Legislative Bulletin – Friday, May 15, 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.3645

The Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act

This bill would move the majority of individuals out of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention and halt immigration enforcement against individuals not deemed a public safety threat. The bill calls for the release of all “covered individuals” in immigration detention, including all those older than 49, younger than 22, or who have one of a number of health conditions including diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and a weakened immune system. Once the emergency is over, the bill requires the continued use of alternatives to detention (ATDs) for released detainees unless convincing, case-by-case evidence can be provided to demonstrate ATDs will not be effective. The bill is a companion to House bill H.R.6537.

Sponsored by Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) (6 cosponsors – 5 Democrats, 1 Independent, 0 Republicans)

05/07/2020 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Booker

05/07/2020 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

S.3599

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act

The bill would recapture 40,000 unused visas and use them to provide additional green cards to 25,000 physicians and 15,000 professional nurses. The visas would not count towards the annual limit and would be recaptured from a pool of over 200,000 employment-based visas left unused between 1992 and 2020. The bill would target mainly healthcare workers and their families already in the green card backlog, and would require an employer attestation that the new workers would not displace current U.S. workers. The bill would allow the new green cards to be issued until 90 days after the declaration of a national emergency pertaining to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is ended. The bill is a companion bill to H.R. 6788.

Sponsored by Senator David Perdue (R-Georgia) (5 cosponsors – 3 Democrats, 2 Republicans)

05/05/2020 Introduced in the Senate by Senator Perdue

05/05/2020 Referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

5/14/2020 Cosponsored by eight additional cosponsors (5 Republicans, 1 Independent, 2 Democrats)

H.R. 6800

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act

The bill provides approximately $3 trillion for additional economic and medical assistance to American families and businesses in response to the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerning immigrants, the bill ensures access to COVID-19 testing and treatment for undocumented individuals, extends direct cash payments to taxpaying immigrants with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs), and requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement to consider the release of the immigrant detainees most vulnerable to the spread of the virus. It would also expedite the processing of immigrant and nonimmigrant healthcare workers and make it easier for hospitals in COVID-19 hotspots to hire physicians on temporary visas.

Sponsored by Representative Nita Lowey (D-New York) (11 cosponsors – 11 Democrats, 0 Republicans)

05/12/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Lowey

05/12/2020 Referred to the House Committees on Appropriations, on the Budget, and on Ways and Means

H.R. 6788

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act

The bill would recapture 40,000 unused visas and use them to provide additional green cards to 25,000 physicians and 15,000 professional nurses. The visas would not count towards the annual limit and would be recaptured from a pool of over 200,000 employment-based visas left unused between 1992 and 2020. The bill would target mainly healthcare workers and their families already in the green card backlog, and would require an employer attestation that the new workers would not displace current U.S. workers. The bill would allow the new green cards to be issued until 90 days after the declaration of a national emergency pertaining to the COVID-19 outbreak is ended. The bill is a companion to Senate bill S.3599.

Sponsored by Representative Bradley Schneider (D-Illinois) (13 cosponsors – 8 Democrats, 5 Republicans)

05/08/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Schneider

05/08/2020 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

H.R. 6798

The Haitian Deportation Relief Act

The bill would suspend all deportations of Haitian nationals until the coronavirus pandemic has ended in both the U.S. and Haiti. The bill would also require a report to Congress detailing Haiti’s healthcare infrastructure, ongoing COVID-19 prevention and treatment efforts, alternatives to removal and the impact of removal on Haitian nationals and their families.

Sponsored by Representative Frederica Wilson (D-Florida) (20 cosponsors – 20 Democrats, 0 Republicans)

05/08/2020 Introduced in the House by Representative Wilson

05/08/2020 Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary

LEGISLATIVE FLOOR CALENDAR

The U.S. Senate will be in session the week of Monday, May 18, 2020.

The U.S. House of Representatives will be in session from Monday, May 18, 2020 to Thursday, May 21, 2020.

