite many thousands of organizational and individual comments expressing concerns about its contours.
The administration also provided greater detail around other policies it had already previewed, such as plans for regional processing centers across the Western Hemisphere, a deployment of military personnel for administrative support, increased detention and removal flights, and changes to the CBP One App.
But a series of court developments on Thursday could derail some of those plans. In Florida, Judge T. Kent Wetherell, II blocked the implementation of a new “parole with conditions” policy memorandum that would have allowed Border Patrol agents to more efficiently process migrants. Under the would-be practice, Border Patrol would have been able to expedite releases for those who did not represent a risk to public safety or national security, with instructions for how to later check in with immigration authorities.
“This is a harmful ruling that will result in unsafe overcrowding at CBP facilities and undercut our ability to efficiently process and remove migrants, and risks creating dangerous conditions for border patrol agents and migrants,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a statement, according to CBS News.
At the same time, immigration advocates also filed a legal challenge against the Biden administration’s “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” rule, arguing that it violates U.S. law — which stipulates that people have a right to seek asylum no matter how they entered the country. The filing also decries the federal regulation as arbitrary, capricious, and procedurally flawed.
Secure the Border Act Passes House, Senate Ponders Detain-and-Expel Mechanism Amid Title 42 End
On May 11, the Secure the Border Act of 2023 passed the U.S. House of Representatives, as a majority of Republican lawmakers backed the enforcement-only approach to border security and immigration reform mere hours before the Title 42 public health order was set to expire.
The proposed legislation advanced by a final vote of 219-213, with Republican Reps. Thomas Massie (Kentucky) and John Duarte (California) defecting from the rest of their party. But the bill is unlikely to move forward as drafted in the Democratic-controlled Senate, given its provisions that would severely restrict asylum, curtail other existing humanitarian pathways, create new criminal penalties, and impose onerous restrictions on key industries and small businesses.
Elsewhere in Congress, a bipartisan group of more moderate lawmakers led by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Arizona) have continued to push for a legislated replacement for Title 42, through proposed legislation that would establish a two-year detain-and-expel system at the U.S.-Mexico border.
It’s unclear whether the bill, S.1473, would achieve its desired effect of deterring irregular migration, though the record number of migrant encounters under Title 42 suggest it might not. Meanwhile, the proposal would largely end the U.S.’s commitment to asylum and likely place vulnerable migrants in harm’s way.
Even so, a bipartisan group in the House led by Rep. Jared F. Golden (D-Maine) introduced a similar version of the bill — H.R.3234 — on Thursday.
Migrants Killed Outside Shelter in Brownsville Car Crash
On May 7, an SUV driver ran into a group waiting at a bus stop outside a migrant shelter in Brownsville, Texas on Sunday morning, killing eight and severely injuring 10 others.
Authorities believe the driver, George Alvarez, lost control of the car after running a red light and are still determining if the crash was intentional. He has been charged with eight counts of manslaughter and ten counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
The driver has refused to cooperate with investigators and has not submitted to a breathalyzer test or fingerprinting, although a preliminary toxicology report found Alvarez had cocaine, benzodiazepines and marijuana in his system at the time of the crash.
The identities of the eight victims have not been released, however, most of them were men from Venezuela. Authorities are working with Venezuelan consular officials to identify the victims and reunite them with loved ones.
Return Flights to Colombia Temporarily Suspended After Alleged Degrading Treatment, Last-Minute Cancellations
A program to return Colombian nationals found by immigration officers at the US-Mexico border has been temporarily suspended by Colombia’s migration agency citing cruel and degrading treatment and last-minute cancellations.
The pilot plan expected to return around 1,200 migrants in flights programmed to depart from the US during the first week of May, according to the migration agency.
As expulsions of migrants increase before COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Colombian authorities state the plan saw expulsion flights to Colombia rise to around 20 per month. However, the plan was suspended after flights programmed for May 1 and May 2 were canceled.
Fernando Garcia, head of Colombia’s migration agency, said some migrants were subjected to cruel and degrading treatment before boarding and during the flights, including the use of cuffs for hands and feet.
“There are recurring complaints about the poor conditions in detention centers and mistreatment during flights, which represented a determining factor in the decisions adopted in the last few hours,” Garcia said.
The US embassy in Bogota declined to comment and ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
DHS Announces New Family Reunification Parole Programs for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia
On April 27, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a new family reunification parole process for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia. In addition, DHS announced the modernization of the existing family reunification parole processes for Cuba and Haiti. These processes, once finalized, will allow vetted individuals with already approved family-based petitions to be paroled into the United States, on a case-by-case basis, while they wait for their immigrant visas.