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

House Democratic Coronavirus Response Proposal Would Help Immigrants

On May 12, House Democrats introduced their proposal for an additional novel coronavirus (COVID-19) relief package, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which provides approximately $3 trillion for additional economic and medical assistance to American families and businesses in response to the continued effects of the pandemic.

A handful of provisions within the enormous relief package would afford protections to immigrants left out of prior congressional COVID-19 responses. The bill would ensure that uninsured individuals, regardless of immigration status, have access to COVID-19 testing and treatment. It would also extend stimulus checks to taxpaying immigrants with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs), allowing access to financial relief for over 15 million individuals in mixed-status families who had previously been cut out from assistance, including U.S. citizen children and spouses, addressing a problem that has drawn bipartisan attention.

The House bill would also require Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to consider the release of immigrant detainees who have underlying conditions making them particularly vulnerable to the virus. The proposal comes as COVID-19 continues to spread in ICE detention, with 788 detainees testing positive for the virus out of only 1,593 total tests.

The proposal also includes multiple provisions aimed at supporting and bolstering the essential workforce. The proposal offers additional sick pay, protective resources and hazard pay guarantees to food supply workers, and it would expedite the processing of green cards for some immigrant healthcare workers. The bill also includes language requiring the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to conduct remote naturalization ceremonies, a measure made more relevant following the release of a May 14 report that suggested pandemic-related delays may prevent thousands of potential new voters from naturalizing ahead of the 2020 election.

Temporary Workers Face Uncertainty, as Trump Administration Weighs Halting Certain Work Visas

The Trump administration is reportedly considering halting new issuances of certain temporary worker visas, including H-1B visas for high-skilled foreigners and H-2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal work. The administration is also considering cutting the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which allows international students to stay in the U.S. and work in a field related to their degree for one to three years after graduating.

The planned restrictions are part of an attempt to extend and expand President Trump’s April 22 proclamation suspending some permanent immigration to the U.S. The proclamation  initially excluded temporary work visas, but required DHS to review all temporary nonimmigrant programs and provide recommendations on potential changes by May 22, 2020. The potential restrictions regarding OPT, H-1B and H-2B visas may coincide with these recommendations.

Reports of the coming restrictions come after the U.S. eased certain visa requirements for some essential temporary workers already in the U.S. On May 12, the administration made it easier for seasonal H-2B workers involved in the food supply chain to stay in the U.S. past the expiration of their visas. On the same day, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it would lift certain restrictions on full-time foreign doctors, allowing them to work fewer than 40 hours a week in some circumstances.

Yet, other temporary workers continue to face uncertainty. Furloughed high-skilled workers on H-1B visas may face deportation, as they are only allowed a 60-day grace period without work before becoming deportable. In addition, these furloughed H-1B workers are not entitled to unemployment benefits and are required to only seek reemployment in positions that meet the specific requirements of their visas. Immigrant healthcare workers on the frontlines have different concerns. For them, contracting COVID-19 risks death or disability, which in turn could lead to the deportation of their family members.

CBP Releases Statistics Detailing Impact of New Border Restrictions

According to the latest statistics from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), approximately 14,416 people were expelled in the month of April, with 95% of those returned to Mexico. The expulsions come as part of recent emergency border restrictions related to the March 21 COVID-19 pandemic. The April numbers also document the immediate expulsion of 600 unaccompanied minors. The 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) requires that unaccompanied children be screened by CBP and transferred to Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within 72 hours for further care.

As of May 13, the U.S. has offered just two people humanitarian protection since the March 21 border restrictions were implemented. Refugee resettlement has been entirely suspended during that period, and under the new border rules, approximately 20,000 unauthorized border crossers have been subject to immediate expulsion rather than offered the opportunity to seek asylum. The only protective provisions available to migrant border crossers fall under U.S. obligations related to the Convention Against Torture (CAT), but out of 59 CAT screenings, 54 have been rejected and three remain pending.  Before the suspension of resettlement and new border restrictions were implemented, the U.S. granted humanitarian protection to approximately 2,700 asylees and refugees each month.