On May 10, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it would provide additional information on these programs — which are still not in operation — in mid-June 2023.
U.S. Supreme Court Clears Path For Guatemalan Transgender Asylum Seeker to Appeal Deportation
On May 11, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that noncitizens can appeal Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decisions before federal courts without having to exhaust all administrative remedies first.
The case, Santos-Zacaria v. Garland, stems from the government’s attempt to deport a transgender Guatemalan woman who had been the victim of rape in Guatemala. When Santos-Zacaria entered the United States, she applied for a type of humanitarian relief known as “withholding of removal.” Pursuant to current immigration laws, a withholding-of-removal applicant must show they are likely to be persecuted in the country to which the government will send them due to their membership in a particular social group, including the LGBTQ+ community. The immigration judge denied Santos-Zacaria’s application and ordered her deportation. She appealed the decision before the BIA, which upheld the judge’s decision arguing that Santos-Zacaria’s past sexual abuse did not mean she’d continue to face the same abuse in the future if returned. Santos-Zacaria appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, where a divided panel upheld the BIA’s decision.
Santos-Zacaria then appealed the 5th Circuit decision before the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted certiorari on October 3, 2022, and held oral arguments on January 11, 2023.
State and Local
DeSantis Signs Sweeping Immigration Law, Florida Already Feeling the Consequences
On May 10, Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) signed an anti-immigration bill in hopes of deterring undocumented migration. “People are gonna come if they get benefits,” Governor DeSantis explained during the signing of the bill. The law will mandate businesses with 25 or more employees or more to implement E-Verify, a web-based system that allows employers to confirm the immigration status of their employees. The law will also make it a third-degree felony to “knowingly and willingly” transport undocumented immigrants and prohibit municipalities from issuing government identification cards.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, nearly 800,000 undocumented migrants live in Florida. Many of them work in agriculture and construction.
Though the law goes into effect on July 1st, Florida is already experiencing the chilling effects of these harsh provisions. Recent reports show how some construction and agriculture sites have emptied in the past couple of days because workers fear deportation. The future of both industries in Florida is precarious.
Texas Border Protection Unit Plans Move Forward as Abbott Tests Federal Immigration Enforcement Authority
On May 10, the Texas House approved HB 7, a border protection bill that could establish the state’s own border protection unit. The bill borrows language from HB 20, which was initially killed by Democrats three hours earlier. The bill’s amendment, which was adopted 90-51, will authorize the use of non-deadly force to arrest and apprehend migrants illegally crossing the Texas-Mexico border. The potential unit would mark a shift from federal to state immigration enforcement.
Officials have not yet determined the fiscal implications of the bill because the “size and scope” of the border protection unit remain unknown. Still, the sweeping border legislation has significant support, with more than 50 representatives signing on to the bill.
Representatives who oppose the legislation warn of the consequences the bill’s rhetoric could bring. If signed into law, the bill could embolden individual civilians to act as vigilantes and target anyone they believe to be a migrant. Rep. Victoria Neave Criado (D-Dallas) and Rep. Erin Gámez (D-Brownsville) argued that the unit would racially profile Hispanic communities close to the border. Criado asserts that the “statewide bill” could be “devastating whether you are new Texans or your family has been here for generations.”
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.
There were no immigration-related government reports this week.
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 bill package would severely restrict the right to seek asylum in the U.S., curtail other existing lawful pathways, place unnecessary pressure on border communities, intensify labor shortages faced by small businesses and essential industries, establish new criminal penalties, and make other significant changes to U.S. immigration law.
This explainer provides an overview of the “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” rule. It explains in simple terms what the rule does, how it will affect asylum seekers, and where it will interact with other border enforcement policies post-Title 42.
The Implications of the Biden Asylum Rule in Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, and the Northern Triangle Nations
This paper analyzes the implications of the Biden asylum rule in Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, and the Northern Triangle nations. It highlights that the asylum systems in these countries are already overstretched and underfunded. We argue that these countries do not represent efficient, functional, and viable alternatives for migrants to seek asylum.
This report provides a general overview and analysis of USCIS naturalization backlogs looking at historic trends, contributing factors, and staffing levels, as well as examining USCIS’s record on responding to past backlogs. It concludes by providing proposals to make the processing of naturalization applications more efficient and setting a goal to timely reduce and eliminate the naturalization backlog.
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*This Bulletin is not intended to be comprehensive. Please contact Arturo Castellanos-Canales, Policy and Advocacy Manager at the National Immigration Forum, with comments and suggestions of additional items to be included. Arturo can be reached email@example.com. Thank you.