The March 21 border restrictions, originally in place for 30 days, were extended for another month in April and are set to expire on May 20. However, a new order currently under review would allow the restrictions to continue indefinitely. The rule would only be lifted when the CDC deems the coronavirus no longer poses a threat to U.S. public health.

Increasing Reports of Coronavirus Outbreaks on Farms

Farms across the country have experienced outbreaks of COVID-19, according to a May 12 report. A farm in Oneida, New York is the site of one of the largest ongoing outbreaks in the state, with 169 farmworkers testing positive. More than 50 of the 70 total farmworkers in an East Wenatchee, Washington orchard have also tested positive, and a strawberry farm in Greensboro, North Carolina has temporarily closed due to an outbreak. Advocates warn the worst is yet to come, as the largely immigrant and undocumented farmworker population has received little protection from the federal government. The agriculture industry is critical to the nation’s food supply, and industry experts warn that continued outbreaks may put the supply chain at risk.

The spread of the virus on American farms comes despite efforts from a number of growers to protect their workers. Many farms have provided protective equipment, issued social distancing guidance and installed hand washing stations. These measures have been implemented on a largely voluntary basis, as the Trump administration has not made Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines mandatory on farms. The CDC has also not issued specialized recommendations to field workers as it did for meatpacking employees.

Legal

Mixed-Status Families Seek Class Action Lawsuit Over Exclusion from COVID-19 Relief

Approximately 6,000 U.S. citizens in taxpaying, “mixed-status” families – in which one member lacks a Social Security number – have signed on to join a class action lawsuit against the administration for excluding them from COVID-19 relief. The $2 trillion CARES Act delivered the checks only to families in which each member had a valid Social Security number, excluding more than 15 million taxpaying individuals in mixed-status families. The lawsuit, filed by two Chicago immigration attorneys, is the second of its kind, as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed a similar suit against the administration on April 28. The lawsuits argue that the CARES Act violates the constitutional rights of U.S. citizen family members, including due process and freedom of association.

Many immigrants and non-citizens file taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) rather than a Social Security number. ITIN filers, excluded from the federal stimulus money, pay over $9 billion dollars in annual payroll tax.

Conservation Groups Sue Trump Administration Over Continued Border Wall Construction

On May 12, a coalition of conservation groups filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s continued construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The coalition alleges that the transfer of military funds for the wall’s construction is unconstitutional and that the administration did not have the right to waive certain environmental requirements. The complaint argues the waiver of environmental stipulations is “an unconstitutional exercise of legislative power by an executive branch official,” and claimed it violated the Constitution’s separation of powers and non-delegation requirements.

Despite the lawsuit and the continued threat of COVID-19, construction for the wall is still ongoing. On May 8, the U.S. government awarded a $275 million contract for construction in and around Laredo, Texas beginning in January, 2021. Much of the planned construction would cut through private land in neighborhoods close to the Rio Grande, potentially requiring the government to take private property through the use of eminent domain.

GOVERNMENT REPORTS

There were no immigration-related government reports issued the week of Monday, May 11, 2020.

SPOTLIGHT ON NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUM RESOURCES

Immigrants in the Essential Workforce

This infographic details the significant role immigrants play in the essential workforce. It provides data on the proportion of immigrants in a broad range of sectors, including manufacturing, healthcare and education.

Bill Analysis: The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act

This resource analyzes and provides context for the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act, a bipartisan bill that would respond to the healthcare worker shortage by expediting green card processing for 40,000 immigrant doctors and nurses and their families.

Infographic: Who Are American Farmworkers? 

This infographic provides demographic and population statistics on American farmworkers, 78% of whom are foreign-born. This resource provides information about the approximately 70% of farmworkers who are undocumented, and also provides details about the temporary agriculture workers on nonimmigrant H-2A visas.

* * *

*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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